Archive

Journalism

I’m going to add a post linking to some of the better stories I’ve done recently. I’ve left my position as a journalism professor to move back to reporting, covering healthcare, which is a fascinating and a bit challenging subject. But I also get a few non-health stories as well.

HAIRPIN HIGHWAY
There’s a fun local road up the side of Signal Mountain called the W Road (that is the actual name) because of some hairpin turns shaped like, well, a W (or an M, depending on your perspective). Big trucks always ignore the warning signs and get stuck in the turns and have to be towed out.

FEAR OF FALLING
If you are a senior, the fear of falling can be almost as bad as the falls themselves.

A LOWER HIGH
A new study says doctors should push to lower patients blood pressure to a systolic level of 120 (that’s the top number).

PUTTING BIG FISH IN THE TENNESSEE
For about a dozen years now, there has been a push to recreate the Tennessee River’s population of lake sturgeon, which grow to be rather large. Now those efforts seem to be reaching fruition.¬†

BREATHE DEEP
Chattanooga’s air quality has improved dramatically since 1969, when it was rated the most polluted city in America.

OBAMACARE 2016 OVERVIEW
A look at how the marketplace is shaping up in Tennessee.

MODEL SURGERY
In a pilot program, surgeons at Erlanger Hospital will use 3D printers to make models of  diseased organs before surgery.

FLEE THE FLU
Everyone needs a flu shot doctors now say, or else you can lock yourself up alone all winter.

HALFWAY HOME
A new program will offer halfway homes for teenagers who turn 18 and are too old for foster care. I just noticed that the AP picked this up, which is why this clip is not from the Times-Free Press.

KEEPING SENIORS AT HOME
A new adult day care care that offers comprehensive medical treatment as well is an alternative to nursing homes.

 

ApplePhotosApple’s new Photos app has a clean interface and seems to be faster at moving through large volumes of photos.

But it offers almost no new photo editing capabilities, leaving the app as a so-so beginner-level photo processing tool.

What’s worse, Apple is trying to tie it to a new iCloud photo sharing scheme that will cost most users $20 per month for a service of limited utility.

Thankfully, there are better, cheaper alternatives.

Apple Photos is intended to replace both iPhotos, the venerable photo editing app that comes free with all Macs, and Aperture, a more advanced software program aimed at professional photographers. It also shares more of the look and feel of Apple’s photo apps on the iPhone and iPad, making it easier to move from one device to another.

The look and feel of the new program is completely different from iPhoto. Gone are the gray backgrounds, replaced by a clean white design.

You can’t just go to the Apple store and download Photos. It is part of the latest update (10.10.3) to Apple’s operating system, Yosemite. It took me about 45 minutes to download and launch the upgrade and then when I launched Photos, it took another hour to load the 10,000 photos from my iPhoto library.

Right off the bat, you’re asked whether you also want to upload your photos to Apple’s iCloud remote storage system. The advantages of doing so seem obvious, but Apple does not tell you what it costs, at least not at this point in the process. If you do upload your photos, they are then accessible from any other Apple device you own, such as an iPhone or iPad. The actual photos reside on Apple’s servers, but a thumbnail is downloaded to your devices, so the shared photos don’t take up all of your limited iPhone or iPad storage space. When you click on the thumbnaijl, an image sized appropriately for your device is downloaded. In addition, when you edit one of the photos, the edited version appears in seconds on all of your other devices.

It’s a cool feature, but I question whether it is worth the money. Money? Did I mention what this costs? Apple gives you 5 gigabytes of storage for free. For $1 per month, you get 20 gigs; for $4 you get 200 gigs; or $20 for a terabyte. That sounds reasonable (I paid $100 annually for the old dot.mac service), but consider the competition. Google gives you 15 gigs for free, and 100 gigs for $1.99. A terabyte will set you back $10 a month, half what Apple charges.

But why pay at all when Flickr gives you a terabyte for free? Yep, venerable old Flickr, owned by Yahoo, wants NOTHING for the privilege of storing your photos. Flickr has an app for your iPhone or iPad so you have access to all of your photos on any device. Yes, there are limitations: Flickr has no editing tools whatsoever, so you have to clean up your photos elsewhere and then upload them. And no, if you edit your photos on your home computer or iPhone, the edits don’t show up elsewhere.

