CBC News is upping its user-generated content game with video comments


It looks like CBC News is upping the ante when it comes to comments and user-generated content with a new platform called GoodTalk.

From what I can gather, it’s an online tool that allows readers to record and submit video comments on news stories (currently only on stories from the Manitoba site).

It’s still very new and appears to be in beta phase — in fact, as of this writing, it looks like only one story is available to comment on so far. Interestingly, any searches for GoodTalk only brings up information about “a new-style chat app” that originated in China.

From the CBC GoodTalk FAQ:

GoodTalk is an online engagement tool designed to allow media audiences to watch and create short video comments about web articles. GoodTalk is partnering with CBC News to test this tool out with stories originating from its newsroom in Manitoba. CBC Manitoba picks featured stories for GoodTalk comments and may promote them online, on TV and radio. Each featured story is open for video comment submission for 24 hours.

All approved comments appear on the GoodTalk website and some may be featured on CBC TV. They can also be shared on social media.

It’s an interesting concept, and I’ll be watching to see if it catches on. Although if you’ve ever read through the comments section of a news site, your head might be spinning at the thought of seeing some of those gems in video form. **shudders**

Check out the CBC GoodTalk website here — the FAQ is worth perusing if you want to learn more about it.

Image credit: cbc.goodtalk.org


So long Anna Wintour, hello Michelle Phan: beauty bloggers are the new beauty editors


Please offer a warm welcome to our first-ever guest blogger, Kat Shermack. While I’m sure my words and commentary are pure gold, every so often, I’d like to feature the thoughts and opinions of other journalists in the industry. Kat Shermack is a freelance journalist who has contributed to Toronto Life, Investment Executive and The Grid. You can find her on Twitter at @katshermack.

When I was in high school and I was supposed to be doing homework I would find a lot of ways to procrastinate: talk to my friends on the phone, see if my crush was on MSN Messenger, or flick through the channels on T.V. Now when I’m procrastinating, I text my friends, see if my crush posted anything on Instagram, and watch YouTube videos.

Some of my favourite YouTube videos to watch are beauty videos. There are over 45,000 channels on YouTube specifically devoted to beauty, and their videos get millions of views a month. Mostly young women, who actually don’t need makeup at all, post videos about their favourite products, discuss the hottest makeup trends, and do makeup tutorials.

There is nothing new about the content. Magazines like Vogue and Cosmo have been doing these types of stories for decades. What’s different is the connection the viewers have with beauty YouTubers. Most of the videos are filmed and edited by the young woman themselves, usually right in their home. You’re not getting advice from an editor sitting in the Conde Nast office in New York City. You’re getting advice from someone who feels more like your friend.

Don’t get it twisted though — beauty YouTubers don’t work for free. Unlike my colleagues who work at newspapers, YouTubers have figured out how to monetize their business, and a lot of them do quite well for themselves. A lot of videos are sponsored by established makeup brands. Some YouTubers partner with makeup companies and put out their own products. This is all in addition to the money YouTube pays its content creators for all their videos.

It might seem silly to spend time talking about the business of beauty on YouTube. But I think these young women have figured out something a lot of people haven’t. Young people don’t have the same connection to traditional media that their parents had. They would rather listen to someone shooting a video in their living room than a mainstream magazine or T.V. show. Take a closer look at a smokey eye tutorial. It says a lot about how the way we consume media has changed.

—Kat Shermack

Image credit: YouTube

11 essential apps for journalists


Once upon a time, a reporter’s toolkit included things like a pen, notepad, audio recorder, camera, and a laptop (or typewriter, if you’re real old school). But these days, a smartphone loaded with the right apps is really all you need to get things done (although I’ll never give up my pen and notepad). Here is a list of a few of the best apps for journalists (warning: it’s iOS-heavy), starting with the obvious ones:

Google Maps: Because who actually knows how to read paper maps anymore, am I right? This app is a lifesaver for people who are directionally challenged, like me. You can also plan your routes (including public transportation), so you’re never late for an interview.

Notes (iOS only): One of the default iOS apps, I love it as a no-frills way of jotting down important information or story ideas on the go.

Evernote: Like the iOS Notes app, but more robust. It lets you create notes, audio memos and images that you can access across devices and on your browser. I use Evernote’s other app, Scannable, to scan business cards; it magically turns the scanned cards into contacts that are automatically stored in the Evernote app.

Google Drive/Docs/Sheets: Confession time: I do a lot of my story writing right on my smartphone while sitting on public transportation. Saving it on the cloud makes it easier to pick up right where I left off whenever I’m back at my desk. Also great for any collaborative projects so everyone can work on the same file in real time instead of sending different versions back and forth.

Google Calendar: I’m a big fan of Google products, even if it means they know everything about my entire life. The app is pretttyyy, and along with events and appointments, you can also enter goals and reminders.

Todoist: One of the more popular to-do list apps. It’s actually a great app — you can categorize your tasks, set due dates, and indicate priority levels — but I personally still prefer paper to-do lists.

DocScan: A scanner app is a must, in my opinion, and this is my app of choice (I find Scannable too annoying for anything beyond business cards). You can store your documents on the app or email them to yourself. If you upgrade to the pro version, you can export your files and folders to Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox or a bunch of other storage apps.

TapeACall: One of the most-recommended apps for recording phone calls (which is surprisingly hard to do on an iPhone). To be honest, I still use the old-school method of connecting my recorder to my mobile phone via stereo cable. Not perfect, but neither am I.

Hindenburg Field Recorder: This is an audio recording app that I see commonly used among radio journalists. I actually once shadowed a reporter who used nothing but a microphone plugged into his iPhone and this app to record interviews and voicers, edit them into a story and FTP the broadcast-ready version back to the office just before air time — all while in the field. I was impressed.

Camera+ (iOS only): As the name implies, this is a camera app, but also so much more. I prefer this over the native iPhone camera app because it gives you manual controls over exposure, ISO, shutter speed and white balance. You can also edit your photos right in the app.

iMovie (iOS only): This is my go-to app for video editing. You get a video track, an audio track, title cards. You can split and trim clips easily, move ’em around on the timeline, detach audio, add transitions, and more. It’s as robust as it needs to be for a quick video, while still being dead simple to use.

What other apps do you find useful for doing your work? I’m always looking for recommendations so share them in the comments!

Image credit: PixaBay


We’re all responsible for making good journalism happen — even the readers


I often get frustrated when I hear people rag on the media and complain about the lack of quality journalism out there these days, as though newspeople all got together one day and decided we were just going to start phoning it in.

Yes, original, quality reporting might not be as bountiful as one might hope for, but unless you’re 1) paying for your news, and/or 2) regularly clicking on and reading the important-issue stories (as opposed to, you know, the ones about what Kim Kardashian said this week), then you’re complicit in the problem.

Freelance writer Anya Wassenberg recently wrote a piece for The Huffington Post Canada called Want Meaningful, Original Journalism? Then Start Paying For It. It had me internally waving my hands in the air and screaming, “Preach!”

She lays out what really goes into writing an original piece of journalism.

What it boils down to is this: Time and money. To write a standard 500 to 750 word article in the old-fashioned newspaper style means phone calls, maybe even in-person appointments and research, along with searching the Internet. That means, even under ideal conditions, I can turn in maybe two of those in a typical work day. Ideal conditions means that the information and people I need to access are immediately available. If not, it might stretch to a couple of days, even a week or more to put everything together.

In this model, journalism is a full-time job with full-time wages.

Good journalism is expensive, and unfortunately, the way things work in our corporate media environment, if readers aren’t paying for it (everything should be free on the internet, right?) — or at the very least, clicking on it — then it won’t get made.

I’ve seen the numbers firsthand. There is analytics software that shows not only how many people click on a particular story, but how far down the page they actually read. And let me tell you, as someone who got into this field because she believed in the power of media to inform and engage people on important social issues, I find the reality pretty grim.

Back when I was still in the daily newsroom, the stories about Justin Beiber and and Rob Ford’s antics far, far outperformed stories about the the political situation in Syria or massacres in Nigeria. In a digital world where “data-driven decision making” is all the rage, the data doesn’t look so good for quality journalism on meaningful topics.

Of course, when it comes to the fate of the news media, there are no simple answers. But before you start pointing fingers, remember we’re all responsible, readers included, for making sure that good journalism rises to the top.

Image credit: PixaBay

Beyond audiograms: The challenges of making audio shareable on social media


Getting people to share audio on social media is no easy feat. In fact, with all the effort that Facebook has been putting into making video the dominant form of content on its platform, a whopping 85 per cent of Facebook video is watched without sound.

Podcasters and radio stations who publish audio online face the unique challenge of getting social media users to listen, a behaviour that’s completely opposite to what is now the norm. It can be frustrating, since there are so many great audio stories being made but no obvious way to make them shareable, what with the web being so dominantly visual (think memes, GIFs and viral video).

But NPR seems to be leading the charge in experimenting with different methods of sharing audio. The NewsWhip blog recently published a post looking at 4 ways the network is bringing radio to Facebook news feeds. You can read the full post over there, but the TL;DR version is that they’re:

  1. posting direct links to audio streams
  2. livestreaming their newscasts via Facebook Live
  3. creating audiograms, which are audio sound waves in video format
  4. creating images with quotes from the interview on them (This one’s a stretch, in my opinion, since there’s no actual listening happening)

And it may be working apparently. According to NewsWhip, NPR has seen sustained growth in engagement, going from 5.4 million engagements in February 2016 to 11.9 million in February 2017. That’s an increase of 121 per cent — although how much of that is actual listening isn’t clear.

At CBC Radio, we’ve played with audio slideshows, which can be beautiful and compelling, but are time-consuming to make.

Whatever the solution is to making audio more shareable on social media, I believe it will come from the platforms themselves developing an easier method of listening, rather than publishers trying to find workarounds with existing tools.

Last Spring, NPR wrote about their experiment with a beta audio player that actually appears in the Facebook feed (It was designed for music services like Spotify). I’m not sure what happened to it, and I still have never seen the audio player pop up in my own feed (although I’m sure if Facebook had prioritized audio in its algorithm the same way it prioritizes video, it would have done a lot better than it has).

Facebook is currently testing Live Audio players with some of its partners, including BBC World. The player includes continuous streaming even when the app is closed (at least for Android phones), which lines up with how people generally listen to audio on their devices. Whether it will catch on remains to be seen, but more thinking like this is a step in the right direction.

Image credit: PixaBay

Listen to this radio documentary: Now everyone can write a song


A few weeks ago, my CBC Radio co-worker Ben Shannon asked me if I wanted to be a subject in a radio documentary he was working on about music making apps. The question he wanted to answer: Can someone with limited musical training (e.g. me) compose a song using only a few phone apps?

As someone who’s used to being the interviewer, it was strange to be on the other side. But it turned out to be relatively painless, and I had a great time playing around with some of the nifty apps he showed me.

It aired last weekend on CBC Radio’s Spark. And, of course, with Ben being on the digital team, he put together an online version, featuring some of his original graphics and an animation. You can check out the full story over at the Spark website (and find out how well I did on my task).

Let me know what you think!

Image credit: Ben Shannon/CBC

What goes into making a data visualization project


The Washington Post recently published a data visualization interactive detailing more than 500 potential conflicts of interest by Donald Trump and his children, and showing all the links between them.

Unfortunately, I’m not a WaPo subscriber, so I haven’t actually been able to play around with the interactive, but StoryBench interviewed the duo behind it, reporter Joel Eastwood and graphic designer Julia Wolfe.

It’s a great peek behind the curtain at what goes into making these data visualization projects, from the reporting and data analysis to the design and development  (Hint: it’s a lot of work).

According to Eastwood:

“It was a collaborate process. The original idea was to do a graphic-related story of President Trump’s holdings. We had a number of reporters who had a number of stories focusing on similar topics. They wanted the graphic to become a summarized overview of these stories.”

The interview really gets into the nitty gritty of bringing this project to life, so if you’re interested in creating data journalism of your own, it’s a worthwhile read. You can read the full article over at StoryBench.

Image credit: PixaBay

There’s an online tool that lets journalists easily estimate crowd sizes


It’s an ongoing joke that journalists are notoriously bad at math — after all, that’s probably why a lot us took up writing as a career.

Similarly, I’ve also heard quite a few journos admit to being terrible at estimating crowd sizes (I definitely am), which is kind of insane when you consider the fact that a big part of our jobs is reporting on events, often ones with people at them, and writing articles that eventually become a part of the historical record. So knowing crowd sizes is kind of important in our line of work.

Crowd size became a much talked-about subject after Trump’s inauguration when the White House grossly inflated attendance numbers and accused media of fudging the facts. A few publications clapped back with articles detailing exactly how crowd scientists came to their conclusions. Here are just a few of them:

Well, now a developer from France has harnessed the power of Google Maps and created a tool that lets people easily estimate crowd sizes based on location and crowd density. It’s called MapChecking and was built by Anthony Catel. (It’s currently only in French.)

He told Poynter:

“I just did this in one hour last Thursday morning, to be honest,” Catel said. “I thought, ‘lets do something simple that journalists and readers can use to stop this bullshit.'”

There’s still a bit of guesswork involved, truth be told, but it’s a lot better than pulling numbers out of the air, and I can see it being quite useful for news organizations  and journalists who want to make an initial estimate before calling up their crowd scientist sources or for fact-checking those so-called “official” crowd size estimates.

Poynter has a great little step-by-step tutorial on how to use the tool.

Image credit: MapChecking.com