A webinar, a UA shoutout and going to jail

Yesterday was a very exciting day. My Contemporary Issues in Journalism class met one hour earlier than usual so we could watch the State of the News Media 2012 webinar. The online conference was based off research done by the Pew Research Center, with some collaboration with Poynter’s News University.

The hosts reported tons of interesting findings, and it would probably take days to explain it all, but here are a few interesting points that my classmates and I discussed:

  • In 2011, revenue from print ad sales decreased by $2.1 billion, or 9.2 percent.
  • Only 3 percent of adults reported getting news from Twitter, and 7 percent get news from Facebook.
  • Community news and niche news are on the rise.
  • Magazines have benefited from tablet sales and use.
  • TV news viewership of the three major networks increased 4.5 percent in 2011.

While watching this webinar, the hosts and my professor, Dr. Chris Roberts, encouraged us to follow along, tweet and interact with the event. Six of us – that’s half the class – did just that, and we used the suggested hashtag, #nuwebinar.

Then the following happened…

Katie: Economics section of this news media webinar is depressing. Where’s the money? #addollars #sadtweet #nuwebinar

Katie: Are they pulling questions from Twitter? I hope they read one from our class.. We should have created our own hashtag #nuwebinar

Me: @kwood88 Did you tweet them a question? It’s hard to keep up with the video and tweeting at the same time. My brain is on overload.

Katie: @christi_cowan No question in particular… I just want to hear Tom give #uagradschool a live tweeting shoutout #nuwebinar!

…which led to the creation of #uagradschool. Towards the end of the webinar, Tom actually mentioned Katie’s tweet about the status of the money in journalism, then he gave us a shoutout and said that he had been to our campus and that it was lovely. We were so excited! It had been very strange to watch my classmates tweet and read their comments on the video while we were all in the same room watching it happen, but livetweeting was a success!

Sarah tweeted this picture,

Dr. Roberts is one cool dude. He let us watch the State of the News Media 2012 webinar. It was interesting stuff!

and we got a response!

Poynter’s News U: @kissmymuffintop and the rest of the class: Say hello to Prof. Roberts for us. Thanks for the picture #nuwebinar

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, right after that, Dr. Roberts took us to the quad to visit the kingdom of Roll Tidelberg, an event sponsored by UA’s chapter of SPJ, where we signed away our First Amendment rights for a free lunch. There was no freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly or petition. It was a really cool experiment, and it made me pretty thankful that we have the First Amendment. In fact, we got in trouble for standing in a group and were sentenced to jail. Here’s a picture.

Erich, Katie, Kristy, Ana and me. I went to jail willingly. It was the cool place to be. It also happened to be the only shady spot in the kingdom of Roll Tidelberg.

You can read more about it in The Tuscaloosa News and The Crimson White.

It was such an eventful class! Thank you to Dr. Roberts for always keeping it interesting.

The pressures of usability studies

It’s been a little while since I’ve updated my blog, due to Spring Break being last week. My mom and I had a perfect vacation in Seaside with amazing weather, and I had a joyous time eating lunch at Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar every day.

Let’s jump backwards to the week before that, when we spent some time in class developing a script for our usability study. We based it off one offered in Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug, and we filled in the blanks to fit our needs. Our class is examining the College of Communication and Information Sciences website, the main resource for our students to find information on classes, faculty, scholarships and ways to get involved in the College.

The tricky thing about these scripts is making them complete without making them sound cheesy. There are certain things we needed to consider, including the fact that we were testing the website, not the individuals using it. Part of the script asked the users to think out loud and tell us why they were scrolling or clicking on certain things.

This week, I sat down with two of my classmates and we conducted the usability study with one of our friends. She found it very easy to “think out loud” to us, and we learned some interesting facts about what the website does right and what it does not do so well. We had a few challenges for her, and she eventually succeeded in all of them, but one was certainly a struggle. I could tell that she was getting a little frustrated and wanted to give up, but for the sake of our study, she pressed on. She eventually asked us for the answer, and I definitely had a hard time not telling her. We resisted, and she found the answer a couple of minutes later.

What I learned is that usability studies are much more helpful than I had thought they would be. I was surprised at how much we learned about the website. I am personally pretty familiar with it and have been using it for several years, so I guess I took its usability – or sometimes lack thereof – for granted. I’m glad we’ve made some progress in our study and will have some propositions for the College to consider when making future changes.

