7-2 Blog: Best Practices

I chose to analyze a blog entry written by Katherine Hakel on March 28, 2015. Hakel’s entry is titled How to Pick the Perfect Font For Print Projects, and covers – aside from what the title communicates – some of the technical rationale behind why some typefaces were initially designed for use in print, and some dedicated to use on screens.

I am subscribed to Hakel’s blog and receive email notifications whenever she posts a new blog entry. I also follow her on Twitter. As a graphic designer and someone who creates web content for a living, I find her posts to be informative and usually current with regard to discussing the latest webdesign trends. I also enjoy reading Hakel’s posts because they are composed in a clear, concise and direct manner, which dotmarketing’s Best Practices: Writing for the Web (1996) highlights as a best practice.

Personally, I think that the best blogs are those that educate readers in a consistently fresh and exciting way. I think successful blogs are those that present existing web content in a new, respectful and insightful manner. But I also firmly believe that blog authors should strive to present readers with originality. Presenting pre-existing content is fine – and in fact recommended by Ilias Chelidonis, as a way to help readers learn something new (2011) – but I feel it needs to express a new perspective on the topic covered. I know I don’t like reading regurgitated content. Regardless of the subject matter, I think it’s important for a blog to maintain a good balance between writing a piece only someone in the field might understand and writing a piece that can be comprehended by one unfamiliar with trade jargon.

Hakel’s blog post about choosing the right font for a print piece is largely in keeping with many of the best practices documented in dotmarketing’s article, Writing for the Web (1996). Her content is presented in a visually appealing fashion that takes into account how readers receive information on a webpage. As explained in dotmarketing’s article, people read content differently on the web. Moreover, and as presented in the 1996 guide, readers on the web tend to scan pages and read in short bursts. Halek does a nice job breaking up her text into very short paragraphs, easily comprehended at speed.

Although dotmarketing’s Best Practices’ (1996) article advises against the inclusion of grand introductions and mission statements on one’s web page, I think Halek gets away with it because the brief history she provides is interesting and relevant to the subject. Also in keeping with the dotmarketing Best Practices is Halek’s use of relevant and descriptive terms in her page’s header code. A quick peak into the blog’s metadata reveals that she has indeed included terms that are likely to be included in search engine queries.

How does my own recent blogging stack up against that of a blog pro. Eh… I have always been critical of my own writing – especially of work that is visible to potentially everyone on the internet. I think the length and structure of my paragraphs could definitely stand to be shortened. I feel that I am often too flowery or overly wordy with my sentences, and neither characteristics lend themselves to a gripping narrative. With regard to search engine optimization, or SEO, I have not yet ventured deep enough into the bowels of my WordPress CMS to determine whether or not I am actually able to add real metadata or descriptive terms into the header. Without a paid hosting service, or a “Premium Theme,” I believe my ability to customize the back end of my blog is limited. After all, Chelidonis (2011) highly recommends paying a little extra for a professional blog theme. However, I truly believe the jury is still out on whether or not the fanciest and most expensive blog theme can capture more readers than high-quality, well written content.


Resources

Chelidonis, I. (2011). 12 Steps To Launch a Successful Blog. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://dailyblogtips.com/steps-to-successful-blog/

dotmarketing Inc. (1996). Writing for the web. DM best practices. Retrieved from http://www.uakron.edu/webteam/docs/dm_webwriting.pdf

Halek, K. (2015, March 28). How to pick the perfect font for print projects. [Web message log]. Retrieved from http://www.graphicdesignblender.com/how-to-pick-the-perfect-font-for-print-projects

6-2: Using Social Media Tools

There are many ways to use social media and an equal if not greater number of social media tools. For this post I investigated three different social media tools, and then presented my reasoning behind what might be each tool’s strengths and weaknesses. I chose which social media tools with which to experiment from the list of new media tools found at Aids.gov.

