Entries from March 2009 ↓

Back in the saddle again

After an intense week at SXSWi, a very sick child, a death in the family and Spring Break where I needed to give my elementary school-aged son attention (he deserves that from time to time)… I’m finally back to blogging about journalism and technology. I’ve found a constantly growing interest in social networking from local businesses, organizations and media outlets across the country. I love talking about it. I love writing about it. I really do think we’re on the cusp of a new way of communicating and sharing.

What I also found from all of these talks and discussions is how everyone would love to have a picture of what the future looks like. I wish I had that answer. But I’ll give you a few ideas.

Forget everything you know now and watch it become more organic. The information you want will be at your fingertips online or on your cell phone (or whatever the future of a phone looks like). You get to choose how you get all information. Video on demand, feeds of information, photos, conversations. You pick when you want it and you learn about new developments on your own terms. I envision journalists to be the people who help you take all of those pieces of information and get more context behind them. If you are interested in a new business in town, you’ll hear and read what other people you trust are saying and you’ll go to the journalism source to give you the history of the building, the owners, the food and the restaurant’s safety history (if its been around long enough). We’ve all had to make a conscious choice to be informed or uninformed – It will be so much easier to be informed. But it will also be much easier to be informed on your own terms. You’ll have to reach out to make more sense of it all. You’ll have to make a choice to confirm the information you gather.

I talked to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun about how the Baltimore Police are using Twitter to announce shootings and other illegal activity in the city. The reporter told me how she wondered if people who read that Twitter feed will think they’re fully informed about the city’s activities. I told her that at first people will think they’re informed. (It’s novel! It’s transparent!) But after a while, they’ll want more. Hopefully they’ll look to the local newsrooms to help provide more background from those 140 character alerts. The trick: The newsrooms need to be paying attention to where people are gathering their own personal information. The newsrooms need to take those sources and provide a deeper understanding to they continue to be an important part of informing the public. That’s always been the goal of journalism – And I truly believe that will never go away.

The great CMS debate meets face to face

I love to talk about content management systems (CMS) because they are wonderful tools to help you communicate. But CMS is kind of like a hat. You like using it because it helps you. But everyone likes a different style. There are all kinds of styles of CMS. Many businesses use one to manage the workflow of information needed online. There are so many types but a specific type of out-of-the-box CMS that is worth talking about is open source. Open source means the code behind how the CMS is built is open to everyone. If you understand the code, you can build it on your own and talk to the online community about what works, what doesn’t work and help change the CMS for the greater good of its users. There are three major ones: Joomla!, Drupal and WordPress (this blog is written in WordPress).

In an Iron Chef-like match up, a team of developers from each CMS had 100 hours to build a website based on a specific list of specifications and design. Then representatives of each team would appear face to face to show off their hard work during the South by Southwest Interactive festival. I had the chance to attend the face off and found it to be very fun to watch.

It was a battle to the end. With a mix of good humor and serious competition, leaders from Joomla!, Drupal and WordPress met face to face during a Monday session called “The Ultimate Showdown of Content Management System Destiny” at South by Southwest. The panelists included Steve Fisher (Joomla!), Colleen Carroll (Drupal), and Matt Mullenweg (WordPress) and led by George DeMet of Palantir.net. The room was packed full of CMS fans, with a heavy emphasis on WordPress. You could hear a small group of men chanting for their favorite CMS before the event got underway. The mood was festive but there was an air of competition brewing as each person threw CMS taunts at each other.

DeMet came up with the idea and explained how each team of developers were given the task to build a website for a community leadership program in Elgin, Illinois. The developers were asked to use a number of web-based social networking and collaboration tools. The end goal is to build websites that are general enough to be able to be downloaded by organizations and communities to meet their needs. All of the specifications are listed on Palantir.net’s blog or available in a PDF format. The teams were also expected to stay true to a site design created by Mark Boulton who is well-known for his web design and book, “Five Simple Steps: A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web“. Developers could only use freely-available software to build the sites and function on a shared hosting space (Linux/Apache/MySQL).

