Category: Work

…And it’s shiny

As some of you may know, this quarter I’m working on developing an iPad-native magazine.  Because the iPad is so new, it presents a unique challenge.  Basically, the only thing we know about iPad users are their basic demographics and that, for the most part, they don’t really know how they’re using the tablet.  What I mean is, iPad users don’t know if they want interactivity or static pages, they don’t know if they want videos to autoplay or to wait for their cue, and they certainly don’t know what an iPad magazine should look like.

Which should make our job really easy, right?

Just take the best of what is out there, and combine it into something shiny and new, and there you go: an iPad magazine.

Except that it’s hard to start without a starting point.

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs has a philosophy regarding user testing.  To paraphrase: people don’t have any idea what they want until we tell them that they want it.  I like this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it would mean I don’t have to stalk iPad users in coffee shops to ask them to do a “card-sorting” activity, whatever that is.  What I really like though is the idea that, while subject and tone can be determined by audience interviews and market research, the way it is all packaged and presented may not even exist yet.  And instead of asking people what they like, which, inevitably, will be limited to what they’ve already experienced, we can tell people what they’re going to like a year from now by dreaming up something people didn’t even know they wanted (ahem, iPod).

There is also this intangible quality that the iPad has by virtue of its newness.  Everything that is created for it right now is cool and innovative.  We’re just on the cusp of that no longer being the case, the point at which people have enough experience with this shiny new toy to know what they like, and more importantly, what they don’t.

But right now, in this moment (or at least the moment that lasts between now and Christmas), why not tell people what they like and need in an iPad magazine and shift the conversation that is happening around this new device?

One thing ends, another begins

In the last month, I wrapped up one project, spent three weeks traveling up the East Coast, and then started a new project.

Our summer project, “A Parent’s Quest”, is finally live.  It was a taxing last few weeks, but I’m really proud of the work we’ve come up with.  I learned a lot about education reporting and I hope that we avoided some of the pitfalls that exist in that rich subject.

I was supposed to leave the next day to visit friends in Washington, D.C., but a hurricane had other ideas.  When I finally got there on Monday, it was sunny and warm and I got to spend some time with good friends.  I then embarked upon an Amtrak odyssey up the coast, hitting Philadelphia, New York, and Boston and seeing friends along the way.  I left Chicago on a warm August afternoon.  When I finally got back, it was definitely fall.

Now in my final quarter of graduate school, we’re taking on what might be the most exciting project I’ve ever done.  We’re going to create a tablet-first app using Bonnier Corporation’s recently spun-off Mag+ platform.  It’s been an exciting week and a half so far, and I’m really looking forward to digging in.  We’re going to tackle a history themed publication with a hip, pop-culture angle.  All of this, we hope to accomplish in 12 weeks.

So it’s going to be a busy fall…

Hello, Tech Support?

When I worked at a traditional television network, there were two kinds of tech support.

Our IT guys worked primarily on our regular desktop computers, installing programs, updating systems, and setting up our Blackberries (I had three in the course of two years).

Our engineering staff worked on all of the servers, transponders, and other mess of wiring behind master control which actually made the network go up to the satellite and back down to cable systems across the country.  These guys were amazing.  I could give them incomplete coordinates for a satellite feed that I needed, like, five minutes ago and they’d find it, downlink it, and get it on the air.

Now that I’m working on a website, I find myself in need of an additional brand of tech support.  Video for TV and video for the web are two very different animals.  The shooting and editing are the same, but the encoding, uploading, and display seem to be a never ending headache.

We decided early on that we were going to build an HTML5 compatible site, with all of the bells and whistles.  Unfortunately, the video standards are -not- standard, and trying to balance quality with file size is becoming a huge headache.  We’re also working from a WordPress CMS, in the interest of ease for those colleagues who are not web people, but we’re finding the quirks of the system to be a little constraining.

Oh, and did I mention that we’re supposed to be live in 24-hours?

It’s going to be a long day, but when it’s over (probably Tuesday or Wednesday) we’re going to have a site up at Northwestern’s News 21.  Wish me luck.

My bags are packed…

Traveling for work can be work in and of itself, but there’s nothing like showing up at a school or a parking lot with a camera and a tripod in the back of my car, ready to tell a story that I (or my editor) thought so important that I traveled across the country to tell it.

Last week, I spent four days in the southern tip of Texas, working with a colleague on a story about educating migrant laborers and their children. We probably drove around 1,000 miles all around this school district interviewing school officials, students, and one particular success story; a student who had migrated from Texas to Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan for more than 10 years during his childhood who is now slated to graduate from Michigan State University next spring.

As a journalist, I can sit at my desk and do all the research in the world, but nothing compares to actually going out and talking to the people I’m reporting about. There is something intangible about seeing these people in their natural surroundings, rather than interviewing them over the phone. And since I lean towards visual journalism, it’s necessary.

This coming week, I’ll be in Boston and Denver working on a story about school choice and how parents and educators are helping students navigate the increasingly complex world of public education. And, in addition to the mediocre hotels and (sometimes) worse food, I hope that being there, and seeing the worlds of educators, parents, and other interested parties will help me to tell a story that is both informative and interesting, in a way that reporting from my desk never could.

A new look at learning

I’m about two weeks in on a new fellowship that aims to look at how education is (or, more likely, is not) preparing today’s kids for tomorrow’s world.  We’re running with the idea that STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is the answer.

I approach this topic with some apprehension.  Education seems to be one of the most widely parsed topics in mainstream news today.  When Newsweek and NBC News are doing special features, it seems that the ship has sailed on innovative coverage.  We also struggle with the fact that, rather than publishing as we go, we will report for 10 weeks and publish at the very end.  We’ve already had two reporters pitch stories that were covered by major news organizations a few days later.

We are hoping to use the delayed release as a benefit, however, by delving deep into topics and placing a premium on visual and interactive elements that need some lead-up time to build.

I’ll be posting additional updates as we work throughout the summer, but please feel free to let me know what your ideas are about the topic in the comments section below.