New Media Tool 1: QR Codes

QR Codes, or quick-response codes are a lot like bar codes in that they take text and present it in a graphical manner. QRstuff.com is a website dedicated to the generation and use of QR codes as well as a subscription-based service that provides marketing tools and support for the implementation of QR codes as part of a customer’s marketing campaign. QRStuff.com offers some technical information on their site, “Storing up to 4296 characters they are internationally standardized under ISO 18004, so a QR code is a QR code all over the world – they’ve been big in Japan forever, broke into Europe and the UK a few years back, and are now popular in North America.”

I generated the red QR code above, that when scanned with a mobile device, will simply open my blog in a web browser. QR codes are typically utilized in print pieces and on in-store advertisements – although, QRstuff.com provides links to venders who will print your personal QR code onto virtually any physical product such as clothing and coffee mugs. Adding a QR code to a printed marketing campaign can offer another level of customer interaction and engagement. If a customer wants further information about a specific product they see in a magazine, they can scan a QR code and be taken to the companies website. I think this can be a useful tool, but by itself, I think the QR code is not as effective as it’s inventors would like us to believe. The QR code by itself does not relay much information, and requires context in order for someone to want to scan it. Another downside comes form the fact that mobile phone users must open a dedicated app in order to scan the image. I know that in order to scan a QR code on my iPhone, I had to download a third-party app. I think these extra steps could potentially turn off a customer who doesn’t want waste time performing extra steps in order to simply visit a company or organization’s website. Additionally, the code graphic by itself is not aesthetically pleasing – at least from a design perspective. However, it is possible to integrate logos and images into the QR code itself, enabling the square codes to perhaps be used as stand alone marketing pieces.

Having previously used QR codes in a postcard mailing that solicited potential donors to register for a charity golf tournament, I think QR codes have their uses, but only as part of a larger and more diverse marketing strategy. I think individuals are well versed using their mobile phone’s internet browsers that they would rather skip the scan, and type in a URL. Lastly, I think QR codes may be useful if they are generated with providing convenience in mind. For example, if you need assistance with a product and and to chat with a product specialist, you could scan a QR code which would automatically open, pre-populate the contact field, and send a request for assistance.

New Media Tool 2: Picture Sharing Sites

The photo sharing site with which I chose to experiment is Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. A photographic-based social media platform, Instagram users are able to post square photos to a live feed, as well as apply different photographic filters to their images prior to posting. While primarily a mobile app, Instagram feeds can be access from a desktop computer’s web browser. Users can also post up to 7 seconds of video with audio—a feature that has been widely used by companies like GAP and Mercedes-Benz. In a recent on line article from AdWeek.com (2015), contributor Garrett Sloane cites results from L2 and Olapic stating that Brands are now posting more photos on Instagram than they are on FaceBook. The article points to the Instagram’s wealthy and youthful demographic of users as one of the main reasons for the increased usage by brands.

The app itself is very easy to use once downloaded to a mobile device, and the available photo filters can sometimes compensate for a lack of talent on the part of the photographer.

New Media Tool 3: Twitter

Twitter can be considered a “micro-blogging”(Aids.gov, 2014) platform in that entries are limited to 140 characters. In terms of the app’s popularity Aids.gov (2013) points out that approximately 177 million tweets are tweeted each day—although that number has likely risen significantly in the past two years. A 2014 survey conducted by The Pew Research Center found that despite a steadily rising percentage of adults using Twitter, that percentage is far below that of Facebook users (48% less to be specific).


References

5-1: Oconee County Observations

photo by Peter Demko

OconeeCountyObservations.com appears to be a legitimate and often updated blog – true to its description; News and comments about developments in Oconee County, Georgia. The site’s owner and author, Lee Becker, is apparently a very well educated man, and although Becker does not refer to himself as a journalist in his blog, his education background and credentials in the field of journalism are significant. In the right-hand column of the blog, Becker provides personal information about himself, his purpose for the blog, and what journalistic standards he strives to embody through his reports. The side column also contains descriptions of several awards and honors Becker has received. While announcing such accomplishments might appear to some as boastful, their mention is not posted front and center on the site. Becker’s inclusion of his personal background and important milestones is very helpful in determining whether or not visitors are reading the work of a credible individual. He clearly provides answers to many – if not all – of the systematic questions Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) present when, “analyzing the content and nature of media” (p. 32). Virtually without exception, each of the posts on Becker’s site are composed in strict accordance to the SPJ Code of Ethics (2014). Clicking on the link to his complete profile on Blogger.com reveals that Becker has lived in Oconee County since 1997.