A lot of time was spent talking about how the teams worked together on the site creation and the effort it took to build the sites. The Joomla! team never met face-to-face. Developers spanned across the globe and spent most time talking over Skype or conference calls. The Drupal team started with a face-to-face sprint to get the site started and then they worked together to finish the rest of the work. You can follow how Mullenweg’s WordPress team completed their tasks by visiting  a site they built to keep up with the project. Here is a comparison of how the sites came together under deadline:

  Drupal Joomla! WordPress
Total Hours 79.25 57.25 90.5
Hours spent
on front end
21.75 15 36.5
HTML Validation No
(8 errors)
Yes No (8 errors)
CSS Validation No (7 errors) No
(1 error)
No (21 errors)
Page weight 180K 140K 154K
Lines of custom PHP/JS code 220 30 1,808

DeMet mentioned how most validation errors were minor. But Carroll said the Drupal Community learned a lot from the discovery of those errors and they were able to put in a number of new patches to help improve the overall CMS. Mullenweg and Fischer said this project helped in similar ways. Mullenweg talked about how his team had a great time outside of the development by adding Zoolander-related content. The added fun was not a requirement. The Drupal and Joomla! teams added filler to populate their sites.

The crowd seemed pretty disappointed when it became clear there would be no live demonstrations of the websites. All of the sites can be viewed from the Ultimate Showdown of Content Management System Destiny website. They did get to hear reactions from Boulton and Senior Program Officer Marybeth Schroeder from the Evanston Community Foundation. DeMet had worked with the organization before and used its needs to launch the competition in the first place. The crowd enjoyed watching her reaction as she looked through each versions of the website. Schroeder had no CMS preference before looking at the sites, a perspective that was not easy to find in the SXSW session. There was an attempt to record how she used each site. In one screen capture video, you could see her trying to figure out the WordPress dashboard. In the case of the Joomla! site, Schroeder had a hard time adding a location for an event.

From the designer perspective, Boulton said he favored the WordPress and Drupal sites for how they stayed true to his design. He gave Joomla! a hit for not following all of his typography. Fisher countered that they made that decision because the Joomla! team didn’t like it. Boulton did not say anything specifically about the usefulness or user experience of the sites.

In what was expected to be a dramatic end to the competition, DeMet asked the crowd to vote on who should win. Many people yelled out how they felt they did not have enough knowledge of the sites to pick. Others yelled out the CMS they already supported. That indecisiveness let to a draw. DeMet announced all three CMS won and tried to figure out a way to share the belt-buckle award.

There may be no defined answer on what is the best open source CMS. It was clear this project helped motivate the open source communities to team together and come up with products that can help non-profits launch a website that meets their needs. Each development team will make their work available for anyone to use. The Joomla! and WordPress teams even created help videos on the showdown website. The event at SXSW was also a great way to talk about CMS and get open source products more play among a large and growing population of tech-minded people who are looking for a new way to share information online.

DeMet plans to talk about the showdown again in April at a pre-conference event for the CMS Expo in Evanston, Illinois.

A couple of fun things came out during this session. First, the WordPress song is TOO funny. Also, you can enjoy this Drupal song. There was a Joomla! song but I can’t find it online, plus it’s instrumental and a bit boring compared to the other two!

(You can see a similar version of this post at CMSwire.com)

And now… Time for a brain dump

My head is spinning around with a thousand ideas while I attend sessions at South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin. I can go from a session on aggregating information to a session on mom blogs and bump into someone you’ve always wanted to talk to but never had a chance. It’s been a great experience.

It’s so interesting to be around so many people who understand technology… A conversation I’ve heard a lot is how these web and interactive-based ideas we are talking about are often not supported by higher management. It’s the case in industries across the board. It’s not just a problem for journalism. But watching another newspaper fall today (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) is more reason for me to feel the need to dump my ideas on how to change the way we teach journalism students of today. The P-I is doing things a little differently than the Rocky Mountain News closure. In Seattle’s case the “paper” will live on in a web-format only. That means many traditional journalists will have to turn their thought process completely around and put web as the priority. Sure, many newsrooms are starting to put that priority out there. This is the first time in a long time where the change in priority is about to be come the only priority. Journalists need to think web first.

So how do these long-standing journalism schools do it?

I have an idea that I’ve been working with for a while and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For years journalism students have been taught how to get dropped into a story (it can be breaking news, developing news or just feature stories) and be able to become “instant experts.” A general assignment reporter for a broadcast station is sent from story to story with no over arching purpose beyond covering the community or city. A general assignment reporter for most newsrooms follows a large beat on a city or education or entertainment (you get the drift)… But no one is specifically focused on one topic and tasked with building a community and understanding the existing community surrounding that topic.

Jane Stevens is working on fixing that challenge as part of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. She’s working on creating a web structure that will help journalists do good journalism even if they don’t have a traditional newsroom to back them up. It would basically be an out-of-the-box tool for community building and focused research and journalistic work. She’s leading a project to create what she calls a “health shell.” It’s a web structure were individual journalists can collect data about various aspects of the health issue and collaborate online with a website where you can share a community of people who care about that topic. It’s exciting to watch some of my students get to really know an element of health that they find important. Some current topics are fitness, senior health literacy and mental health. The student journalists are learning what it takes to gather sources and get a solid understanding of a niche. But here’s the trick: when the student wrap up this semester, some are going to graduate, others are going to run off for the summer. How can we keep this project sustainable within this higher education environment?

