Regina McCombs

Regina McCombs is a faculty member of The Poynter Institute, teaching multimedia, and social and mobile journalism. She was the senior producer for multimedia at in Minneapolis-St. Paul for 11 years. There, she was a multimedia producer and photographer beginning in 1997 (eek!), when video was small and jerky. Previously, she was a news photographer and field producer at KARE-TV in Minneapolis. Tweets as @reginajmc.

Election coverage shows how online, mobile video has grown

On election night, video was everywhere — and not just on television. Dozens of news sites and mobile apps also featured video, and there was no shortage of places to watch the election results roll in without ever having to touch a remote control.

An amazing number of newspapers put on a full-court press of election night video. The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal (edited segment here), The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times (to name just a few) had wall-to-wall coverage. There were editors and reporters on set, reporters doing live shots, and interviews with experts — many of the trappings of television newscasts. It was an impressive amount of effort.

Some had very polished “talent” on camera.  But too often the journalists in front of the camera weren’t comfortable there — they didn’t look at the camera, didn’t dress for the camera, or had untrained voices that were tough to listen to for stretches of time. There were lots of smart journalists saying interesting things, but information often got lost in technique.

Broadcast journalists have skills that are often undervalued by newspaper folks, and performance is one of them. Think of it like writing. Great information, written poorly, is hard to absorb. Great information poorly delivered is tough to understand.

There were some nice-looking sets, or interesting locations, like the staircase at The New York Times. On the other hand, many sets were in the middle of a newsroom. Newsrooms can be grey, messy places that don’t look great on camera — even with good lighting.

By and large, the television networks were giving me exactly what I wanted throughout the evening — the state of the election returns. So the question that came to mind over and over again as I watched online video was, “What need does this meet?”

A few places had clearly chosen a niche to fill. Huffington Post Live had smart young people in party clothes expressing their opinions on the returns, often quoting breaking news from other outlets. Instead of covering instantaneous results, they were “waxing philosophical,” as one anchor said.

Some outlets, like the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, NewsOK and chose to produce shorter segments throughout the evening and focused on local elections. NewsOK has a lovely set and a very polished anchor, and it used Google hangouts for short newscasts on the hour to talk about local results and issues. only showed live streams from campaign headquarters when candidates took the stage.

On mobile apps, there seemed to be a stronger sense of strategy behind the video streams. ABC News’ iPad app let you choose from four streams, including live video, maps and results, and the network’s social media stream. CNN also gave viewers a choice of multiple streams. The Washington Post’s Politics app highlighted video stories that had been produced based on the election.

By the time the election was called, I felt like I’d overdosed on caffeine from watching video on multiple platforms — at the same time — all night long. That’s not how most people watch. News consumers are constantly using multiple screens, watching TV with their laptop open and their smartphone in hand. But we know that most of the time, they’re sending email or using social media on the second device, not watching video on two screens at the same time.

Which brings me back to the question I raised earlier: What need are we trying to fill? What are we doing with our online video that’s not being done as well or better somewhere else? Are we assuming our audience isn’t watching television on election night? As people connect to the news on multiple screens, what is the job to be done? Great video is hard. It’s expensive. It takes people with a lot of skills.

It’s also important. People are watching more and more video on more platforms. Time spent watching not-on-TV video is growing exponentially. News organizations need to be doing this, and doing it well. As it continues to grow and get better, let’s continue to develop our focus. Read more


How to keep social media reaction in perspective when covering the elections

Flip the channel or the page, and you’ll find it: coverage of the social media reaction to news events — and political events like conventions and debates.

Much of it, however, talks about that reaction as though it represents the entire population. That, or it offers numbers without context (tweets per minute! Number of times the debate is mentioned!), as Stephen Colbert so ably skewered. For many news organizations, Twitter in particular has become a stand-in for public reaction.

The problem with that? Simple — social media users may be a lot like you and me, but they are not like everyone. Only 85 percent of people in the U.S. use the Internet. (Don’t get me started on the fact that we don’t talk about the 15 percent of Americans who don’t have access to the Internet. Fifteen percent!). Of those who do use the Internet, about half are on Facebook and 16 percent are on Twitter. And a smaller number of those folks ever post about politics.

Who are social media users? Thanks to findings from organizations like the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, we’re learning a good bit about them. Lee Rainie, director of the project, said by phone that “they skew in several directions, including towards young adults, towards upscale adults, and towards liberals.” The newest study points out that those most likely to use social media to post about politics tend to be those further from the center — liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, and among those, it’s not an even split.

A chart from the study Pew released last week makes this clearer. While 69 percent of all Internet users are on some kind of social networking service, 63 percent are conservative, 70 percent are moderate and 79 percent are liberals. Looking at age, 92 percent of 18-29 year olds use some kind of social networking site, while 57 percent of 50-64 years olds do.