By virtue of the fact Becker’s reports include videos of Oconee County governance meetings, verifying the information in his reports is extremely easy. Becker’s site encourages public civil discourse and commentary, and unlike the negative and often offensive comments that follow the online articles of well-known professional journalists, those I read offered nothing but publically acceptable – albeit critical – remarks about the subject of Becker’s report. Even though the journalistic integrity of an online article cannot be determined by the number of inflammatory comments that follow, I believe the nature of the comments for Becker’s posts speak to his high standards of reporting.

As pointed out in Stephen Ward’s Digital Media Ethics (2015),

“… citizens without journalistic training and who do not work for mainstream media calls themselves journalists…”.

I think Becker’s blog is very much an exception to the always evolving, online media environment described by Ward (2012). The Oconee County Observation represents (ironically) a professional level of journalism presented through an amateur medium. This is not to say that the blogging platform used by Becker is illegitimate or obsolete, but that traditionally I would expect to find Becker’s caliber of reporting in a nationally recognized news publication, and not representing one man’s self-proclaimed hobby. In other words, Becker is clearly a well educated man whose education level suggests his having made a major contribution to field of journalism. There is an inherent characteristic of humility to be found in the unsponsored blog of an individual with a doctorate in journalism who never refers to themselves as a professional – let alone a journalist.

The rise of citizen journalists and bloggers presents many advantages and disadvantages. Using citizen-sourced information, the reach of News media agencies is increased, but so too is the potential for erroneous or biased reports. The value of eyewitness accounts of unfolding events can be substation for local news stations whose reporters are unavailable. For individuals aspiring to become professional journalists and who have dedicated themselves to the study of journalism, distinguishing oneself from the growing population of online content creators may prove frustrating. This potential dilemma for professional journalists may be caused by what Stephen Ward suggests is the “blurring of the identity of journalists and the idea of what constitutes journalism” (2015).


References

Becker, Lee. (2015, March 15). [Web log message]. Oconee County Observations. Retrieved from http://oconeecountyobservations.blogspot.com/2015/03/jimmy-daniell-road-rezone-likely-to-be.html

Kovach, Bill and Rosenstiel, Tom. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury, USA.

Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ code of ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Ward, S. (2015). Digital Media Ethics. University of Wisconsin: Center for Journalism Ethics. Retrieved from http://ethics.journalism.wisc.edu/resources/digital-media-ethics/

4-2 Blog: Mistakes, False News, and Errors

The motto “report now and apologize later” is one with which I disagree. Yet in today’s 24-hour constantly breaking news cycle, speed of news delivery seems to trump accuracy. In the case of the Boston Marathon Bombing, the pressure to be the first news agency to report on a suspect led Fox News and CNN to air reports that a suspect was in custody. This pressure also caused many media outlets, including Fox and CNN, to violate several of SPJ’s Code of Ethics (2014). The first bullet point within SPJ’s list states that “Journalists should take responsibility for the accuracy of their work and verify information before releasing it.” Another SPJ code that seems to have all but been abandoned is the statement that “neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” Fox and CNN, despite recently having reported inaccuracies on a breaking news story only months prior, appear to have disregarded accuracy for the sake of speed.

