Non-profit journalism in New Haven


Last month I took two reporting trips for my book-in-progress about online journalism and community participation. I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot several video interviews, which I am now editing and posting on YouTube.

My first stop was in New Haven, where I spent some time with Paul Bass, the founder and editor of the New Haven Independent. I also interviewed his managing editor, Melissa Bailey, and Mark Brackenbury, managing editor of the daily New Haven Register. If you don’t see my video (above), click here. I apologize for the sound quality; I should have interviewed Bass somewhere other than a loud coffee-and-bagel shop, but he’s a busy guy.

The Independent is a non-profit community news site that’s similar to Voices of San Diego and MinnPost. Bass, an award-winning New Haven journalist and former editor of the alternative New Haven Advocate, tools around the city on his bicycle with a notebook and a small video camera.

In March I interviewed Christine Stuart, whose state political site, CT News Junkie, serves as the Independent’s Statehouse bureau.

A visit with CT News Junkie editor Christine Stuart

Find more videos like this on Wired Journalists

I spent last Wednesday with Christine Stuart, the editor of CT News Junkie, which covers Connecticut politics. Stuart, who’s based at the Statehouse in Hartford, posts two to four times a day, often covering hearings on important but secondary stories that the mainstream media ignore.

CT News Junkie is a media partner with the New Haven Independent, one of the more interesting experiments in non-profit, Web-based community journalism. Projects such as these are crucial as we seek to grope our way forward through the economic crisis that has befallen the news business. (CT News Junkie is technically a for-profit company, but Stuart is looking into ways of taking it non-profit.)

I visited Stuart as part of a long-range project. But while I was there, I shot some video and put together a six-minute documentary. I hope you’ll take a few moments and have a look.

Some technical notes. After spending about an hour trying to edit my video with iMovie ’08, I gave up and used iMovie 6 instead. The lack of precision for coordinating audio and B-roll with iMovie ’08 is a source of constant frustration, and I’ve finally given up. I can’t believe I subjected my students to it last semester. Maybe iMovie ’09 will be a better solution.

I also was unable to post the result to YouTube, even though the format (MP4), the length (well under 10 minutes) and the file size (under 100 MB) all meet YouTube’s guidlines. Vimeo didn’t work, either. I finally posted it successfully to Wired Journalists, which uses the Ning platform designed by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen.

If anyone out there has some thoughts as to why this proved to be YouTube-unfriendly, please drop me a line or post a comment. I’d still like to get this up on YouTube.

A well-told story in black and white

If you didn’t get a chance to see the Boston Globe video that accompanied Maria Cramer’s story on the white firefighter who was reunited with the black infant he rescued 40 years ago, you owe it to yourself to have a look. Good stuff.

Student videoblogging at Northeastern

I just finished watching videos made by my students in Reinventing the News. All of them have good points; some are quite strong from beginning to end.

A few technical notes:

  • The videos were shot with low-end digital cameras, several of which created file compatibility problems. Two students who used Flip cameras had to edit their work on their Windows laptops using Windows Movie Maker, as iMovie ’08 for Macintosh wouldn’t accept their clips. I’m sure there’s a converter, but I’d have to track it down.
  • Another student tried two different cameras — a Sony and a Casio, if I’m not mistaken — and couldn’t pull either into iMovie. She ended up having to skip the assignment.
  • I have mixed feelings about iMovie ’08 (also known, weirdly enough, as iMovie 7). Although it’s easy to use in some respects, and I figured out how to do B-roll despite a lack of documentation, it’s not as precise as iMovie 6. One student used iMovie 6 on her own Mac laptop. She and those using Windows Movie Maker seemed to have an easier time.

Video for the Web is a skill well worth teaching journalism students today. I’m glad we tried it, and I’ve got some ideas for how to do a better job of teaching it the next time.

The next president’s first priorities

Click here for higher-quality version

Thought you might get a kick out of a news video I put together as a demonstration for my Reinventing the News class at Northeastern. Not gripping journalism, but evidence that modern media tools make it possible even for an old guy like me to make credible-looking video.

The breakthrough here is that I figured out how to add B-roll with iMovie 7 (also known as iMovie ’08 under Apple’s bizarre naming conventions). I used stills for the B-roll in this example, but the principle would be the same if I had used video instead.

Old ethics and new media (VI)

Howard Owens, GateHouse Media’s director of digital publishing, has responded to YouTube’s decision to remove the Beverly Citizen’s controversial video of the “Horribles” parade.

According to Owens, YouTube acted after receiving a complaint from someone whose face was visible in the video. Apparently YouTube has a privacy policy under which it will take down a video at literally anyone’s request. Owens sums it up as follows:

We simply cannot allow YouTube, or any other business partner, to subvert our editorial independence. If YouTube wants to get in the game of hosting video for established news organizations — which it is doing — then it needs to respect the editorial judgment and independence of the news professionals in those organizations. If YouTube is unwilling be a true media partner, then, at least for GateHouse, we will need to seek alternative means of distribution of our videos.

Now, it’s easy enough to say that YouTube should act as a common carrier, similar to the phone company, and carry any traffic that comes its way, regardless of content. As a free-speech advocate, I would much prefer a policy like that.

But it’s not that simple. YouTube is successful in part because it does a good job of keeping out pornography and graphic violence. It’s the PG-13 nature of YouTube that makes it an attractive venue for media companies like GateHouse in the first place.

On the other hand, Owens is absolutely right that if the folks at YouTube are going to remove news videos arbitrarily, then there’s no way a news organization can do business with them.

I haven’t changed my mind about the video — I still would have edited it to remove the eight-foot-long penis and some of the more offensive signs. But that has to be the news organization’s call, not that of the service hosting the video.

I realize this post is entirely one-sided, and I hope YouTube has something to say. Soon.

Wednesday morning update: An unnamed YouTube spokeswoman tells the Boston Herald that the video was “inappropriate,” but leaves it at that.

Old ethics and new media (V)

Looks like GateHouse Media has taken matters into its own hands.

If you go to the Beverly Citizen’s “Horribles” parade story now, you’ll see that the video featuring the eight-foot-long water-spouting penis and the crude signs is back online.

The difference: The video is now hosted by Veoh Networks rather than YouTube.

Old ethics and new media (IV)

Anyone at GateHouse want to send along the reason that YouTube gave for removing the “Horribles” parade video? YouTube might be in the running for a 2009 Phoenix Muzzle Award if it took down the video because of its allegedly offensive content.

Old ethics and new media (III)

In a weird coda to the controversy over the Beverly Farms “Horribles” parade, a source has informed Media Nation that YouTube has removed the video. Have a look at the Beverly Citizen’s story. When you click on the video, you’ll receive a message that says, “We’re sorry, this video is no longer available.”

The GateHouse Media papers, like many smaller enterprises, uses YouTube as a free, easy-to-use publishing platform. Editors upload their videos to YouTube, then embed the code on their own sites. But it looks like publishers who wish to control their content are going to have to figure out a way to do it themselves.

Old ethics and new media (II)

The comments to my earlier post have transformed this into a substantive, productive conversation about journalism and standards in the new-media age. You’ll find intelligent posts on all sides of the issue, from outraged readers to GateHouse Media editors and executives.

I’m humbled by how much better the quality of the discussion is compared to my original post. As Dan Gillmor likes to say, “My readers know more than I do.”