Sylvia Spotlights: Writing, Women, and the Big "What-ifs"

The Power of the Written Word at Work

Archive for the month “July, 2012”

Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?

Interconnectivity: Are You Linked to Kevin Bacon?
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Assignment: Journalism 620: Online Publishing)

With more than 7 billion people in the world (US Census Bureau), the Internet and social media make us believe that it just might be a small world, despite the numbers. With an incredible network of connections, it is sometimes unfathomable to believe that someone from California could possibly connect to someone they have never met in London, through the various Internet sources find a bed and breakfast or do a home swap in time for the  2012 Olympics.

Bodies, bridges, social networks–what do they have in common?

Oh, the beauty of being interconnected. This phenomenon for everything from businesses, to a body, to social networks is shown historically in the book, Linked: The New Science of Networks: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Science, Business and Everyday Life. According to the book blurb, author “Albert-László Barabási, the nation’s foremost expert in the new science of networks, takes us on an intellectual adventure to prove that social networks, corporations, and living organisms are more similar than previously thought.”

At this point in time, there is a convergence of centuries of mathematical and scientific formulas that form the basis for the belief that networks are present everywhere and in everything. Barbasi describes nodes, links, hubs and networks, labeling “isolated nodes” as people. As an example,  he says when people meet each other, they form a link. When several people get together, say at a party to share information, they form a network or cluster. So, like the internet, a network of connections can go from “isolated nodes” to isolated networks to big clusters with a commonality. Networks can be “computers linked by phone lines, islands connected by bridges and molecules in our bodies linked by chemical bonds.” These networks are linked to connectors and hubs that can cause exponential growth and opportunities for more connections and knowledge.

“Networks are …competitive…dynamic systems that change constantly through the addition of new nodes and links.” with a vivid example of serving a rare wine at a party. Share this with another person, then that person tells the next and then that person tells someone he knows. Pretty soon, everyone knows about the tasty rare wine and it will be gone before the next link can be created. Connectors are people who can literally, connect people, business, entities to others. Hubs “are places on the Internet where all of the important things from connectors are linked.”

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

Barabasi uses the concept of “Six Degrees of Separation” to explain how closely we can be connected to others and not even realize it. Hungarian Author Frigyes Karinthy first wrote about this theory—that everyone in the world can be connected “through a chain of acquaintances of no more than five intermediaries”—in his 1929 “Chains.” This concept is illustrated in the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Actor Kevin Bacon is seen as a Hollywood hub for all actors who have worked with him or someone he knows.  

The best example of these types of strong and weak connections is LinkedIn. Strong ties are those people who are super close to us, but the best “investment” is to branch out to the weak ties, those we may not know as well, but who can broaden our connections. In my own LinkedIn account, some amazing statistics state:  510 connections link you to 6,365,236+ professionals; and, 65,321 new people in your network since July 22. Wow.

When I took Social Media for Editors at UCSD Extension, what I learned from instructor Erin Brenner reinforced Barabasi’s viewpoint: that for effective connections, I would not benefit from linking to so many other writers, but I would benefit if I linked to organizations or individuals who I wanted to reach as potential clients, such as motivational Latina speakers.

Barabasi mentions the “power laws;” one revolves around the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. His belief? Power comes from a few. He said that 80% of the property in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Another: 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your clients. My favorite?  How 20% of the population earns 80% of the income.

There are consequences to all this interconnectivity that the general public may not aware of.  In some cases, if technology fails, the world as we know it can come to a stop. There are entities that help monitor what can go wrong, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  DARPA focuses on “the development of new network technologies that will allow the networks of the future to be resistant to attacks and continue to provide network services.”

Precautions must be taken. “MafiaBoy,” a 15-year-old who hacked into and handicapped Yahoo, Amazon.com, CNN.com, Etrade and Excite in one fell swoop, was first thought to be a cyber-terrorist by the FBI. Barabasi shows how those sites came to a screeching halt for serviceability. Barabasi also mentions how if major hubs are shut down, a domino effect can ensue. His example? American airports. If Chicago O’Hare, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta were shut down, “all air travel within the United States would come to a halt within hours.”

Interconnectivity. There is absolute awe in the concept. But there should also be a little bit of wariness. A little bit of fear. And a whole lot of respect for the power at our fingertips.  

 

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Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch

Aiming for the Heart: Online Publishing with a Punch
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program/Digital Journalism/#620 Online Publishing)

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

“Write, Shoot, Report & Produce for TV and Multimedia”

Online publishing puts news at a consumer’s fingertips in an instant. For any journalist trained in only print, radio or television, online publishing is a new world.  Think multi-media. Think “billboard” for posting headlines and text. Think interactive.