How does this matter to our coverage? Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, points out that, “If Twitter were a leading indicator, Ron Paul would be the Republican nominee. Ron Paul got far and away the most favorable attention on Twitter during the caucus/primary season.”

These are “interesting somebodys but not everybody,” Rainie says. They are “a subset of a subset.”

A Project for Excellence in Journalism study comparing social media sentiment to mainstream media sentiment during the conventions found that the social media was consistently more negative:

The conversation on Twitter, blogs and Facebook about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during this key period changed little with events – even during the two candidates’ own nominating conventions. The conversation in all of these platforms was also consistently negative, according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In the mainstream media, by contrast, both Romney and Obama received a version of the traditional convention bounce, with coverage about them becoming more positive during the week of their party’s nationally televised gathering.

The study authors wonder whether social media are making what we hear about politics more negative, and make it harder for those involved in campaigns to “alter the media narrative.”

One problem in finding the answer to this is that measurement tools for social media are still very new. Rainie points out that “we can’t tell if A caused B, if one thing led to another. We can see more conversations than we used to, but it doesn’t stand in for everyone and everything.”

I’m not saying don’t talk about social media; it’s likely that social media users are influencing the discussion (it seems clear they’re influencing campaign finances). But I think we need to be more conscious about how we frame the discussion. With that in mind, I’d like to make a few suggestions on how to cover social media reaction accurately.

Add context

Understanding who social media users are, and telling your audience about them is useful. Adding deeper context is even better. For instance, we know that liberals are more likely to tweet political statements than conservatives are, so comparing the volume of tweets between the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention probably isn’t useful.

But comparing the volume of tweets in the presidential debate to the vice presidential debate can show the difference in interest between the two — as long as you don’t generalize the Twitter reaction to the entire population.

Some projects, like the CNN-Facebook Election Insights or the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Campaign 2012 in the Media, examine how often a particular candidate is mentioned. Given that Facebook, by sheer numbers of people, is more likely to be representative of the population as a whole, you might be tempted to generalize. Resist the temptation. Rainie points out that while Facebook users are more like the general population, they still skew young, female, and upscale.

CNN doesn’t make the leap from Facebook to everyone, and your coverage shouldn’t either. However, just talking about the numbers probably isn’t useful unless you can talk about changes to a very narrow group of Facebook users over time.

Understand sentiment analysis

Sentiment analysis — the measurement of whether the tone of a post is positive or negative about a topic — is a fairly new, and tricky, process. Some sentiment analysis is aided by humans, while some is done strictly by computers looking for positive or negative words and their proximity to a keyword. But a statement like “I want to love Obama, but I don’t” illustrates how complex this can be. Clearly, it’s not a positive statement, but a computer seeing the word “love” next to “Obama” might rank it as one.

So be cautious when quoting reports of positive or negative statements in social media. Even when sentiment analysis is correct, researchers aren’t sure what impact, if any, it has on wider public opinion.

Rainie suspects that people posting about politics on Facebook may be influencing others, but our current analysis tools don’t let us know for sure. “It’s discourse,” he said. “Discourse sometimes drives opinion, but sometimes makes it muddier.” Rosenstiel thinks Twitter may have influence as well. He said that while only 10 percent of Americans get political news from Twitter, he bets that the percentage is much higher for political reporters:The paradox is that Twitter is a way to influence the thinking of old media.”

Vary your reaction sources

Website polls, person on the street interviews and social media reaction are not representative of the population at large. Still, it’s important to listen to what different groups of people are saying. So make social media coverage just one piece of the public reaction you cover. Pull in a group of undecided voters for a focus group. Interview people on the street in the suburbs. Do a Web survey. And make it clear that none of these are everybody, but they’re all interesting somebodys.

Highlight specific users

Instead of generalizing, stay narrow. One of the great things about social media is being able to hear from people you normally wouldn’t be able to contact for an interview on short notice. If you can find and use quotes from specific people on Facebook and Twitter, it can enrich your coverage. Just be sure that they’re verified accounts, and not spoofs.

Facebook’s public search lets you find public reaction and follow up. When you come across someone with an interesting perspective, you can reach out to individuals for an interview.

Interact with your audience

There’s no better time than an election season to use social media to engage with your audience and get them engaged in the political process. Ask for their opinion, use Facebook polls, or crowdsource interview questions.

Go ahead. Enjoy, and cover, the voices of social media. Just remember, it’s not everyone’s voice. Read more


How 6 news organizations are using QR codes to drive traffic to news content

Walk past a bus shelter, check product packaging, visit a home improvement store and you’ll see Quick Response (QR) codes. They have gone mainstream, as 14 million people scanned a QR code in June, according to a new report from comScore, and it turns out that half of the time they scanned codes in a newspaper or magazine. Newspapers (and some broadcasters) are exploring how they can make good use of these codes to drive traffic from the print product to the Web via mobile devices, and it may be working.

