in Just Journalism

Three tools Journalism 101 should introduce to students

AP Stylebook - Not the only tool for j-students

The AP Stylebook may be handy, but it's not the only tool Journalism 101 students should be handed. Photo by Lee Bennett on Flickr.

Looking back at my college education, I’m left wishing that I had been introduced to some tools a bit earlier. Instead of being set up as a life-long learner and digital journalist, I was required to buy an Associated Press Stylebook and spent my time practicing how to bang out different types of ledes that blend into different story structures.

That material is not complex, but some people have the knack for it and lots don’t. The camp of students that does get it right away (and is already practicing it at the student paper or internships) suffers through the rest of the semester while professors patiently try teaching the same things in different ways to students who don’t get it. Years later, as graduation approached, I realized lots of the students who had held back the class because they didn’t understand the basics were either no longer in the program—or still couldn’t write a good hard news lead and a basic inverted pyramid.

The attitude was that everything worth learning could be gained by religiously attending class and doing one or two internships.

I can’t help wondering what I would have already learned independently had my journalism professors introduced me to these three tools for learning journalism:

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in Design & Dev & Tutorials

How to style the WordPress TinyMCE WYSIWYG visual editor

WordPress styled TinyMCE visual editor

Your TinyMCE WordPress WYSIWYG visual editor can get very close to "what you see is what you get" if you style the visual editor following these instructions.

One of my favorite things to do when I set someone up with WordPress is to make the TinyMCE WYSIWYG visual editor actually “what you see is what you get.” A sign of a good theme is that the theme’s styles are reflected in the post editor. This is actually a quite easy task to achieve with some knowledge of CSS, so it’s surprising that plenty of themes still don’t take advantage of this.

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in Showcase

Journalists: 10 sites you might be surprised to learn use WordPress

Lots of web savvy journalists get their type on in WordPress at some point or another in their career, but those same users are often surprised to learn their free “blogging” software also powers some pretty big players in the world of journalism (or some might argue in a few cases highlighted in this post, propaganda). From blog to blog network to full-blown sites, WordPress is behind these 10 notable and timely web destinations.

1. Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Rally for Sanity and/or Fear powered by WordPress

That’s right. Sanity chooses WordPress, and so does everybody’s favorite media critic, Jon Stewart. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’s official website utilizes WordPress mostly as an elaborate blog, but it illustrates that WP is great for projects along the way—in journalism or otherwise—that require quick development but a strong feature set.

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in Just Journalism

Netflix and Reed Hastings’ lessons for journalism

Netflix's lessons for journalism

Netflix may be built on DVD by mail, but it's future and focus is on the web. Photo by HackingNetflix on Flickr.

Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics (who I must mention, runs his site on WordPress), published a great post about an event I wish I had attended: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ talk at University of Santa Cruz. From Hastings’ talk, Doctor pulled six lessons for the newspaper industry. While I don’t believe all of these lessons from Hastings’ success and experience with Netflix can directly apply to the journalism business, it is an interesting parallel considering that the movie rental industry has undergone rapid and similar change to the news industry. Two lessons stood out to me. Those were:

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in Just Journalism

Why it’s important to dominate search results for your name

Search results for your name

Do search results for your name show the best side of you? Photo by Jeff McNeill on Flickr

My sister told me the other day that when you Google her name you might get the impression that she’s a beauty queen. Apparently a New Hampshire diva whose name only differs by a camel-cased letter gets some search engine love, too. And it does mattter: My sister, who’s searching for a job in journalism and communications, has already been asked whether she’s got a  background in beauty pageantry during interviews.

She’s lucky, though; she could be confused with being something a whole lot worse than Miss New Hampshire based on search results not falling in her favor. But this demonstrates that if you’re a journalist, independent publisher, blogger or journalism student,  it’s important to try to dominate the search results for your name, and if not possible, at least get a very high ranking for a page that reflects positively on you.

Not only do you avoid awkward questions in interviews (or worse, not getting one in the first place), it’s also a step toward building your personal brand, which is more and more important in these days of social media, influential individual publishers and star journalists as a valuable product.

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in Design & Dev

Why news media should stop neglecting their website’s design

Do visitors like what they see when they visit your website?

Do visitors like what they see when they visit your website? Photo by Nick Olejniczak on Flickr

Lots of traditional news organizations have just plain bad, often outdated website designs. News sites can not only be hard to look at, but worse, difficult to navigate. Editors who wouldn’t stand for such pathetic looking print pages in their section seem lost when it comes to those same stories’ presentation on the web. In the scope of things, maybe it doesn’t seem all that important compared to producing great content and having a good-looking print product.

However, a study by a Canadian university underscores the importance of good web design for businesses: CMSWire reports that the study discovered it takes users less than a blink of the eye to judge the presentation of a website’s content—as little as 1/20th of a second.

Editors and reporters: Think your website’s bad design isn’t affecting how many people read your stories? Think again.

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in Design & Dev & Themes

Don’t confuse the platform with the design

WordPress design at Ma.tt

If there are any questions about whether WordPress can support creative designs, a look at WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg's blog's design is proof positive the answer is yes.

I hear this all of the time: “WordPress blogs are ugly. Why would you ever use WordPress?”

There’s a big misconception here. Specifically, don’t confuse the design with the platform behind it. In most cases, including self-hosted WordPress, the design doesn’t depend on the platform. It depends on the site publisher, administrator and the designer (which for many blogs is all the same person!).

In that case, WordPress unfairly earns the distinction in some people’s minds that using it makes for ugly websites and blogs. But WordPress uses themes in which you can use a combination of CSS, PHP (and WordPress template tags), HTML and javascript to make whatever design and front-end functionality you would like.

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