Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beluga Review

I've been hearing whispering about Beluga - a new application for phones and on the Internet that's similar to Twitter but lets the user only send the message to a specific group of people, called a "pod."  I decided to give it a try.

Six of my sorority sisters and I text constantly.  And we always send the messages to the other six.  When the iPhones could do group messaging, I got that set up.  But only five of us had AT&T iPhones, so we couldn't see the sassy responses from the two non-iPhoners.  Then one got the Verizon iPhone, which surprisingly and frustratingly doesn't connect with AT&T group messaging!  And the last dumb-phoner is getting an Android next month so we definitely wouldn't be able to see her messages.  My solution: a trial run of Beluga.

Beluga has an application that works on all smart phone platforms and the Internet.  I set up our pod and invited the girls.  By that afternoon, we had everyone on Beluga and we were seeing everyone's messages!  Here's how Beluga works on an iPhone::

On the homepage, the user can see all the pods they're in and people they might know.  It's possible to change the pod's image, which we've changed to a sorority symbol.  When some of the girls were trying to change their profile image, they ended up changing the pod image.  It was a quick fix and funny after more than one girl made that mistake!  Also, the pod can be named.  Yes, my pod's name looks funny, but it's all of our first initials and I wasn't feeling creative when I made it!

When the user selects their pod, this is what shows up.  The name of the pod is at the top and the comments are listed with the most recent one first.  This is an example of the chat and what it looks like when someone's added to the pod.

To send a message, the user taps where it says, "Send a message."  The user then has the option to turn on their geolocator, attach a photo, or just send text.  When the geolocator is used, an extra icon shows up next to the time stamp (exampled above in my messages).  Tapping on that links to a Google map with the location the person was when they sent the message.

It's possible to set up a push notification with Beluga.  I have it set so that it shows up like a text message (above) but doesn't buzz or make a sound.  It's the only push notification I have on my phone so I always see it.  I also like that it tells me which pod the message is from because I have a feeling I'll be in more pods soon!  My friend has push notifications for almost every app under the sun so sometimes she misses that there's a new message.  But, the app shows up with the red circled #1 that indicates there a message - even if there's 8 messages!
There's another feature of Beluga that I haven't tested yet.  It's an event planner within a pod, and I'm looking forward to using it soon!

 The website is just as easy as the app to use.  Nothing difficult to decode here and it lets your dumb-phone friends join in on the conversation!  It's sending my friend who still has a dumb phone text messages and letting her text back in response.

Potential Use in the Newsroom
I see two uses for this in the newsroom: intra-newsroom communications and community communications.  Beluga would be helpful for intra-newsroom communication during breaking news because everyone who was working on the story could see the information at the same time, instead of having to relay it.  It could also be used for teams, like the investigative team, to brainstorm stories or new leads to follow when they aren't able to get together for a meeting.  As with breaking news, it could keep the team in the loop during an investigation.

A community pod would be an interesting way to converse with your viewers.  Creating pods for weather spotters or other topics that create conversation within the community would be helpful in gathering information and photos from all over the viewing area.  It would still allow the newsroom to guide the conversation while the community talks within itself.

Overall, this app is working better than I expected it to.  It's solved a problem for me and actually increased my communications with my friends.  And it's worked well on every phone!  I plan to continuing using this and possibly joining or creating more pods - even within the newsroom.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Generational Differences

Last fall, I got a text message from my dad asking, "What do you consider the end of the day?"

"11:59:59,"I typed back.

"Ha! That's what the speaker said you'd say!"

Nancy Barry was speaking to my dad's company, explaining to them differences between their generation and mine and how they should be prepared to deal with new hires out of college. My dad's company was using me as a guinea pig to see if she was right - apparently I proved her point, which was that my generation considers the end of the day to literally be the end of the day due to the current digital world. My dad was so impressed with her that he bought a signed copy of her book for me: When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting in my stocking at Christmas - I'm not one for reading self-help books in my spare time, I prefer historical fiction or chick literature (proven by the list of books on my Kindle) - but I feel like I'm getting something from reading her book.

