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Closing Remarks

1 Dec

Admittedly, I have always been skeptical about blogging. As a Journalism major pursuing a career in the field of Magazine writing and editing, I have long known that I should start a blog of my own, but there was something that always felt superficial to me about providing commentary about my own life, something strange and self-entitled about sharing my thoughts with the online community.

Blogging about CNN.com changed all this.

Whether it was because I wasn’t writing about myself, or because I simply took genuine interest in analyzing the CNN website (my internship this summer at InStyle.com sparked my interest in content analysis of website navigation,) I began to look forward to writing for my NewsTrack blog every week, and scouting for cool content packages, impressive navigational tools, and possible loopholes in the site’s overall functionality.

To sum up the strengths of the site, as noted from 9/12-11/3:

1. Comprehensive and unique reporting, with stellar video

2. Top notch content packages (remember the Oil Spill package?)

3.Gorgeous photo galleries

4. Unexpected ways used when presenting current issues

5. Encouragement of citizen journalism (CNN iReport)

And the caveats:

1. Some survey articles lack graphs

2. “Story highlights” tab is potentially troubling

Take the article by Sarah Hoye that Professor Michelle Johnson just shared with my JO540 class, for example, about a couple who moved into their “dream home” in Pennsylvania only to discover that it was once a “meth home.”  The article topic has incredible intrigue on its own as a print news piece, but the video package and photo enhances its functionality.  Oh, and the reporting is thorough, informative, gripping and to the point.

Blogging about CNN.com not only made me aware and attune to the functionality of CNN.com, but I also began to compare it to other news websites (like newyorktimes.com) it terms of the way in which it organizes material (NY Times could learn from thw NewsPulse tab!) Additionally, exploring the site on a weekly basis forced me to read all kinds of news that I might not have clicked on or taken interest in (hence, my dolphin post.)

I plan to continue this blog after this course ends, but incorporate material from other news sites to compare and contrast navigational techniques, content and packages. I also intent to start my own personal blog (skeptics, it’s true!) with an angle of a New York City native living in Manhattan, trying to find the best aspects of cultural events, nightlife and (my guilty but oh-so passionate pleasure) fashion.

As for CNN.com, while I may not blog about it on a steady weekly basis, NewsPulse has become a daily routine of mine (which says a lot, because I am such a creature of New York Times habit) and I will continue to search the site for new and interesting packages and features.

Additionally, I have developed an ever-growing love for WordPress.  I can sense that this is a start of a long standing and beautiful relationship.

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All Eyes on Video

27 Nov

CNN must be credited for amazing coverage and dazzling photos of news and events, but it can’t be ignored that at the end of the day, the news organization is known for its video content. Admittedly, as a print journalism major who has always looked to text heavy news sources, I may have not given the video content of the site the attention it deserves.

Today, I explore the CNN video features and packages.

This is not a hard task. The main feature on the homepage is a video clip, but perhaps not the kind that one would expect to be featured front and center. The title of the clip is: “Mirror turns dolphins into total hams” and the video depicts a scientist who places a two-way mirror in the dolphins’ tank. The animals, who have always been known for their playfulness and bubbly nature, are absolutely enamorred with their reflections– they blow bubbles, turn upside down and stare lovingly into the mirror. It’s cute, of course, but newsworthy? The scientist seems to think so. She explains that other animals look at their reflection and see another animal, but dolphins recognize themselves, which levels their intellectual recognition capacity with that of humans.

I loved this video. I replayed the footage of the dolphins staring at themselves several times, grinning ear to ear at the playful creatures. I’m not an animal-obsessed fanatic, but this video touched me.

I think CNN knows that it’s doing.

We can get news in just about every form these days– online, on our phones, even on Twitter. But there is something about a video that shows and doesn’t tell; I could read an article that explained how “dolphins stare lovingly at their reflections when placed in front of a mirror,” but the actual footage of the creatures blowing bubbles and smiling at their reflection evoked a reaction from me. After watching the dolphins, I felt giddy, and joyous.

At the bottom of the page there is a “CNN Heroes” tab.  I tried to Click on the title (which reads: CNN Heroes, An All-Star Tribute) but I realized that there was no article attached; underneath was a thin reel of clickable video tabs, with incredible interview footage of unique and amazing individuals.


The first video that I watched was one of Harmon Parker, who builds footbridges across Kenya’s perilous and dangerous rivers to enable people to cross them safely; another is a video of Anuradha Koirala, who works to fight against sex trafficing in her native Nepal (Koirala was a victim of the system herself.  The videos varied in content and tone- Koirala’s story was heavy and upsetting, but others were more uplifting and inspiring, like the video profile of Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, who has provided free meals to 400,000 children around the world.

From the story of the animated (and narcassistic!) dolphins to the heartfelt and inspiring heroes package, I was moved and engaged by all of the videos that I watched on CNN’s site today.  Perhaps I should do this more often.