“It’s sort of a no-brainer. We’ve been putting Web refs in [the newspaper] for a long time,” says Cory Haik, deputy editor of universal news at the Washington Post. The advantage with QR codes, Haik says, is that you can actually measure the traffic to the site from QR codes. And they’ve been impressed with the results. “For our readership, we feel really good about it and want to keep offering them.”

Danny Sanchez, online content manager at the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, says they’ve found QR codes to be more effective than traditional print refers.

As they test and experiment, newsroom editors are starting to learn what works — and what doesn’t.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that what is working at one news organization isn’t necessarily what’s working at another. But editors at six places have some common suggestions for effectively using QR codes to drive traffic to news content.

Stick with QR codes, not variations

There are a number of scannable codes to use: QR codes, Microsoft tags and other proprietary systems. At the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, they began using Microsoft’s digital codes.

“I originally started with Microsoft Tag because I thought that solution was more elegant,” said Bill Bortzfield, content manager at, but he didn’t see the response he expected. They switched to the simple — and generic — QR codes. He advises sticking with QR unless you have a specific reason to choose differently.

At the Palm Beach Post, they originally chose proprietary AT&T codes as part of a pilot project. The big advantage was getting demographic information on who scanned the codes — ages, gender, ZIPcode, and geolocation at the time of the scan. Using it requires editors to create an AT&T-specific link, and requires users to download the AT&T code reader. After the pilot, the Post switched to using links with QR codes, which the copy desk can quickly and simply create themselves.

“So far, it doesn’t appear that use is significantly higher,” says Melissa Patterson, then mobile editor at the Palm Beach Post, and now mobile manager for Cox Media Group, “but the copy desk sure likes them better, and the staff is able and willing to create them on their own—a big plus.”

Get the operational details right

If people are interested enough to pull out their phones and scan a code, make sure it works. There are a number of ways scans can go wrong.

Bortzfield says editors creating the codes need to know what websites work well on mobile. Guiding readers to Flash-heavy websites that are unusable on most mobile devices leads to frustration. Pointing to a cluttered page that is difficult to read on mobile devices will also turn off readers. “I know it sounds obvious, but based on how many non-mobile friendly QRs I’ve run into, I don’t believe it is.”

Be sure to provide information on how to use the codes. The Washington Post has a primer post online “that actually gets traffic,” Haik says. Sanchez says whenever space allows, the Sun-Sentinel adds recommendations for specific apps and supplies basic instructions near the QR code.

Sanchez suggests putting production rules in place for the codes, making them no smaller than ¾” x ¾” and keeping them off the fold, “which makes it maddeningly difficult to scan.” Editors at the Sun-Sentinel also provide a standard URL redirect next to the code, for those who can’t or won’t scan it.

Use shortened links in the code, not full links, since simpler codes scan better on more devices.

And as obvious as it may seem, it’s important to do quality control. Create the codes, test them on phones, confirm the links work correctly.

Choose content carefully: QR codes work for photos, video, databases, social sharing

Everyone I spoke with agreed that it was important to make sure the code sends readers to a particular piece of content, whether it’s a photo gallery, an app, a Facebook page or somewhere else. Haik says it’s important to have a “very specific call to action to do something that you can’t do on broadsheet, and wouldn’t get otherwise.” It really needs to help the reader with something, she adds, to make it worth their effort.

Most of these news organizations have had the greatest success driving traffic from QR codes to photo galleries and video.

Sanchez says the biggest response has definitely been galleries, “especially anything that can’t really be reproduced well in the paper.”

Bortzfield seconded that, adding that the Times-Union also occasionally uses QR codes online to drive people to mobile specific content, like the PodRods app for a car blog.

At the Washington Post, Haik says they can’t yet link to photos and video, which are still Flash-based on the website, although that will change soon. But she says her moment of epiphany came some weeks ago when she realized that while Sunday often has the newspaper’s best work, and people are reading longer-form work then, what they can’t do from the paper is share it with someone else. Since then, the Washington Post has been putting QR codes on what she calls “could-be-viral stories” that let readers share them on their Facebook page. A graphic novel on the debt ceiling also carried a code for people to share socially.

In addition, the Post linked to a user-generated content project for Memorial Day that let users add more content. “The form we used rendered beautifully on the iPhone and Droid,” so she got excited about connecting people to more content and developing the story further.

In Orlando, Janel Jacobs, the Sentinel’s community manager for news and business, says in addition to photos and video, they’ve done well with a QR code on the weather page linking to hourly forecasts and with linking to blogs, especially a tech blog.

For the Palm Beach Post, the most successful QR code linked to an interactive quiz that let people take five sample questions from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test given to 8th grade students. On the flip side, a crowd map using Google Voice didn’t work. Patterson says, in hindsight, that it was too complicated, as was a “tell us about your foreclosure” project that hundreds of people scanned, but few people completed.

