Thirteen months since its inception, and after a month of re-design effort, I'm ready to re-launch the Reformer802.com landing page (possibly the page that brought you here?).
The new page is more static, featuring automated RSS feeds from the various blogs we've labeled as part of the "community." This allows bloggers to focus on their own blogs instead of promoting each post on their own blog with another post on the Reformer802 home page. (I will admit, I borrowed the concept from several other sites, but tried to give Reformer802 it's own look at the same time.)
I'm attempting to categorize the blogs by theme, and took great effort to retain the page's minimalistic appearance. As the community grows, so to will the list of blogs. Most important, in my view, was creating a page that was dynamic and constantly changed, to make people want to visit and revisit the page to see what's new.
There are still several tweaks to work on in the coming weeks, but I hope this new look leads to new community writers interested in sharing their thoughts and opinions with the general readership.
A quick post-storm examination of the Reformer's Hurricane Sandy coverage: Last week, our partners at Digital First Media created an interactive map which was tracking the storm's progression up the East Coast (particularly of interest since no one was exactly clear on where Sandy was headed). We posted that map as breaking news throughout the weekend, and it was far-and-away the most popular online feature at Reformer.com.
Building off that, I decided to create a "storm center" of sorts on the website: There I was able to house not only our own, local coverage of the storm and what Windham County officials were doing to prepare for its arrival, as well as area closings and cancellations, but also various other pieces of information: interactive maps like the one mentioned above, tips for getting through the storm, photo slideshows from throughout the region, and other great coverage being generated by our DFM partners.
Being able to merge this information into one section for our readers created a great product, and offer a dimension of coverage I don't think we would have been able to pull off a few years ago.
As a follow up to a post from a few weeks ago (How do you want your news?), here's a graphic I created for the upcoming Reformer centennial special section being published in the next few days. It speaks to the newspaper industry -- where we were, and where we're headed.
A little graphic I put together today highlighting the various ways we provide the news to readers:
Following our recent success with livestreaming, we'll have two more candidates stop by the Reformer offices on Thursday -- Wendy Wilton, candidate for state treasurer; and Emily Peyton, independent candidate for Vermont governor -- to meeting with the editorial board and our political beat writer.
Learning from the past session(s), we'll try some new/different camera angles. I'm also hoping promoting such meetings further in advance will prompt questions from the community. My biggest concern is that while the timing of such meetings -- typical early to mid-afternoon, or late morning -- isn't quite as convenient to members of the community, who are more than likely at jobs at those times. Still, following the livestream the interviews are saved into our YouTube Channel, so people can still benefit from them even if they can't interact.
Coming up next week, Rep. Peter Welch may be stopping by the offices. And several other candidates have left messages to set up meetings. It looks to be a busy month-and-a-half before the November elections!
As happens frequently in the lead-up to elections, I frequently have local and state candidates stop by the Reformer offices to meet with the editorial board and discuss the campaign. Over the past few years, I've made a point to include a reporter on those discussions.
I know these visits are all part of the campaign; For the amount of time the candidate is willing to take to travel to the offices and have this meeting, and the amount of time two, three or four members of the newsroom take to participate in the meeting, it would be nice to have something to present to readers. Sometimes that's easy -- we can do a candidate profile, or get several quotes for a story or two we're working on, or perhaps even craft an editorial (or at least get some information for one). But sometimes a meeting doesn't quite fall into any of those categories. And that's why I'm excited about livestreaming upcoming meetings.
You see, in the past, we've had candidates come in, and I've set aside several minutes at the beginning or end of the visit to ask a specific set of questions on video. Then that 10 minutes or so of video would need to be edited, re-edited and uploaded -- an unfortunately very time-consuming task. Sometimes I wouldn't be able to get to the editing/uploading process until a week after the interview had taken place.
Now, by utilizing our Google+ account and creating a hangout, we can livestream interviews with candidates directly onto Google+, Reformer.com and our YouTube channel. The best part? Well, actually there's two: First, after the interview concludes, the videos are saved on YouTube for folks to watch at their convenience; Second, I can take questions from readers during the interview and ask them live during the broadcast.
Later today I have Doug Hoffer (Democrat candidate for state auditor) and Randy Brock (Republican candidate for Vermont governor) coming in. If the "experiment is a success look for this to become a regular feature whenever anyone notable comes to the Reformer offices for an interview.
Earlier this year, a representative from Digital First visited the Reformer offices to talk about various social media tools. One of those tools was Storify, which day editor Bob Audette has been experimenting with on his blog.
I finally put together an account for the Brattleboro Reformer (www.Storify.com/BrattReformer), and today put together a piece on the Bartonsville Bridge for the website. Storify allows users to bring together various elements from multiple sources to offer readers a multimedia presentation from multiple angles.
Before providing a link to the piece, here's a little background as to its development:
We originally planned to have a reporter on the scene to put together a story, but his car broke down and he missed the event. However, photo editor Zach Stephens did get photos from the ceremony, which we used in print to go with an Associated Press story on Tropical Storm Irene memorial events around the state. (I should mention, for those who don't know, the Bartonsville Bridge was an historic bridge in Rockingham; a resident captured the moment the bridge was swept away by flood waters last summer, and that became one of the more striking images from Irene.)
This morning, Zach told me that he had also shot video from the event, already live on our YouTube channel. That, with the photos, and the video from the flooding ... the pieces started to fall into place for a more substantial online offering. That's where Storify comes in: those above-mentioned elements, plus a few more pieces I tracked down online, and we were able to present the equivalent of story, only not in so many words (pardon the pun).
Check out the finished product here.
Certainly this will not replace traditional reporting, but I do enjoy it as a new way to tell stories to readers, and look forward to it becoming a more regular part of our weekly routine.
(One thought I had was to use it as a weekly online wrap-up, as a sort of editor's picks or week-in-review. We shall see ....)
After about a month of work, a special section I put together for the Reformer's coverage of Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent floods is live at www.Reformer.com/Irene.
The site is the first time I've been able to incorporate elements from every aspect of news coverage the Reformer is engaged in: there's general reporting (news analyses, features, archive articles, columns, etc.); multimedia (videos and slideshows); and social media (links to Facebook and Pinterest coverage, a Twitter widget). The page will update daily, with new and/or exclusive content.
My hope is to provide readers with a destination point for any and all coverage related to Irene and the floods. Enjoy!
CROWDSOURCING: : the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers
(Hey, thanks Merriam-Webster!)
I'm sure I'll talk much more about this concept in the future, but today wanted to bring readers' attention to a new project I'm working on for the Reformer's anniversary coverage of Tropical Storm Irene at the end of the month.
Over on the Reformer's Facebook page (specifically here) I've posted a request for first-hand accounts from the storm and floods. It's a great opportunity to share stories and offer new and interesting angles of the tragedy -- and instead of having a reporter track this information down and present it in a traditional package, it can have a unique "in-their-own-words" feel to it.
I hope it works, if only to be a great story-telling function to compliment the work we're doing in the newsroom. Three "comments" so far ... 10 would be nice; 20-30 would be perfect!
The idea behind Thunderdome, as Adrienne LaFrance puts it, is to "create a new infrastructure that will serve hundreds of local newsrooms still burdened by inefficiencies borne of a bygone era in journalism."
(Read LaFrance's entire piece: "Still without a team in place, Project Thunderdome gets a surprise test drive.")
In short, this means centralizing some similar aspects from the family of newspapers. Why have 50-plus editors in 50-plus newsrooms build a page of national or international news, when you could have one person build one page and share it across the 50-plus newsrooms?
Personally, I think this is a great idea, as it frees up local journalists to focus on local news gathering, production and publication. Of course, the one issue faced with such an idea is that, while a 30- or 40-page large-scale newspaper in an urban market may have a lot of room for that type of shared content, small-scale, small-market newsrooms sometimes struggle with fitting enough outside-the-area news as it is, with so much space dedicated (and rightly so) to local news.
Nonetheless, I wanted to highlight a little more of LaFrance's piece, and encourage everyone to see how the idea behind such a project becomes a valuable tool to all newsrooms.
"Not only are news organizations actually hiring these days, they’re looking to fill new positions. You could, for example, apply to become the first ever SWAT Leader at Project Thunderdome. ... with a slew of new job listings just posted (and more to come), Thunderdome’s day-to-day operations are beginning to take shape.
"The SWAT Leader, I’m told, will be a newsy jack of all trades. Someone who can report, write, edit, and produce. Someone who’s willing to parachute into a faraway town on a moment’s notice. Basically someone who is up for any assignment, and has the skills and enthusiasm to dive in head-first.
"That last part is essential for anyone looking to join the Thunderdome team, which will require a basic startup mentality: Be willing to work, play, try, and fail in eight different ways a day. Then show up to work with a smile, ready to do it all again the next day."
The bulk of the article covers the Colorado theater shooting from earlier this month. While in print we relied on Associated Press' coverage of the tragedy, online we were able to offer unique Digital First content via one of my new favorite online tools: Storify. (See the screencap on this post.)
I'm sure this will be the first of many (potentially exciting) new developments from the Thunderdome project. And, in the end, if it allows us to offer readers better news coverage, either of national, international (have you seen our 2012 Olympics coverage?) or -- most importantly -- local news, then that's all that matters.