CNN Keeps an Eye on…Wedding Bells?

17 Nov

Alright, I’ll admit it. I am enchanted by the British Royals. Whether this is a byproduct of my deeply harbored love for old-society traditions, or from the semester that I spent in London (in which I visited Kensington Palace more times than I would like to admit) I find the British royal family incredibly alluring. So when I awoke to a text from CNN this morning (I get instant news updates on my blackberry, another fabulous feature that CNN offers) I was surprised and excited by the announcement that I read: “Princess William Proposes to Kate Middleton.” Although this piece of news will undoubtedly create more of a stir in Britain (you can’t pick up a copy of The Sun or The World anywhere in England without seeing the face of one member of the royal family plastered to the cover) I knew that this news would create some hubbub in the United States as well. And although I noticed tweets regarding the engagement from almost every website and publication’s twitter that I follow this morning, I decided to check it out on CNN.com.

Low and behold, the homepage of CNN had a video of the couple front and center, with a video attached (the headline read: William, Kate on Royal Engagement.) I knew that CNN was pretty stellar when it came to its content packages, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this one would be up to the same calibur—after all, how much news could they really have stored about this couple? Apparently, a lot more than I thought. The main article, entitled Prince William Gives Diana’s Ring to Kate Middleton, contained information about the ring (which was Diana’s) as well as the proposal. The main tout on the top of the page featured a video speaking about the engagement news and the couples’ reaction, with various video touts scaling the side of the page (including Kate’s parents addressing the media, etc.)

On the left side rail, there were links to various other articles about the Royal couple, from the wedding buzz to more personal anecdotes of the royals (i.e. “Who is Kate Middleton?”) Other galleries were featured within the royal couple content package, too, like “Kate and William: life in pictures” and “Gallery: Kate Middleton.) But I especially liked the gallery “A Look Back in Royal Weddings,” which featured photos from various Princesses (Dianna included.)

Content packages, I have come to realize, are so powerful because they capitalize on the reader’s area of interest (I clicked on this article for a reason, didn’t I?) and lead him or her to various other parts of the site (and sometimes other sites, if there are partnership producers involved) that lend themselves to this theme or idea. It really maximizes the user’s experience, and guides him or her deeper into the site. While it’s no surprise that I spent much of my night clicking through articles of the royal family, it continues to impress me that the site’s navigational features can take me so far, without any search involved.

 

Informative Article: PTSS

9 Nov

Most of my recent posts have dealt with the navigational aspects of the CNN site, and the innovative and unique features that I have found while browsing (and I’m sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface exploring such tools—I learned this when I discovered the “Election Ticker” when dealing with last week’s coverage.) But for this post, I want to focus on some content on the site that really struck me—an article entitled “Dealing With the Unseen Scars of War.”


The article began chronicling the experiences of CNN correspondent Alex Quade, who recently returned from an 18-month stint in Iraq and Afghanistan. Quade dealt with various soldiers experiencing mental anguish while fighting abraod. Quade’s accounts of these soldiers’ experiences are heartbreaking, as he discusses men who suffered panic attacks and pondered suicide. But the core of Quade’s article is about the insufficient treatment that these men received.


The core of the article argues that war veterans need better treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Quade advocates for 5, 10 and 20-year treatment programs as well as therapy for the veterans family.


I found this point to be extremely interesting and necessary: how can officials expect such trauma to fade in short-period of time? Although I have little experience interacting with war veterans, I do have a friend who was stationed in Iraq for 3 months and still deals with the impact of his experiences. I think Quade’s demand for more intensive treatment should be taken seriously and should be acted upon quickly and with great care.


Quade also demands extensive solider education programs surrounding the issue of PTSS, as the current introduction programs are standard 2-week courses. Re-integration tutorials are also imperative, Quade argues.


Yet the point of Quade’s that most closely resonated with me was that these aren’t just programs that should be granted to former soliders, but that they are owed to them. He quotes admitted chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen at the Defense Forum on Capitol Hill:


“These are America’s citizens, the best I’ve ever seen in the military, who are going out and doing our country’s bidding without question. And they are sacrificing, and we owe them a response to this that is equal to their needs.”

I took great interest in all of the points that Quade made because I have long been interested in the psychological effects of war and war reporting. I found his suggestions to be incredibly informed and intelligent, and I hope that they are taken seriously by the Department of Defense, as well as families and loved ones of those suffering from PTSS.

 

I applaud Quade’s article for delving further into a topic that really should be on everyone’s radar.

Corruption Survey Interesting, Lacks Graphs or Data Organization

27 Oct

I am always a sucker for articles that compare, contrast and map trends; anything from the top ten entrepreneurship cities to the world’s cleanest cities will always catch my eye.  So it was only natural that the corruption survey on CNN.com intrigued me.

