Friday, March 27, 2009

Time to Reflect on Day 1 of SND Web Design Boot Camp

NASHVILLE-- In the music city, I suppose it's appropriate to sing the praises of the New York Times' Tyson Evans and the Senior Interactive Designer at National Public Radio, David Wright-- the facilitators for the Society for News Design's first Web Design Boot Camp.

Thanks to these two guys, I now know more about CSS besides the fact that the letters stand for "Cascading Style Sheets." Nearly 12 years after taking my first class in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), this computer language makes a whole lot more sense to me.

When I took that Web class at the University of Georgia in 1998, there were no applications like Firebug, a plug-in for Firefox that allows us to go beyond just "viewing source" on Web pages, or Coda, which makes writing HTML code and "marking up" text so much easier.

All of a sudden, designing Web pages doesn't seem so intimidating. Well, that was until we started actually looking at the CSS code this afternoon. Can you feel your eyes glazing over? (not sure how to answer that)

By the time we adjourned for the evening at 6 p.m. tonight, I did feel like I have a very basic understanding of the design strategy that utilizes CSS.

I do my share of workshops and seminars (you have to if you're going to teach students multimedia journalism). But, I can't ever remember sitting in a classroom of top-notch newspaper designers from all over the country.

I was told yesterday that 28 people had registered for this first ever SND quick course focused on Web Design. During the introductions this morning, I realized we had those responsible for the design of the Orlando Sentinel, Los Angeles Times, (Florence) TimesDaily and Shreveport Times.

Not only were newspaper designers in the crowd today, but students from Michigan State filled a run in our classroom along with a web designer for NCAA and one of the designers for the kiosks at the Newseum.

If tomorrow is anything like today, the SND Web Design Boot Camp will be worth the drive through rain non-stop from Tuscaloosa to Nashville and the 4 a.m. wake-up call this morning.

We shall see.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time for Spring Break

It's that time of year again-- when the weather is kind of in between winter and spring and the thoughts of "getting away" are prominent in our minds.

One adult laughed today when I mentioned that I was leaving for "spring break." I can only imagine she was thinking how nice it would be to take a vacation every March.

Spring Break is surely one of the benefits of working in an academic environment. Even though it mostly manages to fall during the third week of March-- allowing me to celebrate my St. Patrick's Day birthday while on Spring Break-- I would prefer it be later in the spring semester. The first week of April is ideal.

At the University of Alabama, where I am a member of the faculty, our break falls this year the week of March 16th.

But, I guess anytime we can take a breather from the day-to-day demands of work and school, we should take full advantage.

For me, it will be a "working vacation" as I do a couple of site visits and attend an academic conference at the University of Mississippi next week.

But, I hope to be providing updates here a lot more often during this next 10-day period as I hit the road and depart Tuscaloosa.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

March 1 Snow: Alabama's Big Twitter Event?

While the short-lived winter weather was not that unexpected here, it was fun to follow thanks, in part, to the Twitter technology.

I haven't gathered any statistics on the use on the microblogging tool. But, anecdotally if James Spann's (Meteorologist at Birmingham's ABC affiliate, WBMA-TV) followers jumped from about 1500 when he started cut-ins at 1 a.m. to 1662 now, that's an indication of just how many people are catching on to this combination of a e-mail and message boards.

Those with Twitter accounts could "follow" Spann and get his updates while also including a symbol "#bhamsnow" that Twitter uses to gather all the comments about this news event.

Like Spann indicated last night, the advantage is that it keeps everyone from being too long, but it also helps you keep up-to-date on what's happening.

I suppose if all of those people with information to share were your Facebook friends, then that would be the medium for this exchange.

With Twitter, I re-connected with all friends and met new people, whose blogs I checked out in the process.

For the last few years, the broadcast, cable and newspaper media have utilized the user-generated photographs as a big part of their coverage.

WMBA-TV's Flickr Photostream gathered more than 2,000 pictures. After a quick check of some of the other media, I think this is BIG WINNER for user-generated content.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showcased about 30 photos on its site.

Cross-promoting this element helps drive traffic to one's Web site.

While we had the consumer/citizen-driven today, we also have a community around this Twitter technology, a larger one than would probably have been found on a weathercentric Web site.

Some of those who might not read Spann's Weather Blog, will follow those who have something to say about the weather.

In some ways, the Twitter audience online could get things before the over-the-air audience. You were "behind the scenes" listening to Spann as he got ready to go on the air.

As we examine the role that microblogging plays in newsgathering, Alabama's Winter Storm of 2009 will provide an interesting case study. All one has to do is look at the "#bhamsnow" on Twitter.

