Monday, January 28, 2008

PolitiBits Launches, Looks to be Top Political Site

First POLITICO.. now PolitiBits.

The Tuscaloosa News's new political blog went live this week, just in time for the hype and excitement surrounding the Alabama Presidential Primary, which is just a week away.

As the candidates make their last-minute swings through the state, we now have a place to vent, rant and reflect about what the locals are saying about the candidates.

The TNews folks there have high hopes for the site becoming a "one-stop-shopping website for political news in Alabama."

I'm looking forward to seeing the active conversation on Politics on the blog, which is under the direction of newly-appointed online editor Tommy Stevenson.

In case you didn't know what POLITICO was, it's the political newspaper that launched a year ago as the new Democratic-controlled Congress began its term and President Bush was preparing to make his State of the Union address.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Alabama has a new local newscast

For those like me who love to follow the happenings in the broadcast news world, you'll be excited to know that Huntsville is the latest Alabama market to add a local program.

You may have read my posting on the COM-J blog last year where I talked about Montgomery added a local newscast on its CW affiliate. The newscasts was actually produced by WAKA-TV, the CBS affiliate.

In a an earlier experiment that failed, WAAY produced a primetime product for WZDX. Now, the FOX affiliate is going on its own with an interesting relationship with Independent Network News(INN), which is based in Iowa.

The INN product used to air here in Tuscaloosa on our University-owned station, WVUA.

The story about WZDX's new 9pm news was first reported in The Huntsville Times last week.

This week, Huntsville became the latest market to add an early evening newscast with FOX affiliate WZDX-TV joining the news competition where WHNT, WAAY, and WAFF have been for years with a 10pm product.

No doubt, with the Super Bowl in two weeks and American Idol starting, this was the perfect time to try a local news product.

It will be interesting to see if the station eventually adopts the "MY FOX" concept that has been happening at many affiliates-- even those not owned by the network.

I hope to check out the new broadcast in a few weeks when I'm up in the Tennessee Valley/Shoals area this winter.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CNN Documentary on MLK Papers Fascinating

It you have not seen it, CNN Soledad O'Brien's hourlong documentary on Dr. King's papers is worth an hour of your time.

CNN re-aired the program, "Martin Luther King: Words That Changed a Nation" tonight, two days before the 22nd observance of the King National Holiday.

When King's papers were purchased and brought back to Atlanta last year, CNN took a crew back to some of the places connected to the papers and made the writings of the Dr. King come alive.

Many of us have heard of the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail." But, to see Dr. King's actual handwriting and hear the stories surrounding that writing is a whole other thing.

CNN has created a companion Web site with teaching guides and PDF files of some of the documents referenced in the documentary.

Civil rights warriors like Andrew Young, Wyatt Tee Walker, Congressman John Lewis and Fred Gray all appear in the program.

There are very few documentary works on civil rights movement that can compare to the award-winning Eyes on the Prize series, which first aired more than 20 years ago.

But, this CNN special comes very close.

Snowman pictures carry the day

Perhaps my earlier critique of the Alabama media in "getting up" their coverage of the snowstorm on their Web sites was a bit premature. Almost everybody has updated their sites now with some elements from today's snowstorm.

Now that the storm has passed through the Atlanta market, we can see the breadth of the coverage across the Southeast-- in multiple markets. From the (Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger's online reporting to the "Snow is Falling, but not accumulating" coverage on Raleigh's WRAL-TV Web site, journalists across the region are making use of the World Web Wide as the medium to tell this story.

Ironically, The Tuscaloosa News, which was quick to post this morning has not yet updated -- other than a new picture-- its site throughout the afternoon.

The "serve it while it's hot" philosophy is clearly playing out on the Atlanta Journal Constitution's web site.

The splash page depicts at least ten elements including a main story, which NOW has shifted from the snowstorm to the icy roads expected with the extreme cold (for the south). Also there are links to numerous reader photos, a story about flight cancellations, tips for driving and links to places to monitor flight arrivals and departures. At the top of their coverage box, they include links to a listing of cancellations.

