Supplemental lecture notes for week 2: The depressing slideshow agenda

First of all, I would like to apologize again for turning a perfectly lovely Monday evening into a miseryfest. What can I say, photojournalists must gravitate toward depressing stories when shooting audio slideshows. And that Chernobyl thing was merely coincidental.

Also, to clear up any confusion from what I mentioned at the start of class or what you may have seen in the syllabus, we will discuss the team assignment next week. You can take a look at the assignment here if you’re so inclined. Also, I’m thinking we do two teams this quarter, though if you guys want to set up your own groups now and keep ‘em to a nimble four people apiece, that’s fine. We can discuss next week.

And a word on deadlines. In general, story and assignment pitches will always be due at noon on Thursdays. The actual assignments will be due posted to your WordPress sites – and tweeted and and other requirements – by noon on Mondays.

For those of you who have problems or questions about your WordPress install – especially if you have hosting issues, didn’t use the Dreamhost install or any other related problems – I’ll likely be in the classroom by 5 the next few weeks. Feel free to come in if you can and we can work it out. Otherwise we can set up a one-on-one at my Sun-Times office or offsite.

posting best practices

We had a chance via some Tumblr cleaning up to look at a few elements and rules to posting we’ll discuss throughout the quarter. Among the important considerations to remember, especially when dealing with content created by other people:

Cite, cite, cite: It is always OK to quote others, just make double sure we know it is someone else’s work. My preferred style is something like this:

As Craig Newman wrote in this 2012 post his Digital Storytelling site:

“I believe we are all destined to have flying cars by the end of the year.

I’m stocking up on water balloons to drop on White Sox games as we speak.”

Of course, that’s not much good unless you link, link, link: The Web is made of hyperlinks. And I don’t just mean that it’s polite and a good practice to attribute the original source – it is. Linking is part of the structure that adds functionality and usability to the way the Internet is structured and meant to work.

Matthew Ingram wrote on the practice recently in GigaOm, by the way, in an interesting piece calling journalists to task for not linking more. There are many reason why it isn’t done more often. There are journalists who don’t consider it necessary to link out, especially to competitors. This is a flawed perspective in my opinion. News consumers don’t differentiate as they once did between competition, but view reporting and “the media” more as an amorphous entity.

I believe the more common reason, however, is deficiencies in technology. What is a simple task in a blog platform like WordPress, adding a link to a line of type, can often be a somewhat arduous undertaking in Content Management Systems often by legacy media operations. In Ingram’s piece, he points to a kerfuffle between tech blog TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal. I have not talked to the Journal – nor did Ingram – on why no links were provided in this case to the TechCrunch piece that broke a news item. But if their CMS structure is anything like a majority of larger news organizations’ back end systems, it may be more of a question of bulky workflow.

And most writers not producing in a media organization’s blog platform – writing for a newspaper or other non-blog product – likely don’t have the opportunity to work within the Web structure of the CMS where anchor linking is performed.

All that said, you can easily provide links through your sites and will be expected to do so for any outside sources of information.


Keeping your site structured as discussed in class – using Pages to maintain a clear navigation bar, writing descriptive headlines, tagging, etc. – will do two things in the long run that are beneficial to your very soul:

  1. It will establish a practice by which you maintain content at a higher level as you move forward in your hopefully lucrative careers;
  2. It will ensure that I give a slightly higher site maintenance grade than if I had to spend inordinate time searching your sites for content.

As I said, the decision on whether to produce a landing page using the technique discussed in class is up to you. We will discuss creating site header images and customizing the look of the theme later in the quarter, though, should you decide you want to make something more to your style.


As discussed, I will strongly recommend you use the TwentyEleven theme – the default when you set up a WordPress install via Dreamhost – this quarter, though it is not required.

Aside from being a clean theme build from a coding perspective, TwentyEleven is the theme I use for this very class site, so I will be able to troubleshoot a bit more effectively if it comes down to it. It also is fairly versatile in terms of customization capability and let’s you use a broad range of plugins and widgets.

Another theme we may explore using is Pagelines. The “pro” version is $197, but there is a free version to explore.

Why mess with a potentially not-free WordPress theme when there are so many free options? You may decide that you need more development potential depending on your post-Medill plans. Themes like Pagelines are developed with scalability in mind, complete with tech support and other amenities for their paying customers. There are many fine free themes for WordPress, but few, if any, can offer that sort of option.

Also, it offers drag-and-drop design options which are great for a journalist running a site who wants to customized without becoming a code expert.

Using this theme will NOT be a requirement. We may just take a look so you can get an idea of what some pay options are like.

linky goodness

Several of the following slideshows were produced using an app called Soundslides. The reason they are linked rather than embedded is because Soundslides is a beast to deal with if you aren’t the person producing it – and not super easy if you are. I have a video tutorial on using the app, which has been a de facto industry standard for slideshow creation the last few years – it used to be the software favored around here. You’re welcome to use it, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

OK, so none of these were embeddable. Annoying, isn’t it. But don’t dwell on that. Pay attention instead to what we talked about in class – the pacing, the number of photos, the audio editing and how everything works together.

coming monday

We’ll cover a few things we didn’t get to this past Monday and move forward without photo and video discussion. On tap:

  • More digital storytelling example discussion.
  • Looking at your raw video and discuss editing.
  • Talking video and upcoming assignment for that.
  • Breaking into teams and begin team site discussion.
  • Looking at HTML/CSS in a bit more depth (tentative)
  • In-class interview and WordPress posting


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