That got me thinking about journalism school curriculum.

Here’s my idea. I kind of base it off of how we make the radio-television sequence work. In the first semester you learn the foundation of skills. In the second semester you refine those skills and get good enough to work in the newsroom. In the third semester you are a regular reporter each week. For a community-based website, you could do something similar. In the first semester you learn the foundation of skills it takes to be a multi-media journalist and how to gather data and collect information. In the second semester you are an assistant to the lead community journalists for a specific niche website. In the third semester you are a leader of the community. It requires something different. Instead of becoming a general assignment reporter, you learn how to be a niche reporter. You learn what it takes to grow a connection with your community and get to know it well enough to be a legitimate presence online. The challenge: students would have to pick a niche during the first semester and stick with it. If they hate the niche by the end of a year and a half, then at least they know what it takes to gather up enough sources to really get a niche website rolling. Then they know what it takes to find another niche and get a job doing it elsewhere. That research and community building can be taken into so many directions after graduation. I think it would be amazing. Plus, the niche websites at the Missouri School of Journalism would continue to rock.

Ahhh. It feels better to let that out.

I have attended all kinds of sessions and I’ll try to write about some here and there as I go but I really felt like I needed to get this one out there as soon as possible!

Journalism of the future

There is a lot of talk about the future and how we are at a turning point of change here at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. It’s exciting to be here and talk to so many people about it. It’s hard to break it all down in one blog post – but I’m going to summarize my thoughts in this post and then get into more later today.

There are currently a number of tools that help journalists do things differently. But we are so early into this process that none of us can fully wrap our minds around what it looks like. What most of the journalists I’ve talked to are saying is we need to make some pretty radical changes. I’ve also had time to work out how I envision a change in journalism curriculum. It’s taken the last week of conversation – but I hope to spend some time today writing it out for all to see!

But first – I’m going to head to the SXSW convention center to learn and talk!



I’m headed to Austin, Texas to take part in the monster South by Southwest Interactive festival (SxSWi). It’s days and days and days of networking, conference sessions, product testing and social gatherings. Heck, I’ve even found a group of people that runs each morning. I hope to take this time to meet hundreds of people who are involved in thinking big and thinking social online. I hope to meet dozens of people I’ve met on Twitter. I hope to learn about ideas and ways journalists can better tell stories. I hope to learn about new tools that will help journalists be journalists even if they don’t have a newsroom. It will be a heck of an experience and it can be pretty overwhelming to even figure out a schedule.

I hope to twitter the experience throughout the week… And attempt to summarize one or two “aha” moments each day. If I have enough time, I’ll also try to share bits of video and photos. If there is anything you’re interested in learning about the event – please let me know. I’ll ask questions and meet people for you if you can’t attend the festival in person!

Agile talk

I have a mind that is full of agile development… and skills that take weeks if not months to launch.

So as I struggle to find ways to bring traditional newsrooms to work together… I struggle with what content management system to use or some kind of way to bring content together in an agile way.

SO… How should we do this? Drupal, WordPress, Django, Joomla, something that doesn’t exist yet?

Here’s the other big question. What is our priority as traditional journalism stalls out? Is our priority to become famous for figuring it all out… or is our priority to work together so we actually figure out doable solutions? I honestly want to find doable solutions for the good of our industry. Is anyone else out there who wants to join with me? We may not have our names printed all over the universe, but good journalism will survive.

I’m okay with that. Is anyone else game?

A trip to the Newseum


The last time I visited Washington DC, the new Newseum hadn’t opened yet. It was close, but not quite. So when I returned this week, a little piece of me kept urging me to go there. It kind of feels like a building that is supposed to represent everything I do and teach. So Saturday morning I decided to hop on the Metro and just go. A mix of a beautiful day and the stillness of a Saturday morning let me just wander around the area to enjoy the huge buildings and monuments. DC has such a rich history – it is really wonderful to see a massive monument to journalism mixed in with it all.

Inside is full of interactive and simple exhibits that try to tell the enormous tale of journalism… where it started, how it developed and where it could go. The most meaningful exhibit for me was the September 11th display. It touched me and brought me back to where I was in my newsroom that day. Hearing the stories from the many reporters and photographers who were on the scene at the time just really moved me. Most of all, I learned more about Bill Biggart. He died as he took pictures of the World Trade Center. Somehow his cameras were found under the rubble and 150 of the digital pictures he took right before his death were able to show what he saw. His gear is on display for everyone to see. Pretty awesome.