The article, Corruption survey: Somalia is the worst was well written, and thorough and had a catchy build-in lede title.  The article referred to the CPI (Corruption Percentage Index) to analyze various aspects of a country such as embezzlement of public fund and bribery of public officials, and the countries were ranked on a scale of one to ten (one being the most corrupt.)  Denmark, New Zealand and Finland got the highest scores, while Somalia got the worst.

The article had a video embedded, but what it strongly lacked was a graph, pie chart, or numerical tool or organization of some sort; although a bar graph might not have been most effective (because of the 178 countries surveyed) it would have been helpful for some sort of numerical tool to demonstrate the range of scores.

A screenshot below shows the way the numbers were listed; as you can see, it looks a little bit dense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found it especially interesting that some emerging economic powerhouses such as China and India scored low on the scale with ratings of 3.5 and 3.3, respectively.

Gulf Oil Package Dazzles

19 Oct

I clicked on an article today on the CNN homepage that caught my attention, entitled “Sixth Months Later, What Did We Learn From the Oil Spill?” I always like reading after-the-fact, analytical pieces, and I expected the article to be a well written, comprehensive hindsight piece, perhaps with a timeline. I should have known that CNN would do better than that.

The content package was more than impressive. The article? Thorough and intelligent, it was superbly written and discusses spill prevention and emergency relief. The timeline? Comprehensive, detailed and filled with photos and video, it contains exact numbers regarding the size of the spill on each date provided.

But there’s more. The feature “Depths of Disaster” provides all of the data, numbers and figures that you could ever want to know regarding the spill. The top of the page reads: “Day 183” and continually counts the days that have passed since the oil spill; it contains graphs and charts measuring the barrels that have penetrated the sea, counts down the billions of dollars lost to Gulf Coast Travel and contains panoramic images of the Gulf. The feature “iReport” contains journals of those who are in the Gulf currently, and the feature entitled “Map: What’s Been Hit” contains an interactive map that depicts all sightings.

This entire package struck me as amazing, mostly because of its utmost thoroughness but also because of its interactivity. The “Depths of Disaster” really drove the point home that this spill was absolutely catastrophic and unrivaled. It also showed how effective multimedia can be on news websites when done right… and CNN continues to do it right, with its content packages going above and beyond when it comes to ongoing news stories

Photogallery: A Day in CFA

13 Oct

Samantha Silverman, a lifelong friend of mine and an incredible artist, has her own studio in CFA and is working on several incredible projects that include various prints, paintings with fabrics and stuffed animals attached, and a large painting which will be her Senior thesis. Sam’s prints, which include various images from city to animal imagery, take days to make; she rolls ink over an engraved metal plate and then emerges it in a tub of acid. The acid eats away at the lines drawn, and the printing press picks up the ink beneath the surface.

Sam hasn’t decided on her Senior thesis painting, but she wants it to incorporate both surrealist imagery, animals and possibly stuffed animal figures that she will attach to the canvas.

Click here for a day in the studio with Sam.

Chilean Miner Photo Gallery Boasts Exquisite Photography

12 Oct

 

Considering how much work we have done in class regarding photography and crafting the perfect shot, I decided to take a look around CNN and check out the photo galleries and slideshows on the site. The first that caught my eye was a gallery of the Chilean mine rescue, which began with photos of the T130 drill leaving the operations area, as well as family members of the relatives embracing as they learn that the Plan B shaft has broken through the chambers where the men are trapped.

The angles from which the photos were taken were spot-on; one of my favorites was a photo of a man wheeling a bike with the Chilean flag. I love the way that the musky, bland terrain takes up much of the foreground of the photo while the man with the bike is off-centered but still manages to stand out completely with him bright red shirt and Chilean flag. This photo depicts the “rule of thirds” that we applied to our own photography.

Another photo that I loved was one of the heavy equipment on the site, with the red of the flag peaking out from the left side of the photo. I loved the juxtaposition of the industrial efforts and the country’s intense national pride that ran rampant through so many of the photos, whether it be with flag images, or the color red. My favorite photo in the gallery was one of a young Chilean boy standing next to a (bright red) makeshift school, playing volleyball over a roadblock.

After I finished navigating the photo gallery, a thought popped into my head: wouldn’t a timeline be nice? Low and behold, as I backtracked to the main gallery, there was a comprehensive timeline covering the ordeal from August 5th to October 12th; the timeline contained photos, video clips, diagrams and graphic interactive simulations to depict what was occurring, and the probes that were being used.

I have to hand it to CNN; its coverage of the trapped Chilean miners was comprehensive and aesthetically alluring.