But how often do you edit your photos anyway? Not much? Then none of this matters. You’re looking for the lowest price and free beats not-free. You regularly do heavy editing? Then Photos is not very useful to you anyway.

Photos has basic photo editing options. You can crop the photo, adjust the color to get rid of the blue tint you got from standing too close to a fluorescent light, get rid of red-eye, and change the white and black levels to sharpen the contrast. There are adjustments for sharpening the focus, adding some silly Instagram-ish tints, lightening shadows and darkening highlights.

But all of these adjustments apply to the photo as a whole. If your subject is sitting in front of a window and silhouetted by the bright back-light, you can lighten their face, but only by brightening the overall image. You can’t just go in and lighten only the face.

Adobe’s Photoshop allows you to do this and that’s one of the reasons it is the gold standard of photo editing. Photoshop has multiple selection tools, so you can choose and manipulate every element in an image. In addition, Photoshop allows you to superimpose one image over or under another and then play with the way they combine. Or you can clone one part of an image to cover up something else, an often under-appreciated feature. Don’t like the light switch sticking out of your subject’s head? Just clone the blank wall adjacent to the switch to cover it up. Or if the color is uniform, select the paint tool and paint it away.

Photos has no such tools. In fact, it has nothing that really improves on its predecessor. And the tools it does have are hidden where many users won’t find them.

Open Photos and go to the main screen to edit your images and you may be baffled. Apple design guru Jonny Ives loves to strip down products to their most basic form, but here he has pushed form over function and the result is a botch. if you look long enough, you’ll see a very small “Edit” button at upper right. Click on that, and you will see links to seven options: Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Adjust, Retouch and Red-eye. Five of them, Rotate, Enhance, Red-Eye, Crop and Retouch, are all part of the Quick Fixes in the old iPhoto. I stared at them for a long time trying to figure out if that was all there was. Eventually, after clicking on each option several times, I noticed that when I clicked on the Adjust link, an Add link appeared at upper right. What could that possibly lead to?

Oh my! An entire set of advanced photo editing tools are all here, buried two clicks deep. The Add button allows you to add a Histogram plus Sharpen, Definition, Noise Reduction, Vignette, White Balance and Levels options to your screen. Closer examination, however, reveals that none of this is new. The old iPhoto also had an Adjust option, but it was in a large tab at the top, next to Quick Fixes and Effects. In iPhoto you get your histogram, and you can adjust for Sharpness, Definition, and to tweak Noise, Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, Highlights, Shadows, Temperature and Tint. I haven’t compared every option, but they seem identical even if a couple of labels have been changed.

So where does that leave us? Basically, back where we started. iPhoto, an under-achieving photo editing tool, has been replaced by Photos, which strives for no higher ground. Perhaps Apple has a secret project to create a serious rival to Photoshop, which has angered many semi-professional users by switching to a monthly rental fee to access the program.

Photos is certainly not that alternative. Yes, it appears to be faster than iPhoto, but it offers no improvements for editing. That’s a disappointment, given the Mac’s tradition as the world’s premier graphics computer. There are promising alternatives (see our review of Affinity’s Photo, above) and my bet is that several challengers to Adobe will soon appear on the scene. It’s too bad that Apple is not among them.

ScreenGrab

Affinity Photo, a new image manipulation app released in beta last month, just may be what Adobe-hating Photoshop users have been looking for — a professional level photo editing program that does not require a monthly payment to Adobe.

Let me be clear at the outset here — I love Photoshop. It is a wonder and has been my favorite app since the first time I saw it at a trade show in Atlanta way back when it would only work in black and white.

What I don’t like is Adobe’s pricing scheme, that requires me to pay a monthly fee instead of outright selling me the program. Yes, I know, I can get Photoshop alone for as little as $10, per month, at least for now, but I would be locked in to Adobe, and if for some reason I decided not to pay, whoosh — Photoshop no longer works on my computer.

There are a number of rivals to Photoshop out there such as Pixelmator or GIMP or even Photoshop Elements. But none of them are full-featured professional image editing programs.

So that’s why I’m intrigued by Affinity, which I’ve been trying out over the past few weeks. It’s not (yet) a Photoshop killer, but it has a depth of features that should have the folks at Adobe looking nervously over their shoulder. If this is what is in the beta, then where will the program be in a couple of years?

First off, go download the free beta yourself. It seems to be bug-free and most everything is working.

I had two main impressions when I first opened the program: 1) This looks a lot like Photoshop, and 2) Wow, there are a lot of features.