The other section was inside the Internet, Radio and Television section where a display looks at the future of the news. The exhibit already included the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and the effect Twitter has on the journalism industry. I ended up having a great conversation about the future of journalism with some of the other people visiting the museum.

In all.. I think it’s a good place. It’s wonderful to touch and see the history of journalism. I didn’t need convincing that journalism is important… but it might help convince skeptics. The museum has so many stories about heroic men and women who go above and beyond to help tell the stories we may or may not know we want to hear, watch or read.

Discovering Drupal’s Community


I’ve never attended a DrupalCon before… and I have to say, it’s fantastic to talk to people and learn about what’s going on with this open source CMS. But the best things I’ve learned have come from side conversations and small unofficial sessions called Birds of a Feather or BoFs. I’ve been able to meet other wonderful journalists and media specialists who really care about the industry. I’ve also learned about a fantastic initiative the Knight Foundation set up called the Knight Drupal Initiative (KDI). It was a very quickly set up initiative where the Knight Foundation recognized the flexibility and potential of Drupal… and how a bit of funding could help this open source tool improve dramatically. One of the initiative’s first grants went to Addison Berry who wants to build up to date handbooks so more people can understand how to use Drupal. I’m really excited about Berry’s plans. I attended her “Documentation is Hot” presentation yesterday and I think she’s doing an incredible thing for Drupal and the community people who know Drupal is powerful but we can’t figure it out on our own (like me!).


I had a chance to attend the KDI BoF (like how I used all of the acronyms in one sentence?) yesterday where participants and organizers talked about what could happen in the future. They’re unsure if they’ll hold another KDI grant process again. I really hope they do. During this conference I’ve had a chance to talk and scheme with a wonderful Twitter user named Margaret Rosas (@mrosas). She’s out in Santa Cruz doing wonderful work for public media (with the help of a Knight Foundation News Challenge Grant). We understand each other and I love her cause. She explains how she hopes to align an Army of Geeks on the MediaShift Idea Lab. I think the KDI could help her extend this vision to locations beyond Santa Cruz. I would love to help build a Drupal community in Columbia, MO. There really isn’t one… And my time here has helped me learn about the Drupal Groups site and how many journalists are building community there. I didn’t even know! So I am now a member of Drupal Groups. You can find me here and watch as I join more groups and find new ways to learn about Drupal. I will never stop learning so I can continue to teach the best I can. I really to do want to arm Mizzou’s future journalists with an arsenal that will allow them to be good journalists who can do good work AND eat under a roof.

By the way – my attempt at holding a Mizzou J-School alumni meetup was a success last night. There were six former students who came from a range of graduation years between May of 2003 (right before I started working at the journalism school) all the way through December 2008. It was wonderful catching up, drinking a couple of beers and giving alumni members a chance to meet each other. Hooray last minute gatherings set up over Twitter and Facebook!

Twitter for Jurnos Part 2

At the request of some of my blog/Twitter followers, here’s the second part of my Twitter webcast from earlier this week. Have fun and please leave comments and thoughts.

If you want to sit down and watch part one, go here.
If you want to see my notes on Twitter basics, go here.

And now… Part two:

Content Management and Meetups

As I get deeper into the fun of DrupalCon, I realize I should start a talk about content management systems. A small one broke out on my Facebook page yesterday when my brother-in-law talked about how his newsroom (The Sporting News) is having a challenging time moving content into Drupal. I think almost all newsrooms are having that kind of problem. CMS is a pretty young tool. Four years ago when my newsroom moved to a CMS instead of Dreamweaver we didn’t think beyond the fact that our life would be so much better in a CMS environment. We didn’t think we’d want or need to move CMS later down the line. So we didn’t think about what it would take to move all of the content from our current CMS and move it into a new one. Well… It’s going to be miserable. And now that I’m on the hunt for a new CMS (we aren’t spending any money on one yet, I just want to know and be ready the moment it makes it onto a budget line), I am more concerned about the ease it takes to move away from the CMS. That’s another reason why I like Drupal. Once the content is in there, you can manipulate and port the information really well. I think that’s the wonderful thing about open source products.

I’d love to hear what other folks think about CMS and portability.

Also – Since I’m in DC, I’m setting up an impromptu gathering for Mizzou alumni and any of my Twitter/blog followers if they’re interested:

It would be great to hang out, enjoy a beer in a hipster kind of place.