Along with photos and video, mobile-friendly databases have driven traffic for the Vancouver Sun, including their “fatabase” which shows how much fat is in each menu item at Lower Mainland restaurants.

Dean Broughton, chief news editor of digital at the Sun, says their most successful database is of public sector salaries, and garnered six million page views overall, many via mobile devices.

QR codes have also been effective at promoting iPhone and Android apps for the Sun-Sentinel. “We see it as an important way to market our mobile offerings, such as our various apps, text alert campaigns and the mobile site,” Sanchez says.

While no one was willing to share exact traffic numbers from QR codes, most people I spoke with said there is a wide range of results, from dozens to hundreds.

Patterson says they did learn a bit about the demographics of their scanners, thanks to the AT&T test.  In West Palm Beach, most used iPhones (82% vs. 14% Android); 59% were male; and, surprisingly, the largest age group was over 55 (42%). Given that this was West Palm, maybe not so surprising. The comScore numbers out late last week show overall QR code users slightly more balanced by gender, though they skew much younger.

Remember the revenue potential

Don’t forget, Sanchez said, to share your experience with codes around the building, since “many advertisers are actively using them or experimenting with them. It can be appealing to an advertiser wanting to do an ad campaign to have folks at your publication who can produce them and explain how they work.”

How are QR codes working for you? I’d love to hear more stories about what is and isn’t working, so please share in comments below or shoot me an email.

Correction: The name of the Cox division where Melissa Patterson works has been corrected to Cox Media Group; the original stated she was at Cox Media. Read more


Decision-making guide: Should you upgrade to new Final Cut Pro X editing software?

Apple released a new-from-scratch version of its Final Cut Pro X editing software last week, and reading the critiques and reaction to the critiques has been very entertaining. If you think it’s all too inside-baseball, even Conan O’Brien’s editors shared their feelings about the new FCP X.

The reaction includes a lot of hope that the biggest problems with previous versions — especially file management and transcoding — got solved, and a lot of anguish that things that didn’t need fixing got changed.

Critics note these downsides to FCP X:

  • It requires learning new software because it’s changed so dramatically.
  • It’s missing professional features.
  • Audio editing in layers is more difficult.
  • Organizing materials is completely different.

My goal is not to review Final Cut X, but to point out some of the most useful critiques and share reaction from journalists and journalism educators so you can decide whether to make the switch now, wait or choose new software entirely.

For those who are complaining that Apple messed with their software in the first place: Please. Final Cut was way overdue for updating, and it looks like the biggest complaints about version 7 have been addressed: it’s much faster to import digital files and it renders in the background.

“As soon as you put your card in, you can start editing within seconds. Terrific! And you’re not slowed down by rendering — no red bars at all,” said Chuck Fadely, visual journalist at The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald in an email. “Working with your clips is wicked fast.”

And if that was all the update accomplished, a lot of folks would be thrilled. But Apple didn’t update the previous version, they started from scratch to take advantage of modern computer architecture. Instead of just reinventing the internal workings, though, they changed the very metaphors we have used to edit for the 20-year history of non-linear editors (anyone else learn to computer edit on Video Toaster?), and it hurts.

Clips replace tracks

Fadely said in spite of the speed improvements, the new interface that uses magnetic clips instead of assigned tracks makes it unusable for them.

“It’s like it’s forgotten the non-linear part of NLE,” he said. The magnetic timeline makes it difficult to put narration down with gaps to fill in later. “To get around this, you’ve got to put down a dummy clip on the timeline, and then use the ‘position’ tool to put down the real clips above it.”

The Herald often does both English and Spanish versions of their videos. In FCP 7, they would put English titles and lower-third graphics on one track and English narration on another, then Spanish titles and lower-thirds on a third track, Spanish narration on a fourth. By turning tracks on and off, they could export English and Spanish versions from the same timeline. Fadely says this a real headache in the new version, forcing him to copy and paste timelines from one project into another. “You can’t have multiple sequences within a project on X, so if there’s a fix or update on your video, you’ve got to update or fix multiple projects instead of just one.”

“What a debacle. Apple has a real mess on its hands with FCP X,” is PF Bentley’s reaction. Bentley is a documentary filmmaker and editor who teaches workshops that train newspaper photographers, among others, in video storytelling.

In spite of the fact that he’s an Apple-certified trainer, he’s already returned his copy of FCP X for a refund. “Love ya, Apple, but I can’t use FCP X in the sorry state it’s in. Many cool features and ideas, but in an unusable program for professionals,” was his reaction after trying it. His feeling is that the interface is so foreign, and so many pro features are missing, that many editors will make the decision to switch to Adobe Premiere.

The decision to stop selling the Final Cut Suite, including Final Cut Server, as soon as FCP X was released “was the real salt in the wound” for Bentley. The new Final Cut will not work with Final Cut Server. And the new version is only available through the app store.

Missing pro features

Not being able to buy new copies of the suite was just the first of many problems for documentary and production editors I talked to. Here’s another: Many of the production tools for sending movies and documentary work to post-production finishing are missing.

“No OMF export for sound sweetening. No multicam. No multiple sequences,” complained Bruce Jacobs, chief technologist at Twin Cities Public Television. His list of problems with the new software went on: It can’t open projects created in Final Cut 7; the staff can’t share work over a server; and the new version would require a complete retraining of staff.

“We knew the new version was different, but the features sounded attractive, so we were willing to figure out how to manage the transition quickly. Now there’s no reason to do that. We can’t do that,” he added.

They have 31 stations or seats for FCP 7, and were looking to add a couple more in the next month. Now, without being able to buy new licenses of FCP 7, and with FCP X incompatible with their other systems, he’s exploring options. He’s got an Avid Media Composer system in house to evaluate it.

“What’s our choice?” Jacobs asked. “At least they’re committed to our market. Apple has shown they’re not committed to us with this release. They would have been upfront about it and told us what to expect if they were.”

Value for teaching

Most people I spoke with sound like they’re in one of the early stages of grief — anger or denial. Some are hopeful that Apple will improve the software.

Richard Koci Hernandez, formerly Deputy Director of Photography and Multimedia at the San Jose Mercury News, and now a Ford Foundation Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, is optimistic.

The much lower price point — $299 — and simpler interface will make it easier for teaching, he says. “This version of FCP X will put the power of video storytelling in the hands of more journalists. It’s affordable and once you figure out the new workflows, it’s pretty easy.”

Making that transition, though, isn’t easy.

“My impression was one of being blindfolded and asked to walk through my house after a complete remodel,” he said.  “I was blindly looking for things that weren’t there and bumping into new things. In the end I’ve come out with a few cuts and bruises, but I’m still alive.”

As much as he likes it from an education perspective, he’s disappointed in it as a professional editing tool. Still, he’s optimistic that in time Apple will make updates that bring pro features back. “One year from now I’m hoping [fingers crossed] FCP X will be everything we need it to be. I’m putting a lot of faith in Apple to do the right thing. I hope they come through.”

Jeremy Rue, a lecturer at Berkeley, says the timing of the switch has generated a lot of discussion at the school. “We’re not 100 percent sure we’re going to use FCP X as the primary software taught in the fall, but I think we’re moving in that direction.”

“I’d feel behind the curve if we didn’t,” added Koci Hernandez.

The ability to have both versions installed on the same machine was a deciding factor for them.

That has appeal for Sterling Anderson, a technologist at the University of Wisconsin Journalism School. He’s hoping to install the new version on all the machines and keep the old version on a few machines, although he’s still waiting to hear the details about how the new app store distribution will work for computer labs.

“The software itself should be easier to maintain and use,” he said. While the lab used Final Cut Server, he says students had a hard time understanding it, and fewer student projects should go missing now. “It has a feature to allow users to easily move entire projects from one location to another, so losing media files will hopefully be a thing of the past.”

TV newsrooms slow to upgrade

Some television newsrooms are using Final Cut, but those I talked to said it will be a while before they even start to think about upgrading. And many television stations, like WTSP-TV in Tampa, have only used Final Cut Pro on special workstations, or for editing on laptops in the field like CNN, so it won’t affect the entire organization. KING-TV in Seattle used Final Cut until recently, but is now moving to a new Sony system.

At KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul, they still use Final Cut 6. Photographer-editor Eric Parker Anderson says it’s not at all clear whether the new software will even work with their media server system, so there is no chance the station will be adapting it soon.

However, Anderson does a lot of freelance editing, and he thinks it will have a place for him there. He’s been trying it out and thinks the speed improvements alone show a lot of potential.

“I think it’s going to be genius,” he said, even though he thinks it will take him a long time to get fast using it. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some way to do some of things we used to do, but it doesn’t feel like it yet. I’m chalking that up to not knowing it well.”

He’s also hoping the expensive third-party plugins he’s added to his system will be updated quickly to work with the new version.

As excited as he is about the potential of the new software for the future, he’s disappointed in how Apple has handled this launch with the professional market.

“I can wait until I see what happens, but I can sympathize with some of the haters,” he told me.

So what should you do?

After talking to a number of folks who’ve played with the software pretty extensively, my advice is to wait. Things might get better. If you can’t wait, or are still confused about whether you’ll update, here’s a short list of reasons you may or may not want to switch. (Find a longer, detailed list here.)

Why you might want to upgrade:

  • You’ve has been waiting to upgrade from iMovie to Final Cut. Go for it.
  • You shoot with a DSLR, or a video camera that records in AVCHD on daily deadlines. Speed seems to be much improved, so you may be better off, although certain Sony cameras may need a driver update.  And the learning curve may be frustrating on deadline.

Why you might not want to upgrade:

  • If you need to print to tape, or view your output on a true broadcast monitor, this option is not available.
  • If you shoot on tape and like to use batch capture functions, this function is gone.
  • If you’re in the middle of a project in FCP 7, don’t upgrade! There is no importing projects from the previous version. (Although you can import iMovie projects. Ouch.) If you’ve got older projects that may need re-editing, make sure you hang on to FCP 7.
  • If you do multi-cam shoots for concerts or games or TV programs, wait. Apparently, restoring multi-cam editing is on Apple’s to-do list.
  • If you do post-production work that relies on EDLs, OMF or XML, that function is not available, although it looks like some third-party solutions may be along quickly for XML.

And some additional cautions:

If you’re thinking about switching to another NLE

More than one person I talked to said they’re thinking about — or have — switched to another editing software package.

Many television stations are in transition on video editing systems, and they’re moving in several different directions.

All the Gannett TV stations are in the process of switching from Avid to Grass Valley’s Edius, which a number of newspaper video teams use as well. It’s a Windows-only product.

The Belo stations are in the process of switching to Sony’s new Xpri editing software, which is now part of  Sony’s newsroom management software system. And the newspaper video listserv includes several people who like Sony Vegas. Again, Windows only.

You can’t go anywhere on the Web this week without tripping over an Adobe Premiere Pro ad, and Adobe is running all kinds of specials to take advantage of the FCP X discontent (one popped up on the petition to Apple to reinstate Final Cut Studio). It’s available for Mac and Windows.

And the granddaddy of them all, Avid, is still an option, with lowered prices and fewer hardware restrictions that, in the past, put it out of reach for many individuals.

All of this talk of Final Cut Pro X not being a professional tool got you down? Not to worry. I highly recommend reading everything from Jeffery Harrell. Read more


Three companies answer 6 key questions about their iPad app development

It’s been just over a year since the launch of the iPad, and organizations that took a “wait and see” approach to developing apps are starting to jump in. If you’re at one of those places, there are a number of questions to address before you get started. While no solution will fit all situations, the questions are the same.

Here’s how three very different organizations — CNN, the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., and Better Homes and Gardens — answered six key questions as they developed their first apps for the iPad.

CNN has had mobile products of one kind or another since 1999; dozens of people now contribute to their mobile content and products. They were in the middle of several other projects when the iPad was released, so they decided to finish them and give themselves time to understand how it would be different from other platforms. CNN launched its iPad app just before Christmas. I spoke with Louis Gump, vice president of mobile.

The News & Record first built a simple iPhone app in-house over a year ago, and last April they launched an e-edition of the paper (a downloadable PDF version that can be viewed on a computer). That got them thinking about what they could do with the iPad. Their iPad app came out in March. I spoke with Chris Brewer, the classified manager and digital media director there.

Better Homes and Gardens finished a redesign of the magazine six months ago, and its staff used that as a chance to look at all their products. They developed the “Celebrate” stand-alone iPad app, redesigned the website (which launched in May) and created a general iPad app for the magazine starting with the April issue. I spoke with Michael Belknap, creative director for the Better Homes and Gardens brand.

The first question when considering an iPad app is obvious, but not necessarily simple to answer:

What are you trying to achieve?

For the News & Record, the goal was simple: to get into the space, figure out how the tablet experience works, and start to develop ways to move its audience toward its e-edition, which the paper will charge for at some point.

Rather than design an app that tried to do everything, CNN decided to focus on still and video images, which the iPad’s screen features well.

At CNN, Gump said, an initial discussion centered on whether to try to deliver “the kitchen sink or focus on a few things.” The team decided to capitalize on the immersive nature of the iPad with an app that delivered still images and video well. One assumption they made is that tablet owner would use the app while watching TV.

At Better Homes and Gardens, it was important to retain the feel of the brand. They wanted the app to feel more like the magazine than a completely new experience. “Once you make that decision, it sets the tone,” Belknap said. “We didn’t want it to be alien to our readers or difficult to navigate.” For that reason, they chose a horizontal format for the app, which better fits how the magazine uses photos.

What resources are available?

The News & Record built its app on a very tight budget. A local developer built it, and an in-house designer came up with the look and programmed the style sheets.

Better Homes and Gardens decided to work with Wonderfactory, an outside developer, to create the app, since they weren’t sure exactly what the potential was.

After talking over big-picture ideas, Wonderfactory came back and made a variety of suggestions. “We spent 75 percent of our time reviewing options, and then only 25 percent refining, because we were new at it,” Belknap said. “We didn’t know what we wanted, so it took us a long time to figure it out.”

Once they understood the process, they were able to use Wonderfactory as more of a consultant when developing the general magazine app.

What publishing processes are in place, and what do you need to develop?

For now, the News & Record app content is entirely feed-based, using the iATOM feeds  they send to the Associated Press. The company is implementing a new, Drupal-based content management system, which will provide more control over which content goes to the iPad.

The News & Record’s app, which is feed-based, offers limited content and promotes a separate e-edition.

Belknap said the app had a serious impact on workflow at Better Homes and Gardens. At first, many of the 30 people who work on the magazine  contributed to the app in some way, but that was too confusing. Now just two designers and two or three copy editors handle the app.

“I was surprised by how much of my time was taken up by who should be doing what and at what point,” Belknap said, “because you’re changing workflow so much.”

Another workflow decision was that about half of the iPad app will be templated, and the other half will be freshly designed each issue.

One lesson Belknap has learned: “Start your work on interactive elements as soon as possible.” At first, staff waited to create special iPad content, which was a mistake.

What content will you deliver?

The News & Record is publishing limited content to the iPad; columns, for instance, are not included. The app has a prominent front-page link promoting the e-edition, which has full content.

At Better Homes and Gardens, Belknap originally assumed that the easiest stories to produce for the app would be text-based pieces that have a couple of photos each and run in the back of the magazine.

“They felt really flat and boring, so we actually did more rewrite back there because we wanted to make them more interactive,” he said. For instance, copy and subheads in print became 12 buttons to push to find out 12 reasons you aren’t exercising.

Belknap said it was a surprise to find that different stories shine in different mediums. “We are thinking of them as being different. Some have to be different ideas in print and on the iPad.”

Staff at Better Homes and Gardens have started to think about what types of stories shine in the iPad format. Subheads in print could become buttons in the app.

How will you measure success?

According to Brewer, people at the News & Record believe that just giving the company a presence on the iPad is a success. They hope to move some people from the app to the eventual paid e-edition.

Gump said CNN’s main metric of success is, “How happy are consumers?” Staff are watching the total number of downloads, the traffic from the app and interest from advertisers.

At Better Homes & Gardens, Belknap said, the goal was “to do everything we can to come out with a nice product and learn what it takes to get it done,” which includes how much money and staff are needed.

Another goal is income, which the staff is working on. The magazine costs $3.99 for a current issue and 99 cents for back issues, and there are three to seven pages of advertising.

How will you maintain and iterate the app?

Brewer said there are no plans to improve the News & Record’s iPad app until the company can figure out its strategy across multiple platforms. As far as other products, they’re thinking about narrowly focused options, like a garage sale or Groupon-style app. For those, they’d look to a vendor.

For CNN, Gump said, “this is not fire and forget. Build, but have a plan for how to maintain.”

Now that the new iPads have cameras, he and his colleagues are thinking about how to deploy iReport. They’ve recently updated the app to use AirPlay technology, which means you can send video from the iPad to a television via Apple TV. And they’re watching usage metrics closely to see what features users like.

Better Homes and Gardens is turning its attention to iPad-specific content, video and sharing tools.

Three new apps, three very different processes, and all three are pleased with where they arrived. And all say it was a tremendous learning experience.

Brewer’s advice for news organizations that are just getting started: “I would not dump a lot of money into it until you have a full-on strategy for paid [content],” he said. “This was just something we could get out there and dabble with and see what happens.”

Gump said that a company should know what it’s trying to accomplish before building an app. “Not every company needs an iPad app — although most would probably benefit,” he said.

But it’s not a choice of either building an app or building an iPad-friendly site. He compared that to asking, “Do I want the front wheel or the back wheel on my bike?”

To learn more about how people use the iPad and what that means for news organizations, check out the News U Webinar, “iPads, Tablets and the News: What We Know Now.”

Correction: This article originally stated that the Better Homes and Gardens app is free and doesn’t have ads, but users do have to pay for issues, which carry a limited number of ads. Read more


Design mobile apps, sites for interruption and partial attention


The PC is like scuba-diving and mobile is like snorkeling, Rachel Hinman of Nokia told a group at the BAYCHI Interaction Design event this week. Luke Wroblewski’s notes from her talk make fascinating reading for anyone interested in the mobile user experience.

Hinman talked about what she considers the most important attributes of great mobile experiences: They are uniquely mobile, they are sympathetic to context, and they speak their power.

To design experiences that are uniquely mobile means realizing what mobile does well — it’s small, always with you and good for timely information — and use the constraints of the medium to help you focus.

To be effective in the mobile context, Hinman recommends designing for partial attention and interruption because mobile users need to be aware of what’s going on around them. She suggests that the mobile experience is like snorkeling, and the PC experience is more like scuba diving.

In saying that mobile apps and sites must “speak their power,” Hinman means that the interface must make its function obvious, like a light switch. She recommends ruthless editing: Focus on the main three to five things users want to do and cut out the rest.