The left side of the screen really resembles Photoshop’s tool bar, from the arrangement of the tools right down to the icons. Click on the Blur icon, e.g., and out pop alternate choices for Sharpen and Smudge, just as in Photoshop.

On the righthand side of the screen, however, things are different — there are icons that duplicate much of the functionality of Photoshop’s Adjustment menu. Click each one and an adjustment option opens, with a slider to change the intensity of the effect.

At the top right is a row of abbreviations. Click each one and the menu below changes. In addition to the Adjustments menu I just mentioned, there is one for a histogram, color, swatches, brush shape and hardness, layers, effects such as bevel and glow, a styles option that I can’t figure out, and a link to Shutterstock for stock photos.

One nice improvement over Photoshop is a “before/after” toggle for most of the options that lets you drag a vertical bar left and right to preview and review the effect.

I use Photoshop CS6, primarily to edit photos, and in several days of playing with Affinity Photo, I haven’t discovered any feature in Photoshop that I’m missing in Photo, although I’m certain there are some, because both programs offer so many options.

Affinity Photo also has a series of “personas” or modes that offer additional functionality. A Liquefy persona overlays a mesh over your image, allowing you to warp portions of it. There is a Develop persona that is still in development and apparently offers features for Camera Raw editing. And there is a Sharing persona that allows you to export your image. The logic for making these features “personas” doesn’t seem clear. Editing Camera RAW images seems to be a major feature set, while the Warp feature is very similar to other relatively minor menu items. And there is yet another icon, this one NOT a persona, that offers a range of options to determine how objects snap to a grid or to each other.

That’s my one reason for caution in recommending Affinity Photo. I’ve gone through most of the menus and clicked on the icons and adjusted sliders on several dozen effects, but I have not come close to testing all of the options in the program. it seems to meet my needs for photo editing, but your experience may differ. But the current free beta seems like a great opportunity to find out.

The pricing for Affinity Photo has not been set, but Serif, the company behind the program, already offers Affinity Designer, an Illustrator alternative that launched in June, for $49.99. I think it is certainly worth a try. Adobe badly needs some serious competition.

WhereWeEat

Well, at least the basic version is free.

Go to vennage.com to sign up.

They have a lot of basic templates for charts and a decent selection of infographic templates as well.

For $19.95 per month, you get a few more templates, in particular, a map of the U.S. that allows you to display data for each state, plus the ability to publish your graphic as a pdf file. Of course, with the free version you can just do a screen grab and embed that. With the free version, you can only have five infographics live at a time, which might crimp your style for regular usage, but isn’t an issue for occasional work.

The graphic above is one I created for a class, using some data from a Google Forms survey asking students where they ate on campus in the previous week.

Every part of the template is customizable, generally by clicking on the element, which opens up a panel.

If you’ve discovered a better free or inexpensive tool for creating charts and infographics, let me know.

JQueryTimelineEx

KnightLabs is giving away a nice tool to create timelines, using Google Spreadsheets.

I was trying to embed it here but realized I can’t do that since I’m using WordPress.com instead of WordPress.org, so that type of embed is not allowed.

But you can click on the link to see the timeline live.

It all works off of a Google spreadsheet that organizes the media and text, which is then published to the Web and a link thereto is embedded in your blog.

Seems to be very powerful, though I have yet to play around with trying to change the media.

http://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=0Aq1-X7G089O0dHJHMHk4Zzl4TmRUcFFsUG5GV2xtNnc&font=Bevan-PotanoSans&maptype=toner&lang=en&height=650

FacesInWindow
In 1902, long before any sign of Ebola or the creation of the Centers for Disease Control, a small cluster of hospital buildings on a little more than 25 acres of land in the middle of New York harbor were the main U.S. defense against infectious diseases carried by the millions of immigrants streaming into the country from all over the world.

Most of us know the story of the main processing building on Ellis Island and its cavernous hall where some 12 million people were screened before being sent on their way into Manhattan, New Jersey, or points farther north, south or west.

But about a tenth of those immigrants, some one million, only made it off the island after spending time in the two-story cluster of brick and plaster buildings directly across a small harbor from the main building — the island’s medical facilities. Bustling in the 20 years of the island’s heyday, the examination rooms, ward rooms, kitchen, power plant, mortuary and even the prim Victorian home of the superintendent were abandoned in the 1950s, with much of the buildings’ furnishings remaining in place,

In their day, they were staffed by some of New York’s top doctors and they arguably included the best-trained and most knowledgeable infectious disease experts in the U.S. And they had to be, given the range of diseases that found their way from all corners of the globe past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island, the largely man-made stopping point built up in part by dumping debris from NYC’s newly-dug subway lines.