Update on my blogging experience

So remember back in that post when I talked about the things I wanted to do improve on my blog? I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far. I’m required to post once a week, but I try to throw in some other things just for fun every now and then.

I’ve also been making it a habit to add some pizzazz to each post. I’ve even managed to add some relevant videos to some of them. I try to include links to fun and interesting pages, as well as kickbacks to some of my own blog posts to increase my web traffic.

I’m most proud of myself for figuring out how to add a new page of information. Last night, I created a page that links to all of my classmates’ blogs.

My new goal is to ensure that I update at least twice every week, which might be a struggle, given that there are about eight weeks left of school and a lot to be done between now and then. I’m trying not to panic!

CMS? aka Can’t-Miss Software!

In reading chapter 7 of Entrepreneurial Journalism this week, I discovered the keyword, keyphrase rather, of Mark Briggs’ discussion of technology that is available to those doing an online startup: CMS, which means content management system.

The chapter explains that there are three types of CMSes, which is a fancy way of saying who hosts your website and what the design and behind-the-scenes area look like. The types he mentions are (1) simple and free website-hosting sites, (2) those powered by blogs and (3) full open-source CMS sites.

Briggs goes into detail describing each system and how it works, and he spends a particular amount of time on WordPress. As you can see, my class chose WordPress for our blogs this semester. The main reason behind this has to do with web analytics, which I’ve discussed in this post and that one. For me, the huge upside to WordPress is that I had actually used it before without realizing it. Confused? Let me explain.

I spent a little time working for a magazine that frequently updated news releases, product descriptions and archival material to its family of websites. When I started the job, my bosses taught me how to post those updates, and they frequently referred to it as “the CMS system,” but I never really knew what that meant. As it turns out, the websites were powered by WordPress, but I never made that connection until I started running my own blog. It’s a small world after all.

What I found interesting about Briggs’ explanation was a little something called Weebly. It’s a hosting website that lets users design their sites using a drag-and-drop function. Because I have a strong background in desktop publishing, this definitely sounds like my kind of project. I’ve been thinking about building my own website for personal brand recognition, and I love that Weebly also includes a blog function, so I could maintain my resume and contact information on the main site and keep a blog that could show my real personality. I haven’t tried Weebly yet, but it sounds fantastic. Have any of you used it before? What did you think? Is there another program that you like even better? Watch the video above and let me know what you think.

Surveys and Google Documents

I was recently introduced to Google Documents. I know I’m late to the party, but I’ve always been an avid user of jump/flash/thumb drives (sometimes I call it a junk drive, because that’s usually what I have on there). I’m pretty good about keeping track of them, but I also use Dropbox for backup, which is why it’s strange that I never took advantage of Google Docs after being a Gmail user for quite a while.

As wonderful and helpful as it is, I had a hard time adjusting to this tool. My first experience with it was a document of survey questions that my class was putting together. We were all invited to edit and add questions, and some of us had a specific section to work on. Since my part in the project is to digitize and collect the results from the survey, when we worked on the document in class, I took to overall formatting and checking for clarity and continuity.

I’m not sure if this is usually the case, but there were seven of us working on the document at one time. We could see who was working on each section, and we could chat with each other. The confusing part was when I wanted to rearrange some sections, and I had to make sure I wouldn’t interrupt the others’ work. It was also really hard to keep track of places where I had made changes because the others could go back and alter it again.

After we had gotten it situated, we had a class discussion, and on one particular question, after much debate, Erich and I rewrote a question together from separate ends of the room. It was really neat because I could see what he rewrote, and we chatted about it in the sidebar.

As it turns out, survey writing was also tougher than I thought it would be. We had prepared by reading about techniques, and I had also taken a methods class, but the nitty-gritty part is making sure you don’t include bias and making sure that the questions are clear and the answer choices are well-defined. My classmate Sarah was frustrated with the details of survey writing. Read her blog post and find out why.

Our survey should be published soon, and I’m excited to see what the results will look like. In the meantime, please check out my Twitter, as I update that more than the blog. And if you’d like to learn more about Google Docs, watch this great explanatory video I found (above). It’s fast-paced and simple, so go learn about new ways to simplify your life!