But, the art-- the reader-submitted photos are what carry this Web presentation

Even more user-generated content on the AJC's sister Cox Enterprises-owned TV station, WSB-TV, which has some 25 slideshows.

I could not help but check out what my former TV station, WXIA-TV does.

An "auto-start" clip from either their 6 p.m. newscast or a web-only visit for the NBC Weather Plus (can't tell from the video) provides an update from the Weather Anchor Paul Ossmann and meteorologists Chris Holcomb and Steve Adamson (both of whom I worked with more than seven years ago).

Like many NBC affiliates, which mostly all run the continuous digital weather feed, Weather Plus, the forecast maps and digital feed with video inserts can be brought front and center on the Web site. Crawls with National WEather Service alerts and links to closings are also on the home page. It's all under the banner: Winter Watch 2008.

Despite all of these elements on 11ALIve's site, they have a link to a web log that stopped being updated at 9:43 this morning. So, how useful is this link?

They have a Web story along with a TV package by my former co-worker Donna Lowry. This is a great example of how the TV newscast content could be repurposed for the Web.

Another piece-- Elaine Reyes' live report (And insert) from Piedmont Park, which she says was "the hottest spot" in Atlanta.

Back here in Alabama, the Montgomery Advertiser (another Gannett-owned property) also included some citizen-submitted photos. But, they also included citizen-generated videos.

Alvin Benn's story has a fresh lead advancing the story to focus on the freezing temperatures expected this evening and comments from the local emergency management officials and the Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright.

The professional, news product is accompanied by the citizen-submitted content-- two short videos from citizens experiencing their first snows.

The youngster in one of the videos can't be more than three years ago. He asks his parents "what happened to our car?"

He clearly hasn't experienced snow. The fact is it's more than three years since Montgomery has had snow.

Alongside the citizen video, there was a video produced by the Montgomery Advertiser staffer Shannon Heupel.

The Advertiser's own weather picture from the city skyline is not nearly as exciting as the citizen photos.

ABC 33/40 Gets Snow Coverage Award!

They may not have been the only ones on, but the folks at WBMA-TV ABC 33/40 seem to have done the best job all-around with the coverage of the breaking news on the winter weather.

Why are they the winner?

It's the cross-media coverage plan that seems to have executed well. At this hour, as the snow has tapered off in our West Alabama area-- the TV stations have also ended their continuous over-the-air coverage.

Branding their coverage under the banner of the "Alabama Freeze," the meteorologists are clearly having fun as they provide the latest information.

At 6 a.m., WBMA, the ABC affiliate in Birmingham, WVTM, the NBC affiliate and WBRC, the FOX affiliate were all on with special editions of their morning shows. (Some of the stations were on-the-air with updates overnight)

Now, as it approaches noon, ABC 33/40 staff are still doing a live web-only program.

They had a special Webcast last night.

The station's chief meteorologist, James Spann, the most well-known weather personality in the state, and his staff have been providing a live stream wall-to-wall all morning.

ABC 33/40 have been taking in photos using a Flickr Web site and showing that online

"Seeing the faces of the children is what this is all about," said Spann, who putting a number of the kids and snow photos in the live Web stream.

Using their network of skycams and their web log, the staff members there have been able to add a whole different aspect to the coverage that can be dcne over-the-air.

This is a story where the newspapers (and their Web sites) just could not compete. But, they didn't cede the BREAKING NEWS territory to the TV folks entirely.

It is interesting that, the state's biggest news WEb site streams ABC 33/40's signal. But, apparently the newsroom chose not to do a great deal of aggressive updating on the winter weather today.

Among the state's largest newspapers, The Tuscaloosa News was among the first to post a fresh story on today's winter weather. Anna Maria Della Costa, the assistant managing editor for content, wrote an update, acknowledging that it ( the snowy weather) was "short-lived" and no major cancellations had been reported.

The photo here was taken by The Tuscaloosa News Photo Editor Robert Sutton. He interviewed the student, Thomas Harrison, a sophomore at the University of Alabama from Mobile.

"It's awesome," said Harrison, "Something I have not seen in about 12 years."