Think of it as an early version of today’s TSA airport screening.

The first step in the medical screening was a spiral staircase in the main building, specially requested by the doctors, who could thereby evaluate the incoming immigrants from all angles before they were even aware that they were under observation. Anyone who had difficulty climbing that one flight of stairs drew immediate attention.

If the doctors believed further investigation was needed, they put a mark on the immigrants’ clothing and sent them out from the main building down to the right through the ferry terminal, into the Y Hallway.

The hallway got its name from the way it divided at its eastern end. To the left, a corridor led to the wards where pregnant women and anyone who seemed to have mental problems were examined. To the right were the infectious disease wards, where nurses and doctors could evaluate whether their disease would soon run its course or whether the immigrants should be sent back to their homeland. Most only stayed a few days, but a couple, suffering from the lingering effects of tuberculosis, remained on Ellis Island for more than a year, too sick either to be sent back aboard ship or allowed into the U.S.

Only a handful failed to get entry to the U.S., a little over one percent. Some 3,500 died on the island of their illnesses, most buried in a pauper’s grave near Rikers Island, unless they were fortunate enough to have their body claimed by a local relief organization from their particular religious or ethnic group.
Save Ellis Island, a non-profit group, has now been given permission to conduct tours of the abandoned medical facilities, limited to about a dozen visitors at a time. For signup information, go here.
An added treat — the French artist known as JR has enlarged a number of vintage photos of immigrants on Ellis Island and superimposed them on walls, windows and doorways at various points in the tour, bringing the hallways and ward rooms to eerie life.

QuartzCoverQuartz (qz.com) has been one of my daily must-reads since I discovered the site over a year ago. Created by Atlantic Media (which also runs The Atlantic magazine and TheWire.com) Quartz covers international business, sort of. I say sort of because, unlike the Wall Street Journal or even The Economist, Quartz makes no attempt to cover everything. Instead they focus on what they call “obsessions”, which are business topics they believe are really important. For Quartz, that includes China, India, Technology, Media and a regular list of quirky stories that often offer insight into topics you don’t know are important until Quartz writes about them.

But besides being serious, funny, and well-written, Quartz has also drawn attention for its radical Web site design. Most Web sites use a hub-and-spoke design, with a cover page filled with links to individual stories. Not so with Quartz. Type “qz.com” into your browser, and you see the site’s top story, usually topped with a browser-wide photo. Scroll down the first story and you’ll find a second and a third, right on down through an occasional “sponsored” advertorial to the point, maybe 30 feet down, where the scroll ends and you know you have read everything Quartz has posted for today.

Yeah, they add stories throughout the day, but the point is, you start at the top story and read through everything new on the site until you come to the last story you remember reading from your last visit and then you know you’ve finished, read the entire site, and can move on. It’s a feeling much like the one you got from newspapers and magazines. When friends told you they’d read the paper this morning, you know they meant they had skimmed the entire paper from front page to last and at least glanced at all of the headlines.

You can’t do that with nytimes.com or wsj.com or Buzzfeed or Reddit or whatever is your info-source of choice. There is no way to determine when you have looked at everything new since the last time you visited or everything posted in the past 24 hours or whatever.

I loved the design, both for the feeling of completeness I got and also because Quartz was violating every rule of the tired, tired, TIRED look that most news sites have today.

So imagine my chagrin this week when I go to Quartz and discover that they have regressed back to the mid-1990s and added a home page.

Instead of one story at the top, you now get “The Brief”, a digest of the top 10 news stories of the moment. Below that is a great example of what happens when designers are allowed to build web sites without someone from editorial standing behind them with a baseball bat. It’s called “Top Stories on Quartz” and consists of browser-wide photos cropped at an unworldly 10:1 ratio, then darkened, with a headline overlaid. Does the person who “designed” this view the outside world through the slits in the walls of a maximum security prison? No camera takes photos in this ratio naturally and it is very hard to crop stock photos (which is what Quartz uses for most of its articles) to fit properly. So Quartz’s new “cover page” is 10 grafs of text followed by a dark blotchy scrolling mess.

Frankly, I’m disappointed. But I’m very interested in the results of the experiment.

I love the original design. I found that I almost always scrolled down all the way to the bottom of the page and in the process, I read stories that I would not have read if they had been on a traditional hub-and-spoke cover.

With the new design, I find that I skim the index, often see nothing of apparent interest–or, just as importantly, get enough information from the index that I feel no need to click to read the individual story–and move on to another site. That’s certainly not an improvement.

There is a workaround: I’ve quickly learned that if I click on the first story without reading the index I get the original design, with its 30-foot scroll, so maybe Quartz can have the best of both worlds–keeping those of us who like the old, very different approach to web design, while still attracting new readers who need their index.

But I wish Quartz would give us some data on how folks are using the design. Once readers come to an individual story through the new Index or from social media, they jump into the old, scrolling, design. Unlike most other sites, Quartz leaves the sides of the page bare, with no links to other stories or sections. So does scrolling work? How far do most readers scroll before leaving the site? Does the new index drive more traffic from click-throughs than previously scrolled down from the top of the old cover?

My two cents: I believe Quartz’ real problem is not its scrolling non-cover page, but rather that it has spent too little time and effort promoting qz.com and instead has focused too much on social media to promote individual stories. According to NiemanLabs (see article, here), 90% of Quartz’s readers are coming to the site from individual stories and only 10% come directly to the cover page. That sounds drastically wrong. Yeah, lots of folks are using mobile to access the web, but Quartz readers strike me as folks who read from their desktops, so that ratio seems way out of line.

The new design allows readers to skim the site rather than scroll through it, so it seems likely, to me, that fewer readers will click on the index than scrolled down previously. I hope Quartz will share their user data to let us know if that is true or false.

And given how little effort Quartz puts into moving readers from one story to related stories, once they come to the site, their new design seems a big step backward rather than forward. Coming from a site that has been so impressive both with the quality of its work and the boldness of its design, that is a huge disappointment.

I’m spending the day at our first OpenDataNJ conference here at Montclair State. Lots of local government officials, developers and journalists here to figure out what data should be public and what’s the best way to do it.

12:00 – Seth Wainer of the City of Newark talks about the practical headaches of publishing data. PDFs are a huge problem because they are not easy to convert to usable data. His suggestion – do what you can to get rid of the PDFs before they are created.

11:45 – Mike Magyar, a journalist with New Jersey Spotlight, points out that while we’re all talking about how to make government data more available, government officials have a bad habit of hiding it when it serves their purposes. He cites examples of some of his analysis of New Jersey property tax data and how the Christie administration has stopped publishing some data after he used it to show that the relative increases in property taxes between the Christie and Corzine administrations were not that different.

John Haas_OpenData

Dr. John Hasse of Rowan University.

11:30 – Dr. John Hasse, of Rowan University, talking about the value of GIS location data, and a project he is working on at Rowan. In New Jersey there are 565 municipalities, so you have 565 decision-making bodies and they often do not make smart decisions. New Jersey also has strong land use laws, so a lot of important decisions with a big impact on the economy and the environment are done at a very local level.

The goal of his project is to take local data and map it according to GIS. They have four themes posted so far, for all 565 towns in the state. The goal is to make the data modular so it can be used easily by other folks.

Their prime focus is environmental, so they’re looking at land use, watersheds and impervious surfaces, farmland preservation, wildlife habitat and urban growth.

Here’s a link to their site: http://njmap.rowan.edu/

10:45 – So far one obvious issue is that big cities have the resources to do it while smaller ones are way behind. One good suggestion – smaller towns should start by putting data online that they already have in usable form, such as business licenses or property tax assessments. One idea – In Philadelphia, a software company volunteered their time to build the first version of the city’s data web site in exchange for getting some visibility in local government.

11:00 – Matthew Clark, Director of Office of Records Management for Monmouth County, says one trick is to offload as much of the data entry as possible to the data submitter, i.e., the person who fills out the form. Public wins, because they can fill out applications online, from home. Town wins because they need less clerical help and the data can easily be put online.

This also makes it much easier and faster for government officials to know what is going on. For example, in Monmouth County, after Superstorm Sandy, it was a huge advantage for government officials to have real-time data of damage claims being filed to guide their response. After a flyover of the area, the damage did not appear to be that bad. But once managers began to see the claims, they realized that with a lot of the houses, the water had surged through the lower floor of the house and then receded, causing serious internal damage that was not visible externally.