From the quotes in Bill Carter’s April 17, 2013 New York Times article, neither CNN nor Fox’s retraction statements appear to have accepted any responsibility for their mistakes – instead placing blame on the fact that their trusted sources had been incorrect. According to Carter’s article, CNN stated that they had reported on what they believed were three accurate sources of information. Fox’s Megyn Kelly made a similar statement about the accuracy of their source’s confirmations. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2010) point out some interesting observations about the tendencies of news media with regard to addressing report inaccuracies. In keeping with the nature of the statements issued by Fox and CNN, Kovach and Rosenstiel believe that news agencies typically issue retractions only when the misinformation is “black and white” (p. 118). In other words, when a news outlet makes a mistake about something that can only be right or wrong, they are most likely to issue a correction. My belief is that even though the sources used by the networks were mistaken, the burden of accurate reporting still falls on the network and anchor releasing the story. Audiences may never know what attempts, if any, were made to verify the information.

In his article, Carter quotes a former network news correspondent who teaches journalism,

“I fear we have permanently entered the Age of the Retraction… The rush to be first has so thoroughly swallowed up the principle of being right and first that it seems a little egg on the face is now deemed worth the risk (2013).

I find it alarming to think that news outlets, knowing from experience how audiences take to retractions, may be taking advantage of the public’s lack of demand for accountability – let alone accuracy. It is as if so long as the news media issues a correctional statement somewhere down the road, they are free to boost ratings by being the first to report, regardless of accuracy.

Our relationship to the news media must be taken into account when examining the reporting of inaccurate information. Audiences determine ratings and, in a large part, the success of news media agencies.

References

Carter, B. (2013, April 17). The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=0

Kovach, Bill and Rosenstiel, Tom. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury, USA.

Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ code of ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Module 1-3: Media Influence

I am first exposed to media upon waking each morning. Most nights, I fall asleep listening to my pocket radio, and the radio again fills my ears after my alarm sounds. After showering, and gulping down a mug of coffee, I pick up my cell phone and am immediately bombarded by an onslaught of social media – that, unlike my brain, never stopped once I had fallen asleep. I respond to text messages, review what transpired on FaceBook, and what Instagrams were posted during the hours I was not consuming media.

Once I arrive at work, I turn my attention back to social media, but more so in the role of moderator as opposed to active contributor. I open my email and quickly check to see if I’ve received any activity notifications from the 11 FaceBook pages and five Twitter accounts for which I am administrator. For the remainder of my time at the office, I will remain connected – not only to my personal social media accounts, but also those representing the 11 Seven Hills Affiliates. Just as each affiliate is unique, so too are their presences on social media. I, functioning as the one common denominator between them all, work to monitor, mediate, and preserve a dialogue that reflects positively each respected affiliate. My responsibility as social media administrator is to ensure that each affiliate within the foundation is properly influencing the public, whereas in the context of my personal account, I am susceptible to being influenced.

I feel the media can influence my perspective on events, but that the strength of its influence varies based on the level of exposure pertaining to any particular event. If I notice several news media organizations reporting on the same event, my instinct is to pay closer attention to determine what news event has spurred such wide coverage. With regard to whether or not the media influenced my perspective on world events, I am more likely to be influenced if my exposure to media coverage is limited.   As an individual striving to become more media literate and someone who appreciates objectivity, I believe it is essential  to consider the perspectives presented many media sources before subscribing to a single position.

Blogs resemble early news reports in that they took on a subjective tone, presented information in the order in which it occurred, and reported factual data in an increasing order based on significance (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010 p. 17). As the internet became more accessible to more individuals, so too did the means by which individuals were able to contribute and share. Blogging platforms with open source, web-based content management systems – such as Word Press – eliminated the need to know complex web code in order to create a website. Blogs empower individuals. They provide a venue to freely express personal opinions, and offer a modern-day confirmation of the idea that people can be self-governing.

The widespread use and popularity of social media – Face Book and Twitter in particular – are examples of advancements in communication that brought about specific patterns of change in societies. Kovach and Rosenstiel commonly identify these patterns as influencing the increased democratization of communications, the reorganization of political and social establishments, and a renewed affirmation of tension between fact and faith (ibid, p.13).

 

References
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury.