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Secrets to Successful Online Publishing

Secrets to Successful Online Publishing
By Sylvia Mendoza
(Master’s Program Final Assignment; Journalism 620 Online Publishing)

Networking. Social Media. Multi-media. SEO. Billboard approaches. Links, hubs, nodes. Websites. Internet. The World Wide Web. Anchor text. Interactive. Audience-driven. The jargon itself seems technical and fast-paced. But what pulls these elements together is interconnectivity.

Beyond our personal lives, this networking world has also transformed traditional news gathering and dissemination in print, broadcast and radio mediums. The way news—and online publishing—is covered today, is also fast paced, far-reaching, interactive and instantaneous. Successful news coverage offers an audience options in how to read, listen to, or view a story.

Producing news for online journalism and publishing is about networking and linking to promising audiences—but it goes beyond being efficient in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, and a myriad of other online networking sources. When we set up websites, we must be conscious of the words we choose, placement of those words and graphics and possibility for links. In the textbook, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug shows how important it is to be aware of and practice more of a “billboard” approach.    

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.

Awareness will make us better journalists for online publishing. Kirby Harrison compares analyzing websites with how he first viewed films, which is the career path he wants to pursue. Harrison says in his blog, “Now, I look at the little details that are wrong with the web. It was similar with film, when I went to the movies, all I did was watch the movie. It didn’t matter if it was a horror film or a comedy, I just enjoyed my time in the theatre. After learning more details into what it takes to make a film, camera angles, and the eventual do’s and don’t’s in filmmaking, I saw movies differently. Instead of enjoying what I was watching, I started judging the camera angles, whether or the director should have used a wide angle or not, etc.”

Like Harrison, journalists must be aware of how their work can be most effective. They must communicate and produce stories they are assigned or are compelled to tell—in one medium or another—but also in a multi-media focus to keep audiences engaged and keep the news interactive.

Jane Clifford explained this extremely well in her blog, “Digital Daze.” She writes, “After realizing — and accepting — that online readers are different in their approach to news (they choose what to read, when to read it, whether to respond to it on the spot and, much like being in a buffet line, they may taste a map, such as this one digest a graphic or list or photo, and move on to the next story sooner or later, depending on how well the journalist holds the viewer’s attention), online reporters must make sure a story is more than text.”

So what makes one news agency or journalist stand out from another? What is the secret to successful online publishing? What is the secret to successful networking?

Networking was not always associated with the Internet. In Hassan Alassaly’s blog, he reminded me of how our textbook, Linked, began—citing a networking venture that is centuries old. Alassaly writes, “Albert Barabasi[‘s] first pages of his book “Linked” he talks about the networking and how is it works, and to tell us it has been used since the beginning of the Christianity describing Paul that he understood his message is not enough to be reached for, except by networking.  He has to walk 10,000 miles in 12 years of his life to contact as many people as he can to connect his idea about Christianity and Jesus of Nazareth.”

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

Technological advances and mediums that are the norm now have been foreign to me, a print journalist for the last 30 years.  In National University’s Online Publishing class for its Digital Journalism graduate program, every class has led to this one.  The core group of students in the program personifies a solid networking system.    Students are learning there are no secrets to successful online publishing. It is hard work. It is adapting. It is about putting into practice what we learn in the classroom—and also trusting our instincts. It is about what we bring to the table as individual professionals. It is about telling compelling stories that will draw audiences and reaction.Through all the readings in this class—Don’t Make Me Think by Steven Krug, Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins, and Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi—what I’ve learned most is this:

  • the news is ever changing,
  • multi-media offers interactive alternatives for the online user,
  • the dissemination of news is interactive and instantaneous, and
  • successful promotion of a news article or news agency depends on how effectively key words and phrases are used that can optimize an online search on a given topic.

A journalist can adapt to a digital journalism world by remembering two valuable practices. 1. She must remain true to ethical journalism standards as she researches and reports her story. 2. She must strive to tell a story with heart, which was the crux of Tompkins’ viewpoint. If one can get to the emotional core of a story—the heart of a story—the more likely audiences can relate—and will return to a site to learn more.   

Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins

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

The beauty of networking is that one story can link to other sources, one person can tell their friends and families to link, and then the network for a story grows. Journalism student, Nebo Uyanwah, seemed to enjoy how Linked resonated and gave a new perspective of the magnitude of the Internet. “I love the analogy of the web being different continents or very large communities,” Uyanwah says.

This is how we network and grow as journalism students in the program. We read texts from experts in the field of impactful journalism so that we all start on the same footing. During weekly Live Chat sessions we listen to each other’s comments and discuss certain materials; we link to each other’s blogs and learn about personal style while seeing the strengths and diversity of perspectives. Our professors invite us to stay linked and suddenly, our networking circle has grown.  

As Professor Theresa Collington states, we need to “begin to view (digital) society as a complex social network. The world is actually very small.”

Indeed, Jerry Simpson put that idea to the test when he “linked” with Collington. “I was surprised as the number of connections you and I have in the journalism world,” he writes in his blog. “About a dozen of my friends follow you and even though we haven’t met in person, we are connected or as the author points out “Linked.””

We are enlightened by each other in these journalism classes, too. Insight by Mark Taylor enlightened me as to why Barabasi used the example of Gaetan Dugas, known as “Patient Zero” in the AIDS epidemic, in the Viruses and Fads Chapter. I initially had trouble equating it with the concept of being linked.

Taylor says, “People infected with HIV not only provide an example of the six degrees of separation outlined in the first nine chapters but the epidemic also implies that networks can be made to be damaged…Many journalists rely on digital devices and various social media outlets to reach out to other networks to acquire information needed for news stories. If an act of cyber terrorism was launched against these devices our communication infrastructure would be greatly hindered.”

When each of us in these classes shares insights, perspectives and news coverage practices, they link us to other points of view. Isn’t it part of a journalist’s job to see as many sides of a story as possible?

What I have loved most through all the readings is the concept of interconnectivity that Barabasi brought to life through discussion of the Pareto Principle—or Six Degrees of Separation. He made it fun and relatable by describing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. We are in a connected world but we have to go beyond that basic concept to produce news that matters to more people.    

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Game

It is taking this interconnectivity and following the lessons Krug tells of producing effective websites that are conscious of the target audience. “They want information fast, at their convenience, which is easy to understand,” says Mark Godi. “Often times, they want to get in and get out. To make them stay, your site has to be interactive.”

Interconnectivity is about believing that the heart of a good story will resonate with audiences as Tompkins believes—while using basic, effective online journalism practices. It is understanding that we are all connected as social human beings, in one way or another. In a beautifully clear written summary of Aim for the Heart, Mic Simpson reiterates, “Stories that pull at the heartstrings will not only be remembered but retold to co-workers, friends, or families. Then you’ve not only affected those who were there for the original story, but so many more as well.”

Glenda McCray-Fikes points out that Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point, realizes that we may know the same number of people as the person next to us. However, some people are connectors. McCray-Fikes explains, “Connectors are the folks that are strong networkers and can get a message to more people in shorter amount of time then the average person.”

Even with seven billion people in the world, we are linked. As journalists, we can be the connectors. When we keep the power of the written word and multi-media coverage professional, yet authentic, interconnectivity can also be more powerful than we ever imagined.     

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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.    

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