FirestormIn “Firestorm,” an exceptional multimedia look at how a Tasmanian family escaped a devastating wildfire, The Guardian gets right what the New York Times couldn’t figure out in its Pulitzer Prize-winning epic, “Snowfall.”
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Read/watch ‘Snowfall’ here.

Read/watch ‘Firestorm’ here.
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There are two reasons “Firestorm” is so much better than “Snowfall” — One, The Guardian team rejects interactivity (letting readers control the story) and instead uses advanced web coding to force the reader to experience ALL of the mutimedia, along with the text, as they progress through the story. And secondly, The Guardian team really understands the power of video, blending that video with text in a compelling fashion to ask whether one family’s race to escape a fast-moving fire may portend Australia’s future in the face of climate change.

In “Snowfall”, the Times told the story of how three members of a group of veteran off-trail skiers in Washington State’s Cascades died in an avalanche.The project was notable for its extensive use of multimedia, some CSS tricks, and of HTML5, the latest upgrade in Web coding standards.

The 17,000-word text was peppered with photo galleries, video clips and links to audio interviews, and each section of the narrative began with a short video loop showing snow falling or clouds moving over a mountain landscape. Several 3-D maps clarified the terrain where the tragedy occurred and a particularly effective bit of animation displayed the avalanche as it occurred, in real time.

But The Times project merely glommed those impressive multimedia elements onto the text. There was never any doubt which medium was dominant. You might stop reading to watch a video clip or animation or to scroll through a photo gallery, but then you went back to the text.

The dead giveaway was where The Times stuck their mini-documentary, an 11-minute video narrative. The video was compelling, capturing the grandeur of the Cascades, the drama of the avalanche, the sorrow of the survivors. And where did The Times put it? Dead last, at the every end of those 17,000 words.

If the video had been at the beginning, where TV-based Web sites such as NBCNews.com would have put it, then who would have read those 17,000 words of text?

My point is not to criticize the placement of the video so much as to point out that the Times did two separate versions of the story — one in video and the other in text, with some multimedia elements thrown in.

What they did not succeed in doing was to combine those elements into one narrative.

The Guardian’s “Firestorm,” on the other hand, melds text and audio and video in a way that fulfills the 15-year-old promise that the Web will usher in a new form of multimedia storytelling.

In “Firestorm,” you don’t alternate between text and video. The text is overlayed on the video. A photo filling the entire screen scrolls up and comes to life — a family member explains when they first realized that the flames were a threat, a firefighter tells of the futility of fighting such a gigantic firestorm.

And then the video ends and it’s time to scroll down for more text. In “Firestorm,” text doesn’t try to do what video does best — capture the emotions of the trapped family, describe the look of the flames as they top a nearby ridge, or show the devastation of the fire.

Photos of the family, as they huddled beneath a pier in the lake below their burning house were featured by the news media across Australia in stories about the fire. In “Firestorm,” that is mentioned, but the text never describes the photos. Instead they are shown, while mom tells how, even as the flames crept closer to the dock where she and her children were huddled, she realized she had her cellphone and asked someone to take some photos.

The point is a simple one, but critical — The Guardian staff understands that with video, the images tell their own story. There’s no need to add text.

In The Times “Snowfall,” in contrast, reporter John Branch seems to have written his story with no thought of any accompanying media. A female skier, who was caught in the avalanche but thanks to a safety vest survived, explains in a video how she thought she was dying. And sure enough, the text repeats the same quote. Branch writes eloquently of the joys of skiing in thick powder snow, while, a few column inches away, a well-shot video clip does a far more effective job of showing that joy.

“Snowfall” was an eye-opener, an intriguing showpiece of what you can do with HTML5, video and 3-D graphics. But if “Snowfall” showed the potential, “Firestorm” is the realization of that potential.

The video and photos don’t sidetrack a reader from the print narrative — they are part of the narrative. In “Snowfall,” the text worked as a standalone story, as did the 11-minute video. Drop either element, and the other was just fine. Not so in “Firestorm.” Finally, someone has used coding so the authors can be sure that readers have read and seen all of the multimedia elements as they move through the story instead of tacking photo galleries or video clips or interactive maps on the side, with no assurance that anyone is looking at them.

