Media Innovation

When the LA Kings hockey team won the coveted Stanley Cup in June the people of Los Angeles rejoiced. The sports section of the Los Angeles Times nonetheless paid homage to the team’s victory. When it came to coverage it was full-on and nothing less. But it wasn’t just reporting and capturing the photographs for both the hardcopy paper and the online version.

(The Stanley Cup is awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs champion after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals. This was the Kings’ first Stanley Cup in 45 years).

The LA Times has an online feature called 360 – where the photography team creates an interactive panoramic view of an event using photographs from multiple angles, splicing it together so the viewer can experience the action as if he/she was actually there. So during the Kings’ victory, they created this online presentation showing the team’s huge number of supporters and fans who lined the streets in downtown Los Angeles to celebrate this historic event.

One of the photo editors Bryan Chan (who was the one who covered the LA Kings Stanley Cup parade outside the Staples Center in LA) sat down with me and told me how they actually put it together. A professional photographer would use a fish-eye wide angle lens to shoot different angles. In this case, two shots from top to bottom and two shots from left to right. This is of course can be done with a lens that is wide enough to cover every corner. “If the lens isn’t wide enough, then you would need to shoot more pictures to put together a 360 degree view,” said Chang. When you look at the finished project, it looks as if it was the job of multiple photographers. It’s actually an amazing feature and garnered over 1000 Tweets and Facebook link shares.

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Check out the link here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/nhl/kings/la-sp-kings-stanley-cup-parade-pano,0,2763238.htmlstory 

At the LA Times entertainment desk, the web producers come up with photo galleries every week to inform readers on the latest happenings in Hollywood. More people are getting very visual nowadays, and let’s face it thanks to Twitter, the attention span is getting shorter too. 

People in this day and age don’t just want to see pictures in a newspaper. They want the interactive factor where there is newness and innovation.

Journalism and Social Media

Helpful. Useful. Informative. Relevant. Practical. Actionable. Timely. Generous. Credible. Brief. Entertaining. Fun. Occasionally funny.

All these words were uttered like the gospel at the auditorium of the Los Angeles Times last week by the staff. No, it wasn’t a self-help rehab session. The congregation was led by Columbia University’s first Chief Digital Officer and Columbia Journalism School professor Sree Sreenivasan, who conducted a brilliant workshop on Social Media Guide. The words were Sree’s social media success formula. Honestly, after listening to him, I had seven new followers on Twitter. 

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Sree said every one of our tweets or Facebook postings, etc, should have at least one of those attributes in the first paragraph. “Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on social media.” And the audience rejoice with mirth. Sree is considered the man to “follow” if you want to increase your network and upgrade your Twitter skills.

“Build your network when you don’t need it so it’s there when you DO need it.” These were some of the useful tips he shared with the Times staff, mainly consisting of reporters and editors and the techies. According to him, your Twitter bio always highlights your best social media presence. “The more “blue things” (hyperlinks) i.e @so-and-so you have on your bio, the better. This is social media optimisation. Make your tweets blue!”

“Social media is the only thing I do today that will get me fired”. You can see how he did a great job of engaging us.

How do we get more followers on Twitter? Service your current followers. Well. “Social media is email without the guilt.” 

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This is what social media can do for media pros and others: find new ideas, trends and sources; connect with readers and viewers in new ways; bring eyeballs, traffic and attention to their work and help them create, craft and enhance their brands. 

“Here’s the thing – 1:5 tweets about me point to other things,” said Sree. Every tweet is an opportunity to do new things. Remember the blue links!

Sree’s workshop helped me understand Twitter better in terms of functionality. Prior to this, I was constantly hesitant to tweet about stuff in general, as compared to people who tweet 70 times a day (I’m still a one-to-two-a-day gal). Honestly, his insights are great for reporters to promote their articles and issues out there. 

I really benefited from this workshop because I can also take what I’ve learned back home to my newsroom. 

Twitter: @sree; Twitter.com/sree
Facebook: Facebook.com/sreetips & FB.com/sreenet

My Social Media Guide: bit.ly/sreesoc

My Twitter Guide for Skeptics & Newbies:bit.ly/twitterideas
You can ask me questions on VYou.com
My workshops around the countrybit.ly/sreeworkshops

U.S. System of Open Records and Public Records Act – It’s Complicated

If a former graduate student is known as a smart, brilliant and quiet person who later did a complete one-eighty by heinously killing 12 people and hurting 58 others at a midnight movie showing in Aurora, Colorado, I would definitely want to know what went through his mind.