In the book, Aim for the Heart: Write, Shoot, Report and Produce for TV and Multimedia, journalist author Al Tompkins lays out the facts of an ever-changing terrain—journalism as we’ve known it, and how a journalist must adapt to online publishing. Tompkins, who is also senior faculty for the Poynter Institute, points out how there must be a great shift in thinking, training, ethics, and coverage techniques in order to be most effective and offer readers multiple ways to consume the news. 

Poynter Institute faculty member Al Tompkins teaches how to produce effective content for multimedia journalism.

Online publishing is about engaging audience.

Interaction
Online publishing should not be the same as what we put on TV. It is not TV. It is about letting the viewers, listeners and readers decide how they want to consume the news—even on that particular day, for that particular kind of news story. Visuals include maps, graphs, video, still photo galleries, raw footage, text, and links (but make sure they are legitimate, reputable and add to the story, since readers are taken away from the news site). There are “comments” sections after stories and with blogs, various ways to post on Twitter, and easy-to-follow directions to allow readers to post videos or stills on sites.

Cover a story from different angles, beyond the initial story focus. Tompkins suggests, for example, shooting half-time entertainment at high school football games to reach a different audience from the same location—band members, cheerleaders and their families. Make it personal. Localize it.

Interactive maps are another way to engage audiences. They can pinpoint where they are during a natural disaster, for example, and write a recap of what is happening in their neighborhoods.

Online, All the Time
Most users log in either midmorning or in midafternoon. There is constant updating to an online news story; however, a journalist must post with very specific, focused language. Nowadays, when audiences go online to search for a story, do research or expand their knowledge on a topic, they use search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. The words they key in to “search” for their topic can lead them to a news agency’s site—if that site is using those words in the stories and headlines.

Therefore, using key words thoughtfully and strategically can garner more “readership.” This process is called search engine optimization. Tompkins pointed out how the Sacramento Bee changed its “Real Estate” section to “Homes.” He said, “People who are looking for a house do not search the words “real estate.”

Other ways to draw readership include having compelling video and photo shots that are close up rather than wide angled. Enlarge fonts and practice selective word choice.

An interesting fact from Poynter Eyetrack showed that “online users tend to read more of an article than print readers do…” so to get them to read a story, a journalist has to offer the key words they searched for. Journalists also need to write tight—no more than 800 words—and 15 words or less per sentence. In other words, the story has to be enticing, engaging, interactive, and informative.

The Journalist’s Responsibility
One is no longer “just” a print media journalist. A “backpack” journalist must sharpen her skills so that she can file her own stories, become computer savvy, involve social media tools, know basics of Photoshop, video editing and audio editing, and understand “netiquette.” At all times a journalist must think in multi-media layers. Assessing readership is crucial. Why did they come to your website? What were they expecting? How can you present information? Visitor presence is measured through page views, visitors, unique visitors and the time they all spend on the site and all these factors must be taken into account as a reporter covers stories.   

Editor, Professor, Chair of RTDNA, Stacey Woelfel. Photo credit: journalism.missouri.edu

Most importantly, a journalist’s code of ethics must remain steady even as online publishing changes continuously. In 2010, Tompkins, along with news director Kevin Benz, Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) chair Stacey Woelfel, attorneys and other media representatives, produced  guidelines for the ethical use of social media. These social media guidelines for journalists include truth and fairness, accountability and transparency, and image and reputation. Journalists are expected to uphold these.

Sources must always be verified. Truth must be exposed. Awareness of the casualness of social media like Twitter should not be an excuse for inaccuracy and unfairness. Personal opinions and “friending” should not cross professional lines. With an intuitive guideline, a journalist must still “aim for the heart” in order to connect with readers on an emotional, interactive level.

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“Billboard” Thinking for Better Web Sites

Billboard Thinking for Better Web Sites
By Sylvia Mendoza

For journalists, words are powerful. They are the foundation and building blocks of a great story. The goal is to produce facts about a news event, features stories and profiles that show depth and heart, or insight that offers an opinion. The way words are strung together can produce sentences and paragraphs that present the material in a clear, concise and comprehensive manner—and still have an impact. The goal: to grab a reader’s attention and tell the best possible story. Effective word choice can make all the difference. Today, in a multi-media world, word choice has to be thoughtful and efficient.

Don't Make Me Think

Author Steve Krug uses common sense tactics to make web site development user-friendly and efficient–which can result in more traffic to a site, more sales & improved online presence.

For many news agencies, online presence is a matter of fact. Designing web sites that are user friendly and get a message across quickly is the goal. Word choice on web sites is especially crucial, as is placement of information on a page. In his book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, author Steve Krug spotlights an incredibly sensible, simple, common sense approach to user friendly sites with two very basic components to keep in mind: users scan and don’t read, therefore, developers must think “billboard.”  

In Chapter 3, “Billboard Design 101,” he reiterates the importance of word choice and word placement. Buttons, links, hyperlinks, highlighted text, graphics, video and boxes on a page must be used with words to help a user have a basically good, fulfilling and result-oriented experience on a particular site. The bottom line is, once a user is at a site, don’t make her think. The process of scanning a page, especially a home page, should be mindless, effortless and not frustrating or confusing.  No bells and whistles needed, just clarity.