That’s the short version. Now go read the whole thing. It’ll give you a lot to ponder. Read more

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Mobile devices growing as tools for e-mail, shopping, multimedia

comScore / In-Stat / Opera Software

A mini-flurry of research out this week adds to the growing pile of information on how people are using mobile devices. So, in no particular order, here’s what we’re learning:

You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, to find we check e-mail on our phones. Seriously, the news here is that the number of users checking Web-based e-mail declined last year by about 6 percent, while the number of users checking e-mail via a mobile device grew 36 percent. Here’s one reason why that matters: How do your e-mail newsletters look on a mobile device?

Next up: Shopping on mobile devices continues to grow. Opera’s monthly State of the Mobile Web report looked at changes in how users of the Opera Mini browser interacted with over the year. (Opera Mini is a Web browser used by 85.5 million users worldwide on a wide variety of mobile phones.) Such traffic to grew steadily throughout the year, especially in the U.S., with traffic spikes on Black Friday and shopping days in December that mirrored desktop-based Web use.

If you’re doing any e-commerce, you should be thinking about mobile shoppers:

“Improved mobile platforms and sites that more strongly consider multiple screen sizes have helped users to further embrace mobile shopping.”

The third bit of interesting research is on tablet use. The research firm In-Stat has released a report that suggests the “top three ranked uses for future tablet owners as e-mail, personal information management, and multimedia consumption (audio, video and gaming).” No surprises there, really.

An interesting tidbit from the In-Stat survey is that over half of the tablet owners surveyed spend at least nine hours a week on their device. As publishers develop tablet-specific products, they need to remember how much people use those devices to consume multimedia. Read more


Partnership between publisher and app developer results in top-selling iPhone game


A motocross game for the iPhone, developed by a small publisher and a game developer, is the 31st-highest selling paid app in the Apple App Store and number two among paid racing apps.

The partnership between Filter Publications, publisher of the motocross magazine Racer X Illustrated (circulation 60,000), and game developer Turborilla came about when Filter president Bryan Stealey saw the Mad Skills Motocross game on a computer.

” ‘We’d been toying with the idea that a publisher and a developer would make a good team,’ says Stealey. ‘It’s such a challenge for independent developers to get attention in a store with hundreds of thousands of apps, and we don’t really know how to make apps. Mad Skills Motocross was available on computers but because it’s a slide-scrolling arcade-style game, we thought it would be perfect for the iPhone.’ “

The resulting app, also named Mad Skills Motocross, debuted Jan. 10 and sells for $1.99. Turborilla owns the game and Filter is the marketing partner.

Promotion for the game took advantage of Racer X’s nearly 218,000 fans on Facebook and 15,672 Twitter followers, giving them an inside look at the game development:

” ‘The key is establishing a match with your brand,’ says Stealey. ‘We see this as significant revenue stream going forward.’ “

Read more

Remember these 5 trends in mobile for 2011

Momads in Video

Belgian mobile advertising/development firm Momads has produced an “Appy New Year” video that highlights five big-picture trends in mobile for 2011, all of which I think will have some application for journalists and publishers this coming year. If you keep up on mobile, none will surprise you, I suspect, but they are all worth keeping in mind.

The first is the most obvious: “The ‘faster than anything else’ consumer adoption rate of the mobile Web will only increase in 2011.”

You’ve heard it here, you’ve heard it everywhere, and we need to keep emphasizing this to decision-makers in newsrooms across the country. Don’t wait to treat your mobile product(s) seriously.

The last point may be the freshest: “Never heard of NFC? You will in 2011.” NFC stands for near field communication; it’s a technology that may help develop mobile devices as a way to pay for your coffee, as well as attach information to physical objects.

Take a look at the video for the other three points. It’s worth 2:40 of your time.

Hat tip to @ilicco for drawing my attention to this. Read more


Why iPads are hot but iPad magazines aren’t

Joe Zeff Design

Magazine app sales are slumping on the iPad, and there has been a lot of good analysis of how much and why — after the initial good news — there’s been a pretty steep decline. In a post today on his blog, designer Joe Zeff lists three reasons he thinks it’s happened:

  • Publishers are competing against themselves by not differentiating their print and iPad versions.
  • Consumer habits are still evolving.
  • Digital magazines need a subscription model. (This point probably has the most consensus.)

Zeff suggests that the second and third points will work themselves out. But the first point means publishers need to reinvent, not just redesign, publications for the tablet interface. One example he cites is O Magazine’s iPad app, SketchBook O, which enables readers to participate in creative activities from the magazine and submit them directly to the publisher from the iPad.

I think he’s right on the money in talking about reinvention. The difficulty is making it happen — finding the resources to devote to it, changing our way of thinking, and avoiding potential pitfalls of just being weird instead of inventive. But if we want to keep current audiences and develop new ones, we shouldn’t wait. Read more