One of her main points is that someone right out of college looking for a job needs more than a good resume. She insists that "soft skills" will help set you apart from everyone else being considered. Out of a list of eight soft skills, I feel these two are ones I'm learning at KOMU while producing:

#6: "Demonstrated ability to work independently and be a team player."
As a producer, I assemble a newscast on my own but also take input from my executive producer. I work with reporters for stories for the rundown, graphic artists for over the shoulder images (OTSs) and maps, and directors to get the show on-air. Those are just a few of the people who act as a team to put together a newscast. In class, we were discussing that making everyone feel like a team is one of the most important parts of the newscast. It motivates the members to do their best so the newscast ends up being the best it can be.

#7: "Ability to work in a high-volume, face-paced environment; to multitask; and to meet deadlines."
I think anyone who works in a newsroom would agree that it's a face-paced environment. There are days when not a lot of news is going on. Other days, there's so many stories, you have to cut things out of the rundown to be anywhere near on-time before going into the show. Multitasking is part of a producer's job: you write stories for the newscast while juggling reporters and their questions and putting the details into the rundown (anchor reads, cameras, OTSs, etc.). And a producer has a daily deadline - the time the show airs! "The show must go on" and you have to be ready for it.

I'm about one-third of the way through the book. It's interesting reading about HR and managers perspectives on hiring 20-somethings and seeing the generational differences between growing up in the digital age and growing up in the age of a single computer that takes up an entire room (according to my dad).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Writing Truth v. Fiction

When you're in elementary school, you learn to write a book report: read and spit the facts back out.

When you're in middle school, you write research papers: find the facts and organize them.

High school brings essays where you learn the facts, organize and analyze them.

Those essays just get longer and more in-depth when you get to college....

Unless you become a broadcast journalism major. When that's your emphasis of study, you learn to rely on video to show the scene while using your words to add additional information to the pictures. It's stressed to "write to the video." You only tell the truth and don't exaggerate. This is how I've been writing for the last two years.

To finish my English minor, I needed one more English class. I wanted something different from the typical read-and-analyze-the-deeper-meaning English class. I decided to take Introduction to Creative Writing. The only creative writing I've done is to pretend to be my boyfriend's dog and blog from her perspective about the puppies she had in November (link). It's much more difficult to switch between truth-telling and concise broadcast writing and fiction writing than I imagined. But I couldn't quite put my finger on why it was difficult until I ran into this quote in my Creative Writing textbook:

In fiction writing, the author gives details to show how people feel. I've learned that to get the point across you have to let the reader interpret for themselves, so you show them what's happening instead of telling them. It's the details that make the story good. In broadcast writing, the details are shown in the video so the reporter or producer only has to tell what happened. The audience isn't supposed to use their imagination. Since I've figured this out, it's been easier to switch between the two forms, but still a challenge. I'm enjoying the fiction writing so I'm looking forward to seeing what else I learn this semester. Maybe by then I'll be better able to define a difference between writing for fiction and writing for television.

This is another quote from my Creative Writing book. I believe it applies to both fiction and broadcast writing. The choice of words can be the difference in bringing a story to life or leaving it on the page.

Friday, February 4, 2011

#KOMUcampout aka a Producing Marathon

#snowlycow I can't believe I survived "Winter Storm 2011" as it came to be called at KOMU. We had a massive winter storm this week: Monday brought ice, Tuesday dropped 17.5 inches of snow, and Wednesday and Thursday blew winds and negative temperatures. During this time, I had 4 shifts at KOMU (3 producing shifts, 1 web shift). People with shifts during that time decided it was better to sleep at the station than try to drive in white-out conditions, and so came to be the Twitter hashtag #komucampout.

I arrived to KOMU around 10:30 p.m. Monday night to produce Tuesday's morning show. During this shift, I wasn't just a producer. Here's the list of the jobs I completed (I probably looked like a chicken running around with my head cut off.):

1. Producer of the rundown and writing stories.
2. Phone Answer-er for people with questions about the storm.
3. Phone Caller to St. Louis and Kansas City for how they prepared for the storm and what it looked like there.
4. Google Map operator to get our live reporter to an apartment fire.
5. Social Media Guru getting the news of the fire on Twitter.
6. Skype Coordinator with our five Skype reporter teams in five locations around mid-Missouri.
7. Website poster putting up important information before the storm hit at 6 a.m.

When we were .26 seconds from being off-air (after a 2.5 hour long show), we got a text message from the news director to keep going for two more hours! We took a 15 minute breather to gather more information and give everyone a quick break. Our five Skype reporter teams went inside to warm up, our two live reporters and their truck operators got in the truck to warm up, and the anchors took a bathroom and snack break.

