In keeping with Journal Register’s digital first initiative, Montgomery Media’s Perkasie News-Herald has already posted the majority of its stories on their WordPress site. Staff members are editing stories and gearing up to lay out the 28-page print edition using Scribus. We’ll continue to post progress reports throughout the day.
Staff are adding timelines to the project site using Timetoast, a free tool that allows users to create timelines and share them on the Web. Dipity was an option that was considered at the onset of the project. It serves the same purpose but looks a bit messy. More pleasing to the eye is Timetoast, which from a journalism standpoint is a great, free online tool to package bigger issue stories that began years, even decades ago. Trash is an ongoing issue in The Perkasie News-Herald’s coverage area. These easy-to-create Flash timelines cover 10 years of stories in way that’s more appealing to the eye. Scroll over the dots to see dates or blurbs that when clicked on link to full stories. You can also scroll over the timeline to zone in on specific time frames.
Let’s talk a bit about Embedr, another free tool the team at Montgomery found through a simple Google search. Embedr allows anyone to create custom playlists of videos. Journalists at Montgomery are adding multiple videos to one player rather than embedding three separate videos under a story. In addition to videos, digital journalists looking to create sleek multimedia story packages may also have a timeline and a couple of local documents to supplement a story. Embedr is just one of the free tools available that makes it easier to dress up a story online.
With many specialty groups in the community, The Perkasie News-Herald wanted to compile the different events of those many calendars into one comprehensive community calendar. Using Google’s free online calendar, this is entirely possible. Executing this idea also gives the community another opportunity to provide its newspaper with information that’s not only relevant, as it’s happening in their town, but also wide in scope, ranging from entertainment, to business, to political events. And it can all be done in just a few clicks and maintained in one space. For the most part, the Montgomery team populated the Perkasie News-Herald Around Town Calendar themselves for this project, but with more time and with Google Calendar in their tool belts, there are great possibilities for more online interaction within communities.
When the Montgomery team was under deadline to compile a press release announcing the April 27 town hall meeting that would introduce this new community-building journalism project to residents, Google Wave really came in handy. This new Web application enables real-time communication and collaboration. About four Montgomery staffers participated, and line-by-line they worked on the press release together. While Google Wave allows for this simultaneous editing process by multiple users in multiple locations, others may prefer to use Google Docs to share their work. One staffer described Google Docs as a more structured editing environment, where you can work on a document and then pass it on to the next editor.
For a project aimed at connecting the community to its news source by inviting them to join in the news-gathering process, Ustream (the leading live interactive broadcast platform) served as a key tool. Ustream enables anyone who’s hooked up to the Internet and has a camera to engage their audience. It fulfills our need (in this industry and as a society) for immediacy and also enables users to broadcast to an audience of unlimited size. The Montgomery team used Ustream to share a live broadcast of the town hall meeting with a larger audience. At the meeting residents voiced concerns about community issues and offered ideas for improving the newspaper’s online and print editions, and this content was delivered live, and at no cost.
Keeping in mind that audience feedback was a major component of this project, Montgomery staffers turned to SurveyMonkey, a free online survey software and questionnaire tool, to ask readers questions about shopping local and about Perkasie’s “pay as you throw” trash system, for two different sets of stories. Perkasie News-Herald staff found residents remain very much engaged in these two issues, so continuous coverage is planned. Pollsb (short for Polls Boutique) is another resource the team used to survey readers, in this instance through Flash polls. With Pollsb, you can create your own free polls using text, pictures, video and audio. Polls can be private and only viewed where they’re embedded, or shared with the entire social network of Pollsb users. The obvious free Internet tools, Facebook and Twitter, served as the platforms to launch the project‘s other (and equally important) goal: including the audience in the process. The team posted general inquiries, asking fans and followers the issues they wanted to be addressed. And their responses served as the basis for which stories were written, and which videos and photos were shot.
Picasa is a free software download from Google that helps users organize, edit and share photos. Team Montgomery used this software to create slideshows for the Ben Head community photo project, which invited readers to snap photos with Franklin’s mug in familiar local places and submit their shots. Picasa was also the photo server for the Pennridge Area Community Tour, a place for community members to submit their videos and photos of favorite spots in the area. Submissions appear on a Google map, pinpointed throughout different locations. Another free photo tool discovered was Resizr, a simple and free online image resizer. Just visit the site and click on “resize and convert images.”