Story Highlights Tab is Concise, but Potentially Troubling

6 Oct

For my post this week, I was determined the find something flawed with a content package and/or article on CNN.com– since I felt like all of my commentary has been overwhelmingly positive . I searched through archives and back pages, looking furiously for something that I could comment negatively on– perhaps somewhere there is a missing time line? Or a map where a diagram could better suffice? Determined to find something to comment negatively on, I searched and search– without much luck. Yes, the site is oversaturated with video, more so than any other news site– but CNN is a broadcast news organization, so it is only natural that it’s site would be rich with video content. The politics tab is immaculate (with a thorough “political ticker,” a political blog that is updated several times an hour;) the “health” tab not only contains breaking news in Health stories (the lead is a moving article depicting a man battling cancer who has undergone more than 200 treatments) but contains other tabs that live within the health tab (such as “living well,” “fitness,” and “mental health”.)

Yet one thing on CNN.com that I had never noticed before did bother me slightly: the “Story Highlights” bar that ran down the side on all news articles. I was reading and article on Obama’s new education plan for Community Colleges (the first ever White House Summit with this particular target) and the highlights sidebar appeared on the top left side on the article.

The highlights sidebar looked as so:

I found this feature to undermine the notion of journalism in print form. If I want a summary for an article, I will click on the video that CNN always includes, and if I want a quick recap I will read the lead, nutgraf and conclusion (like I have been trained time and time again and a Journalism major.) Sure, the highlights are convenient, quick and concise, but when has anyone seen such a feature in a newspaper?

This feature also made real the notion of the shift of journalism from print to online. Professor Johnson has been teaching us the difference of writing for print and online, and this feature really made that dissonance clear to me: the content will change. Perhaps I have to get used to this, and understand that a new medium will mean new style choices. Still, I can’t help but fear that people will bypass the content of the article– and question what this will mean for those (like myself) who put the work into writing the articles.

Brooklyn Twister

29 Sep

It may not have been Katrina, but Brooklyn residents are deeming the twister their own form of natural disaster.

A short-lived but fierce flash storm that was comprised of two tornados hit Brooklyn and Queens on Thursday, September 16, at approximately 5:30 P.M. Winds up to 125 mph toppled trees, damaged buildings, destroyed cars and lead to the death of at least one person.

“It got completely dark. I couldn’t see anything; I had no clue what was going on,” said Sam Abrahams, Brooklyn resident.

The first tornado hit Brooklyn at 5:33 p.m. with winds up to 80 mph, and worked its way northeast from the Park Slope section of the borough. The second tornado hit Queens at 5:42 and traveled from Flushing to Bayside, with winds that exceeded 100 mph.

“The winds were unlike anything I had felt before,” said Dina Zempsky, Brooklyn resident. “I was thankful that I was wearing jeans and a heavy jacket, because I felt like the wind was about to blow me away,” she added.

The storm, which struck down during rush hour, caused various problems in the city’s transportation system. All Long Island Rail Road service out of Manhattan was suspended for several hours, and LIRR service between Brooklyn and Queens was also disturbed. The 7-line subway system was out of commission for several hours.

“I was stranded,” recalled Andrew Abrahams, Brooklyn resident. “I work in Manhattan, and the delays when I was trying to come home to Brooklyn were monstrous.”

LaGuardia and Newark airports experienced two-hour outbound delays on Saturday, and John F. Kennedy experienced three-hour delays.

Several roadways were closed due to traffic caused by debris. Aline Levakis, a 30-year-old woman from Mechanicsburg, Pa., was killed after a tree struck her car on the Grand Central Parkway near Jewel Avenue, police said.

“Although it is devastating, I was shocked that only one person died, considering that the entire city was affected by this incredible natural disaster,” Zempksy said.

37,000 people across the five boroughs lost powers, according to a Con Edison Report. The utility had restored power to the affected households by the following Monday, a report said.

The city received 60 reports of buildings with structural damage according to Robert Limandri, Department of Buildings Commissioner.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that my house is alright, and my family,” Abrahams said. “It really was a surreal experience, with papers and debris swirling around me and trees crashing to the ground and through windshields.”

Clean up crews have been patrolling the city since the days proceeding the storm, but uprooted trees and damaged sidewalks can still be found in several Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under some criticism regarding the pace of the city’s cleanup in the wake of the tornados.

“Unfortunately storms happen and we’re cleaning up as quickly as we can,” Bloomberg told the New York Daily News. “We want to make sure that we do it safely.”

Wordle: Brooklyn Twister

9/28 Update: In a News for the Blue Room Press Release, NYC Major Bloomberg presents an infrastructure plan to reduce sewer overflows and improve the city’s waterways.

I feel that this is in response to the flack that he was getting for not dealing with the tornado cleanup in a timely enough way.

10/13 Revision: Professor Johnson mentioned to me that a map might have worked better with the content of this article.  Below is a map from a blogspot blog “mcbrooklyn” which tracks the course of the tornado; the green tag marks where it began, the red tag labels where it died down.