Krug, an expert in the field of web usability, has worked with big-name business sites such as Amazon.com, Apple, Lexus, and barnesandnoble.com, as well as other sites. He assesses what works and what doesn’t on web sites—from a user’s point of view. The consequences of not having a clear and easy format?  People may try to muddle their way through the site, try to figure out what you’re trying to sell or services you offer, but in the long run, chances are likely that they won’t return if it takes too much effort.

Working with a team such as a web designer, sales and marketing rep, and administrative honcho when trying to develop a site, can be difficult. Their needs for particular information can affect the overall essence of the project—and it can fail miserably because too much info is overpowering a page. Yet, Krug appeals to common sense efforts to entice users to a site and have them return over and over.

Added “Sensible” Bonus

One of my favorite parts in the book was on the billboard approach because as a print journalist, I tend to write long and think I need “just one more thing,” which, Krug says, can be enough to tip a user’s experience to the dark side. I also enjoyed the entire chapter on “Designing the Home Page” because that is the first stop—and you don’t want it to be the last for any visitor. He mentions key elements for the home page: site identity and mission, site hierarchy, teasers of what is inside and timely content, among others—all to make it absolutely clear “what the site is.” I did especially love what he says a user will ask: “What can I find here? And “What can I do here?” It is about easy access for information on what you are selling, promoting or promise to deliver.

Also interesting was the “reservoir of goodwill” and how a person/business must be considerate of the user. Building goodwill between a site and a user, includes knowing “the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy;” “tell me what I want to know;” and “save me steps whenever you can.” The “Accessibility” chapter was also a great bonus because often times, developers do not tend to think about including elements for people with disabilities such as deafness or blindness.  

Advanced Common Sense, Krug’s web usability consulting site, is a great addition to the book and offers updated timely advances by Krug, as well as a medium where he can promote his usability workshops and consultation services. His corporate motto—“It’s not rocket surgery,” however, was at the bottom of the page, which is not what he recommended in the examples throughout the book. However, Krug’s blog, Some Slightly Irregular, offers a more user-friendly way of getting to particular issues, questions or problems with the book and/or workshop content. Krug ties together all his skills and services through the book, the site and the blog in an efficient way.

Show Me the Money
Krug could have included example sites for entrepreneurs or those in the creative arts, such as authors, photographers, artists. Their needs seem to be different than a huge business that is appealing to mass sales instead of niche markets. The initial common sense approach might be the same, but the emphasis may be on what the artist wants—or needs—and should have more creative expression on their sites. Take, for example, photographer Ann Collins. Her site, imagesbyanncollins.com, has to be visual.  How can she get more traffic to her site and stay true to her art and visual beauty for emphasis?

For the e-book version, which was downloaded from Amazon.com, there were some formatting issues and typos that temporarily distracted, but they did not take away from the brilliance of the content. Krug could also have improved the last two chapters he added to this edition. They did not seem to flow with the rest of the book’s style and focus. The chapter on usability testing was long and drawn out; not as concise as other chapters. The “what bosses think” chapter also seemed laborious to wade through. The info here could have been condensed and even inserted into an already-established chapter.

To develop a site that will be user-friendly and clear, the first stop for the site owner, developer, designer and all involved in the process, should be to read Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. Much of it is common sense and the user-friendly approach makes the book a gem of a source for creating outstanding sites.    

Oscar Pistorius–Inspiration for the Olympics & Beyond!

By Sylvia Mendoza

No whining, no blaming, no pity parties. This is living. Oscar Pistorius should be the new poster guy for Nike.  Just Do It!

Can hardly wait for the Olympics to start. Go Oscar!

 

Oscar Pistorius is going to the Olympics: Oscar Pistorius has been selected to run in both the individual 400 metres and the 4×400-metre relay at the London Olympics and is set to become the first amputee track athlete to compete at any games.In a surprising last-minute decision Wednesday, South Africa’s Olympic committee and national track federation cleared the double amputee to run in his individual event. (Nationalpostsports.tumblr.com)

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July, everyone!  After taking an International Reporting class for my Digital Journalism master’s program, today especially, I’m terribly proud and eternally grateful to live in America.  Despite problems and shortcomings, in comparison to many other countries, we have so many opportunities and blessings. I thank my dad, brother, uncles and cousins who have served in our Armed Forces. And for the thousands who serve today, thank you! Though your transition home may take time, I hope you know that your sacrifices for our freedom have not gone unnoticed.

Today I will celebrate, I will cry when I truly listen to the words of our patriotic songs, and I will believe in better days ahead. Please enjoy some of my favorite versions of God Bless America (Martina McBride), our National Anthem–The Star Spangled Banner (Kelly Clarkson) and America the Beautiful (Ray Charles).

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