According to Sutton's cutline, dozens of students went to the quad to play in the snow.

Not to be outdone by their similar-sized rival newspaper on the West Side of the state, the Anniston Star ALSO posted a fresh story this story.

My colleague, Andy Johns (who I worked with as a part of the Knight Fellows in Community Journals Program) , had a new story posted at 11:11 a.m.

Anniston Star Metro Editor Ben Cunningham, another colleague, took this photo in Jacksonville this morning. (Looks similar to the photo I took here in Tuscaloosa)

By the way, even while I was writing this blog update-- the SNOW on my front lawn-- and the roofs of houses in my neighborhood (see pictures in earlier post) has MELTED.

So, at least for now, this morning's snow in Tuscaloosa is HISTORY!

A Snowy Day in Tuscaloosa--FINALLY!

It's been a L---O---N--G time coming for me-- five years and one month to be exact.

That's how long I've been in Tuscaloosa and never seen it snow here.

This morning, I awakened to flakes falling with a little accumulation on shrubbery and grassy areas in the front yard. While it's been waiting to be put in service-- my snow shovel will not be needed today. And, the bag of rock salt will remain in the garage.

Both of those items I brought from Cincinnati to Smyrna, Ga. in 1995 to Athens, Ga. where they were used ONCE in five years in 2002.

Now, today in January 2008, I thought I'd better take some shots of the frozen precipitation before it melts.

Up until now, I've had to travel elsewhere-- Estes Park, Colorado and Reno, Nevada-- to see the white stuff.

Of course, there's a chance another wave of winter weather will move through before the season is over.

But, at least I can now say that it DOES snow in Alabama.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

R-Braves, Don't Go!

It's a sad day for baseball fans in my hometown of Richmond, Va. This afternoon, it was announced that the Richmond Braves are leaving Richmond for greener pastures in Gwinnett County, Ga.

While the International League farm team for the Atlanta franchise is probably not the first thing that baseball fans think of when they think of America's greatest pasttime, it is OUR hometeam.

That's why I just had to stop what I was doing on a busy Tuesday afternoon and reflect on the news that the first baseball team I ever knew will soon not be there when I go home.

The story is still developing as of this writing-- at least the reaction to it.

I will be interested to see what Mayor Doug Wilder and other officials have to say.

Much of this is related to the venue for the Braves. When I was kid, the old Parker Field (previous stadium for the Braves) was demolished and The Diamond was built as the new home for the team. I can remember getting excited about going to the Diamond.

We used to have Boy Scout's night at The Diamond.

Having visited other baseball venues in my adult life-- including the homes of the Atlanta Braves, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox, I can see how The Diamond has become relic of yesteryear.

So, we can't really blame the team for moving if they couldn't get a nicer place to call home.

But, I will CERTAINLY be making my way to the Diamond at least once or twice this summer-- if for no other reason-- for old time's sake.

The Diamond is just 5 or 10 minutes from my house, down the street from my old elementary school on the Boulevard.

Well, that's all I'll say for now. But, I'm just so saddened by this news.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Digital Yearbook Provides Path to the Past

These days yearbooks are often not the first publication outlet one gravitates toward when deciding where to work.

In fact, some college yearbooks have gone out of service after years of poor sales and low interest.

In the last few years, the University of Alabama Libraries has been augmenting its digital collection.

One of the items in the digital collection is a set of old copies of the UA Yearbook, The Corolla. In thumbing through the 1969 Corolla, I stumbled upon a familiar face.

Professor Dan Meissner has been teaching in our journalism department for years. But, I didn't realize that he worked as a staff photographer for The Crimson White.

Today, I know him as the chairman of the Tuscaloosa City School Board.

My point-- you never know what or who'll you'll find in the digital yearbook.

The UA Digital Library is a great resource for news reporters and editors trying to expand or deepen their coverage.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

New Day, New Year from Florida

ST PETERSBURG, Fla.-- The first post on this blog of 2008 comes from Tampa's twin city where we're about to board a plane headed to Atlanta.

Gotta go! Will report more on what happened here at the AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Midwinter Meeting later.