2 p.m. Last Snowman Standing

I suppose it's not surprising that today's snow event here in Tuscaloosa was short-lived.

By the time our Sunday services ended at nearly 1 p.m., the snow that had blanketed the church grounds was all gone.

On the way home, I managed to find ONE lingering sign of today's memorable winter weather-- a lone snowman down the street from my house that was still standing, though some of his features were already on the ground, an apparent victim of the above-freezing temperatures.

You can see from the brown grass that the sun quickly melted away our white blanket, the heaviest such blanket in at least a couple of years for our city in West Central Alabama.

While I haven't seen any official snowfall totals for our area, I would imagine 2-3 inches fell in the city of Tuscaloosa.

It's a good thing that I didn't let the winter weather keep me home. Though, a lot of my fellow church members did.

We only had 5 people in my Sunday School class that usually has about 15 or more. And, my quick head count showed only about 120-130 people in our 10 a.m. service that usually has more than 500 attendees.

7:30 a.m. The Ultimate Dilemma

When they say "If you don't have to travel on the roadways, don't" that's usually good advice.

But, do you follow that when it comes to church?

I don't think the above advice has been given for today. But, it's worth noting as a point of reference.

Like myself, many Alabama residents are pondering that question-- do I go? do I stay home? With 8 a.m. services minutes away, that decision would be a timely one.

Most churches are probably not going to cancel all of their services. A good number will.

Back home in Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up the son of a church deacon and deaconess, that decision was always to hold services for those who could attend.

My father actually played a role in clearing snow from parking lots so that we could have services.

So, it's laughable almost that when you don't even have to clear away snow, churches would not have services.

That said, even experienced winter weather drivers (I drove over snow-paved highways in Northern Kentucky for two weeks during the Blizzard of 1993) can get rusty.

Here are factors we might consider in that ultimate Sunday morning dilemma:

1. Am I using the winter weather as an excuse to stay home?
2. Are conditions bad enough that I would not go to work?
3. What will I miss if I do not go to services today?
4. Do I have a role in today's Sunday School or church that someone else can cover?
5. Are there hazardous areas over which I have to travel (bridges, overpasses) that are likely impassible?

And, then there's the age-old "What Would Jesus Do?" query. Not to mock those who use the phrase as truly an evangelistic strategy, but should we ask that question. There's no reference in the Bible (that I can recall) to snowy conditions under which Jesus had to travel.

The Decision

I live in a cul-de-sac at the foot of a hill. The street is a little wet, but not icy and impassible. If the roads were really bad, this back road deep in a subdivision would be some indication of what I could expect.

And, one other issue that a friend brought to my attention-- will insurance companies assist if you have an accident? That can depend on whether local authorities have declared a certain winter weather emergency.

The roads have not been cold enough to freeze over. There's one overpass between here and church-- and I can take a different roate so I don't even have to go over that overpass.

So, I'll leave 30 minutes early-- just in case-- but to church I will go.

6:30 a.m. Time for a 2008 vs. 2009 snow comparison

In academic research, we say it's important to always have a comparative element in our studies. Well, here's my attempt at an actual comparative element in reporting on my second newsworthy snow event since moving to Tuscaloosa, Alabama in January 2003.

The 2009 Picture

The shrubery on my front lawn has a tad bit more snow on it this year.

This is the picture taken minutes ago from my sidewalk just out the front door. The branches have a little bit more of the white stuff. Of course, the time of day might be a factor-- and the time when the snow started.

But, at the moment the snow is tapering off here in South Tuscaloosa. So I'm not sure time will be much of a factor.

The 2008 Picture

Here is the shot was taken 14 months ago from virtually the same vantagepoint mid-morning.

Last year, there was a lot more media build-up to what turned out to be snow, but a bit laughable when you come from mid-Atlantic and have lived in Cincinnati. Those are places where we see REAL snow.

My memories of this snow is mostly how it lasted for just a few hours and then melted.

6 a.m. Another Weekend Snow Encounter

Not quite a surprise, but certainly exciting-- a Sunday morning snow event for those in Tuscaloosa.

Within the last half-hour, I decided to venture out the front and back doors of the house to get a few pre-dawn photos of the white stuff.

Maybe it's a good thing that the news media in Alabama under-played this in the days leading up to the winter weather event. That's always when something really happens.

While we've had a dusting that lasted for just a few hours last January (2008), these are the only memorable snow events for me in this town. Last January's snow was on a Saturday.

Slick roads are being reported here in Tuscaloosa and around the area. But, Sunday morning is certainly about the best time for this to happen. And, by the time, people actually have to be going to somewhere, this brief snow event will have passed us by.

The hazardous conditions on my deck are probably an indication of the conditions on some of the overpasses and bridges in the area.