James Holmes, the 24-year-old suspect from the University of Colorado, Denver, has been described as sometimes awkward but never displayed signs of violence. According to the Huffington Post, it is a mystery as to what happened during his stint in the program as a neuroscience student at the school’s Anschutz Medical Campus. He dropped out after a year being in the program.

Four days ago, a judge in Denver barred the University of Colorado Denver from releasing any records about Holmes’ time at the campus. Other media organizations, including the AP, too have filed open records requests to obtain Holmes’ school records. The judge, however, said “releasing information in response to requests filed under the Colorado Open Records Act would impede an ongoing investigation”, according to the Huffington Post.

He did cite a provision of the Colorado Open Records Act that prevents the public from viewing open records. However, the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office said that reporters did not request educational records, which would be prohibited from being released under Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), but emails, that are not exempted from the open records law.

I was a court reporter for two years in Malaysia, so I am not surprised when a judge orders the lawyers and police from speaking to the media about an on-going case. In Holmes’ situation, the judge has also sealed the case file which prevents the public from seeing the arguments from both sides. The Washington Post and others news organizations are contesting his order, according to the Seattle Times.

 

All said and done, under the Colorado Laws Concerning Public (Open) Records, Title 24 Article 72-201 of the Legislative declaration states that it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times. However, this can be negated if such inspection is prohibited by rules promulgated by the supreme court or by the order of any court.The Huffington Post stated that there has been a tightly controlled flow of information about Holmes since the assault.

It is very strange how Holmes was studying temporal illusions in neuroscience and how that transgressed into him losing the part of his brain that allowed him to reason. Now if the media are able to look into Holmes’ emails (in an ideal world) and possibly find any suspicious correspondence, that could open up an entire new can of worms. We would definitely find emails between him and his psychiatrist, who in fact, has recently been under the media scrutiny. If I’m not mistaken that would fall under the category of client-doctor privilege so, again, no luck for reporters.

In Malaysia, the Centre for Independent Journalism which fights for advocating media freedom and access to information, is pushing for the country’s Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) to be repealed and replaced with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), like the one in the U.S.

Under OSA, an official secrets is simply defined as “any document specified in the Schedule and any information and material relating thereto and includes any other official document, information and material as may be classified as “Top Secret”, “Secret”, “Confidential” or “Restricted”, as the case may be, by a Minister, the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister of a State or such public officer appointed under section 2B;”

Prior to coming to the U.S. I was excited to experience working in a free press environment. I have learned that there are so many exemptions to that freedom. I’m sure the restrictions are there for a reason.

During my first week at the LA Times, I sat in on a conference call between the company attorney, city desk reporters and the attorney for the Los Angeles Fire Department. The reporters wanted to obtain the department’s call handling times to investigate if the response times were the factor for a man’s death. The man collapsed in his backyard at his house located just half-mile away from the firehouse.

During the conference call, there were frictions as to what the newsdesk was requesting and what the Los Angeles fire department’s attorney thought they wanted. The desk wanted the fire department’s response times to emergencies and nothing to do with patient’s names and addresses. Under U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under the FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested – unless that information is protected from public disclosure. In this case, the exemption is HIPAA – which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information.

The argument by the Times was how, by providing the information of response times to the paper, would hurt the Fire Department? The answer by the fire department’s attorney was that it could pose potential liability for department as it could potentially disclose names and addresses of the people. This was counter argued by the Times on the grounds that California law has a disclosure requirement.

An in-depth investigative report on the story by the Times which was later published revealed that that in the more than 250,000 medical dispatches last year, the fire department took 75% longer to respond, on average, than the national standard. BUT it is impossible to say whether a faster response would have saved him.

During our mid-term seminar in Missouri, we learned that there are state open-records statutes in the U.S. which come with various exemptions.

Ratings, ratings and Ratings

I am a fan of TV. I am a fan of movies. Having worked at the LA Times’ Company Town desk for the last three weeks, I have learned the nitty gritty of business behind show business. That’s what Company Town does. Back to TV and movies. Every week, the writers are in charge of reporting the ratings for the Best DVD Sales, Best DVD rental and Best Box Office movie. 

Why is this important? Well to put it simply, the ratings make or break the show. I’m sure there are other factors behind it but ratings provide the big picture on how the shows are doing.

We, as viewers, would never even think about ratings behind our favorite show. We’ll actually get very angry if the show has to cease production abruptly. But the writers at Company Town don’t only write about the ratings. They get deep into the goings on of production company mergers, acquisitions, money, money and money.

Company Town is a part of the LA Times’ Calendar desk (which is the main entertainment section). Each writer in Company Town is supposed to contribute one story every day for the online blog. It seemed overwhelming looking and observing at how they work every day. But I’m getting used to it now.

During my first week, I suggested a story idea about how the 80s series “Dallas” would be making its reboot into our lives once again. They thought it was a good idea coming from a journalist from Malaysia as I used to love watching “Dallas” as a kid growing up. But I not only had to write about my experience, I had to find out some figures about the show and whether the production company, Warner Brothers, would be distributing it overseas. Here was my story which made the front page of the LA Times’ Business pullout.

LOS ANGELES — Top brass at Warner Bros. International Television Distribution have unveiled plans to capitalize on the instant popularity of the studio’s updated “Dallas” series.

With nearly 7 million viewers tuning in for Wednesday night’s U.S. premiere on TNT — the best in its time slot — Warner will roll out the new version of the classic soap opera to 170 countries around the world, many of them where the original series was hugely popular during its 1978-91 run.

Britain will be the first overseas market to get the show, in September.

Jeffrey R. Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. International Television Distribution, said the studio expects a warm reception from today’s younger generation, as well as from the loyal fans of the original series.

“There is a wider reach now as there are more countries today compared to when the original series was shown on television,” Schlesinger said. “In those days there were no multi-channel TV providers. The show was sold to either public or private networks in different countries all over the world.”

The reincarnation of “Dallas” has been highly anticipated. The new cast was put together with the idea of appealing to the “current generation of viewers and demographics,” Schlesinger said.

The new take on CBS’ original series, produced by Lorimar Telepictures Corp., introduces the scions of the Ewing clan — Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe as cousins John Ross and Christopher Ewing, respectively. It puts those characters alongside original cast members Larry Hagman as the conniving J.R., Patrick Duffy as brother Bobby and Linda Gray as J.R.’s long-suffering alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen.

Wednesday’s debut drew 1.9 million adults ages 18 to 49 — the advertiser-coveted demographic — though a good chunk of the viewers, 2.5 million, were ages 25 to 54. While noteworthy in today’s fractured media landscape, it’s a far cry from the numbers the original show generated during its original run on CBS.

The first series’ finale, which aired in 1991, brought in 33 million viewers. Even that was down significantly from the 1980 cliffhanger “Who Shot J.R.?” which remains one of the most-watched episodes on TV with more than 41 million viewers.

Highly rated U.S.-produced series are particularly important to overseas networks, said Schlesinger, because many local channels don’t have the capability to produce big-budget fiction programming.

Warner Communications, the former parent of Warner Bros., inherited the “Dallas” series in 1988 after acquiring Lorimar for about $700 million in stock.

Schlesinger believes the new “Dallas” will easily catch on around the globe, where some cable channels still air reruns of the classic episodes.

“It is because of the historic and iconic nature of the show,” he said.

It has been reported that the TV station TNT has also picked up the series for a second season. It’s interesting to learn the business behind show business. 

Celebrities and Shoes

One of my goals for this fellowship is covering the entertainment beat in Los Angeles, California. LA is the entertainment capital of the world with the presence of Hollywood. It has always been a dream of mine to interview celebrities and cover awards ceremonies at the famous venues such as the Kodak Theatre and Staples Centre (for sporting events). I seldom cover entertainment beats so I would like to take a crack at this opportunity while in Los Angeles.

This opportunity came last week when the 2012 MTV Movie Awards was held at the Gibson Amphitheater in Universal City, CA. Coming from Malaysia, we are quite “Americanised” where media and celebrities are concerned. We do get MTV and almost of the various reality shows. As a journalist watching all the action take place on red carpet, I had often wondered how great would it be to get up close and personal with the celebrities that keep us entertained on TV and serenade us on radio?

What I learned was it’s more complicated that one might think. The reporters who cover award events don’t just show up and enter the red carpet area (that’s if you are covering the red carpet). You need arrive a few hours earlier to sign up to collect your Press credentials, then get in a another line to be escorted to a holding area where they separate you according to sections (print, TV, online, etc). This took over an hour. By this time, I was dying for a bottle of water. The hot summer afternoon and the fact that I had forgotten to bring my own water was taking its toll on me. It didn’t help that the concession stand didn’t have change for my $20 and that a small bottle of water cost a whopping $4.50.

I was too excited to think about my thirst at this point as the event marshals had began to usher us toward the red carpet area. Luckily, there was a whole case of bottled water at my disposal that someone had left there! No chance of me passing out now. The first hour didn’t see the who’s who of Hollywood parade by us…more like the lesser known “stars” from the MTV reality shows. It was interesting to witness how their publicists would come up to the Press and ask,”Hi, would you like to interview so-and-so from Psycho Sweet 16?”… where we (my colleague Amy Kaufman and I) had to politely decline with a “We’re ok, thanks.”

Right then, the time came when we spotted the big names like Nina Jacobson (producer of the Hunger Games), Rob Riggle (the actor who played the cop in the Hangover), Andy Samberg (former SNL and currently in That’s My Boy with Adam Sandler) and Jackson Rathbone from the Twilight series, to name a few. We were told before hand that Jennifer Lawrence from Hunger Games, Robert Pattinson (Twilight hero) and Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe were no-shows, which was ironic since both movies bagged most of the awards.

As a journalist, I did my best in acting professional and not like a star-struck fan girl when being surrounded by all these stars, which included heartthrob Chris Hemsworth (Thor and Avengers). I realized a lot of the celebrities were in fact friendly and accommodating. Of course they would have to be as the pen and camera are mightier than the sword. One thing I wish I had done was wore more comfortable shoes. After standing for almost four hours, my feet and legs were killing me.

After the last interview we headed into the Gibson Amphitheater for the awards ceremony which was hosted by Russell Brand. As more celebrities were still making their way in and that the lights were dimmed, we couldn’t find our seats so the security guards asked us to stand aside until someone could usher us. That time I saw former Two and A Half Men star Charlie Sheen walk by and like a reflex I shrieked “Oh my God it’s Charlie Sheen!” I must have did it really loud because the first group was already performing on stage and Sheen had actually heard me, to which he replied with a ‘Peace’ gesture and smirk.

It was surreal being in that amphitheater because this was the sort of thing I thought I could only catch on TV. By this hour, when other famous celebrities such as Channing Tatum, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew McConaughey and Charleze Theron (who is even more gorgeous in person) were within 100 feet from where I sat and breathing the same air, I realized these people were just as human as I am.

In my fellowship training plan, I stated I wanted to get a complete picture of the coverage areas during award shows. It may sound all glamorous and hunky dory, but it was exhausting at the same time, especially standing under the scorching sun and later freezing our behinds off in the arctic amphitheater. So, I learned there is more to what reporters go through than what you see on TV on E!

My triumph is that I managed the day without passing out from the lack of water and appearing professional and asking the right questions with the help from my colleague. The other challenge was returning home and filing the story by midnight so it can be up online in the morning.

Here is the web link:http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/gossip/la-et-mg-mtv-movie-awards-20120604,0,7680467.story

Two weeks prior to this I had worked on a business story about shoe taxes imposed on shoes brought in from overseas countries. Yes, not many people knew there was such a thing as shoe tariffs.

Shoe tariffs date back to the Great Depression when Congress approved the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930. At the time, there was a large footwear industry in the U.S. that made rubber and canvas shoes at a low cost. The tariffs were imposed to protect these U.S.  companies from cheaper imports. But, today over 90% of shoes are imported, yet this shoe tariff still remains in effect.

Opponents of the tariffs are pushing for legislation in Congress known as the Affordable Footwear Act to cut shoe tariffs. At the same time, they are pushing U.S. trade negotiators to reach an international agreement to lower the tariffs.

But importers are up against a smaller but potent group, the domestic shoe makers with their own lobbyists and supporters in Washington. They say that Congress and trade officials must protect U.S. jobs and keep the tariffs in place. Lowering the tariffs, they say, may drive overseas the few remaining shoe-manufacturing jobs still in the U.S.
The proposed Affordable Footwear Act of 2011 seeks to eliminate about $800 million in duties on children’s and low-cost shoes out of the $2 billion in total duties collected on imported shoes in 2010. The move could reduce prices of these shoes as much 40%, supporters said.

My story has yet to see print. The challenge was getting all the different sources from industry players to politicians to people who shop for the shoes to make this a good article. Although I didn’t specify that I wanted to learn writing at the Business desk at the LA Times, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to do so anyway.

The reporters and editors here are great and they are very helpful in making sure I am comfortable with settling in and that I am able to get my stories done. Image

Ticking Along to Facebook

The fascination with the story surrounding Facebook’s IPO offering last week was shocking, but expected. The LA Times Business desk, which is my home for the next couple of weeks, was buzzing. Almost every conversation was about how the social network giant has made an appearance on NASDAQ.

It’s a challenge to drown out the conversations going on around me about Facebook’s numbers. Is it up? Is it down? Although business is not my strong point, I couldn’t help but absorb some of the talk, which unfortunately made it hard for me to concentrate on my own story I’m working on, about the import duties on shoes. A bigger challenge was not getting distracted by the occasional suggestions on the Facebook story headlines centered mostly on puns.

Suffice to say, the news on Facebook’s IPO was getting things ticking, including my brain. I was asked this question by one of my colleagues – Is Facebook big in Malaysia? The answer is, YES.

The Write Stuff

I had the great opportunity to be part of a panel of journalists at the recent 11th Annual WriteGirl Journalism Workshop, which was conveniently held at the LA Times office. To be honest, I was never really comfortable with public speaking. The concept of appearing in public and letting words flow out of my mouth was scary during my formative years. Fast forward two decades later and I have now come out of my shell. I am now in a place where people invite to influence the precocious minds of teenagers who want to find themselves in this world.

Over 60 teens from the greater Los Angeles area, along with women writers who mentored them, participated in an all day intensive workshop, with a range of activities including an exciting ‘whodunnit’ interviewing activity, headline creation, news team collaboration, editing advice and a tour of the Los Angeles Times newsroom.  Professional journalists shared their experiences in the field, offered one-on-one guidance to the girls and participated in a panel discussion where WriteGirl teens will test their own reporting skills on these news veterans.

Never had I felt so important in my life. I suppose it took me back to when I was that age and was in the process of “finding myself” too. The difference was I didn’t have a workshop or support group like WriteGirl to guide me. I was amazed to see the immense support the organisation had for these girls and vice versa.

WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring program for at risk girls in Los Angeles. It pairs professional women writers with teen girls for weekly one-on-one mentoring, monthly full-day creative writing workshops, public readings and publishing opportunities. Through its Bold Futures program, WriteGirl provides college and job preparedness skills building, individual guidance through the college application process and leadership development opportunities. WriteGirl also brings workshops to schools in Los Angeles County serving critically at-risk teens, including incarcerated teens in Santa Clarita at the Roads to Success Academy. It is a project of nonprofit organization Community Partners and their publications, available nationwide, online and at local bookstores, have collectively won 34 national and international book awards.

I felt so honored when I read this in their press release: “Confirmed special guests include Aida Ahmad (Fellow at Los Angeles Times, reporter at The Star in Kuala Lumpur), Stephanie Becker (Producer for NBC’s Today Show), Jen Jones Donatelli (Los Angeles-based Travel Writer for Los Angeles Confidential, Conde Nast Traveller, Variety and more…) Mona Gable (Journalist for Huffington Post) Colleen Wainwright (Communicatrix, award-winning TV copywriter) and Sara Weisfeldt (Producer for CNN).

Needless to say, I was also very honored to be in the company of these great women in the industry. I talked about my experience as a journalist in Malaysia, what it meant to be one, how did we view press freedom in the US and how he handled censorship in the press.

The event is part of the nine month long WriteGirl creative writing mentorship program, helping girls develop communications skills and confidence. “It’s not surprising that 100% of our girls graduate from high school and go on to college. Our workshops are designed to inspire and ignite girls to write.  We know how to make every genre of writing come to life,” says Keren Taylor, WriteGirl founder and Executive Director.

Nevertheless, I left with a sense of accomplishment of being able to influence these young girls into pursuing their dreams of being journalists. Granted, the industry is going through the ringer. But after listening to some of the writing that these girls put forward at the workshop, I can say we can expect to have some great writers in the near future.

 

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