When we went back on air, we did a regular block with news stories but ditched that format at the next commercial break. We decided that viewers were staying tuned to our channel to hear about the storm and how different parts of Missouri were being hit. They might care about what was happening in Egypt right then, but they were mostly concerned with the storm. For the next two hours, we pitched between the weathermen, the live reporters, the Skype teams, and the anchors who shared information we were getting from viewers on Facebook and Twitter. It was a marathon producing session and we flew most of that time by the seat of our pants, but at the end, everyone who was working on that show felt that we had come through for the viewers and given them what they wanted.

Finally, at 9 a.m. the show was over. I checked in with the Skype reporter teams and crashed on an air mattress in the conference room for three hours.

When I awoke, I received the news that my dog, Bo (1999-2011), had died that morning. It was the roughest news I could have gotten during this stressful time at the station. He'll forever be remembered as the dog who loved to be pet for hours, who would slip and slide on the wood floor while chasing a tennis ball much to the dismay of Mom, and who was a diver for rocks in the Allegheny River.

I had to keep working so that I wouldn't break down crying (although it was occasionally inevitable). I was supposed to produce the 10 p.m. news on Tuesday. On a daily basis, we have two live reporters to manage. But, this time, we had two live reporters and our five Skype teams. The teams had iPhones or computers with Skype (a video-conferencing program) on them. I started a Skype video chat with the team (either one or two people) that was going on-air next and the director would broadcast the computer screen. The Skype teams would report the road conditions of the town they were in (Fulton, Jefferson City, Lake Ozark, Boonville, or Moberly) and what kind of precipitation they were getting. By adding these five teams, it was way too much for one producer to handle. So my TA produced the 10 p.m. while I managed the Skype reporter teams for the two newscasts from 5-6:30 p.m. and the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. I was coordinating who was going when, testing out the wireless signal at the new locations they went to for every show, and getting them set up to go on-air. I ended up charging my iPhone between every show. By the end of the day, I had 'produced' almost eight hours of Skype calls. After the 10 p.m. show, I had to pass on my Skype Coordinator responsibilities to the two student producers of Wednesday's morning show. I strangely felt like I was giving up on "my teams" because I had been working with them all day. But I needed to sleep and slept like a rock for eight hours in the conference room.

Wednesday, I produced the 5 p.m. show. My TA, Maggie, was on the Fulton Skype team so she was more tired than I was because she had to be awake for hits during the morning show! I had the most independence producing this show that I've had so far. Maggie let me produce until 4 p.m. when she stepped in to help me tie up the loose ends I was missing. I boothed the show for the first time, which was exhilarating. I backtimed the show and discussed which stories to drop with Maggie and she either agreed with me or pointed me in a new direction. The show ended on time and with no major issues! It was a great way to end #komucampout.

I had to get out of the station after all that craziness. I slept in my own bed Wednesday night and returned to the station Thursday morning for my web shift. I created and added to four different web slideshows of pictures our viewers sent in. I added to Blizzard Kids, and created Blizzard Animals, Snow Drifts, and Neighbors Helping Neighbors. I posted these slideshows on our website and on our Facebook page. During the storm and our coverage of it, we got 170,000 hits on our Facebook page and more than 1,000 new friends. These new friends will allow us to increase our viewer base because they will have our stories show up on their news feed.

Bo and I playing fetch with the tennis ball during the February 2010 snow in Texas.

It was hard to make the Blizzard Animals slideshows because a lot of the photos were people playing with their dogs in the snow. All I could keep thinking about was how last winter it snowed at home in Texas, and Bo loved to chase the snowballs. He also was color blind, which we only figured out when he couldn't find his tennis ball in the snow!

Video of Bo trying to find the tennis ball in the snow.

While it was a difficult time to be at the station when all I wanted was to be home with my family, it was an intense growing period. I learned how many roles I could fulfill and still stay calm (although highly caffeinated). I learned that I am almost ready to take over the job of producing a show on my own (which I will be doing in the next few weeks). I also learned how well a bunch of people can come together to get the best information possible to viewers - it was amazing to see the teamwork. Overall, I'm glad I got to attend #komucampout as it was a unique experience I'll never be able to replicate.