For the past 15 years, those of us in the multimedia storytelling business have promised more than we have delivered. “Rashomon”-like, we’ve told a story from different perspectives — hey, look at my video, here are some photo galleries, maybe an interactive map and, of course, a text story that stood on its own. Each medium provides one look at the story, in ways that TV or print publications can’t do, but ultimately they haven’t really worked together.

With “Firestorm”, The Guardian shows the way to true multimedia story-telling.

Now if someone on their team will just lay out in detail exactly how each element worked, so the rest of us can learn from them.

UPDATE: When I wrote about the value of Flipboard’s user-created magazines a couple of days ago, one of my major complaints was that folks could see them only if they own an iPad, smartphone or Android tablet. Well, the FB folks have fixed that. As of today, I (or any other FB user) can mail you a link to my magazines or post a link on social media, and when you click, the magazine opens in your Web browser. This vastly expands the utility of the magazines, since you can now let anyone see them. Here are links to three of my magazines, on Web Video,¬† Photos, and Data Visualization.

My purpose in creating these is to collect stuff on a given topic that I can then use in class, and now I can use FB’s web page to organize each magazine and then mail links to it to students at the beginning of class.

HINT – Once you open one of my magazines, click on the small icon at left with three short parallel lines. That will take to FB’s choice of best user-created magazines.
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I’ve been using Flipboard’s new “Create Your Own Magazine” feature for about three months now, so it’s time to report on how it’s working.

I’m basically very happy with the software, that allows you to store your Web page bookmarks as “magazines” on Flipboard, displayed in the software’s unique layout.

For now, Flipboard is only available for iPads and iPhones, Android, and Windows 8 phones. The basic application allows you to select feeds from Twitter, Facebook or various magazines and pull them into Flipboard. The app then displays the headline, photo or illustration, and the first 1-3 grafs of the content, laid out magazine-style, with 2-6 items on a page. You turn the pages by sliding your finger from right to left, “flipping” them.

FlipboardCover

It’s a far better way to browse a Twitter feed featuring links or photo, e.g., because you don’t just see the url — you see the actual photo or article headline, along with the first few paragraphs of the text. Content from several dozen Web sites, including The Economist, Salon, National Geographic and The Guardian, are also available, in the same format.

But about three months ago, Flipboard announced a new feature that allows readers to create their own magazines. First, you set up your magazines, by title and category. For example, I created magazines for Photos, Data Journalism, Web Video, Teaching, Journalism, Mobile apps, Gadgets and Music.

Now, as I browse content on Flipboard, a small plus sign is visible to the side of every article, and if I want to save it in one of my magazines, I just click.

Far more powerful, however, is a Pinterest-like feature that allows me to add a link to my Firefox or Safari browser. With that installed, whenever I am browsing anywhere on the Web, I can click on the “Flip” link and a window pops up, allowing me to add the link to one or several of my magazines.

You may be asking how this is any different than just storing the URLS for those Web pages in my bookmarks folder. At a basic level, there is no difference. I generally add both a bookmark and “flip” the link to my Flipboard magazine whenever I find something of interest.

But Flipboard’s magazine-style layout makes it much easier to find a URL long after you’ve forgotten why you saved it. By displaying the headline, photo or video or illustration and the first few grafs of a story, you can quickly remember what the article is about.

Here’s a quick illustration of that comparison. Below is a screen shot of my bookmarks folder for Web video (OK, I could do a better job of organizing it):

BookmarksWebVideo

Now here are several pages from my FB magazine for Web video:

FB5

Your magazines by default are public, so they can be followed by anyone else interested in your topic. At some point, for example, I could send a note to my fellow online journalism professors across the land, letting them know that I have collected several hundred links to great examples of web video, available for their classroom use.

photo

Flipboard has already made one upgrade to the service. About six weeks ago, they announced a Web page where you can log in and edit your magazines. You can drag and drop each item into whatever order you like, and you can also create a permanent title page for your magazine (by default, Flipboard uses the art from your most recent post as the cover page art).

FB7

There are still some missing pieces for Flipboard to be more useful. I’d like to be able to write new headlines for the articles, e.g., and I’d like the ability to create subsections. For example, in my Photos magazine, I’d like to have one section for great examples of photos, another for photo gear, and a third for how to take photos.

And most importantly, I’d like to be able to share the content on the Web and not just on a tablet or smartphone. Most of my students have laptop computers, but almost none of them own a tablet computer.

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