July 2, 2008

Know What’s in Your Toolbox, Then Build

By Trejbal, Christian

The "Future Tools" seminar at the Knight Digital Media Center was perhaps misnamed. The tools are the future for many editorial pages, but they are the present for the readers we hope to attract and engage. "It's not about your site anymore. People are going to access your content in a variety of ways," said Amy Gahran, a media consultant and editor of the Poynter Institute's group blog E-Media Tidbits.

She and Leslie Rule, who runs KQED's Digital Storytelling Initiative in San Francisco, took attendees on a rapid tour of the tools we can easily start using today and some that we need to keep an eye on for tomorrow.

Start with a blog. Internet users today look for live content. The news cycle hasn't been on a newspaper cycle for decades. People seek updates at all hours. If they cannot find regular posts, comments, and a place to interact with each other and editorial writers on our sites, they will go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, RSS provides customized news. Don't worry about what the acronym stands for. Just know that RSS software allows readers to subscribe to a Web site's content. It's the digital equivalent of an AP news feed that delivers only stories on topics readers choose.

This software can help us in our daily jobs. Every editorial writer should use an RSS reader. It beats visiting a dozen or more news and commentary sites daily. And in using a reader, we come to see the news the same way readers do. Try Google Reader for an easy introduction.

Social networking sites are the next step. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and the like all provide venues for communities. If editorial pages are not available there, young readers in particular will never hear us.

Looking forward, we need to keep our eyes on locative media. Most of the things we write about involve a real-world place. By embedding geospatial coordinates in the digital versions of our editorials and stories, we allow readers to use GPS devices or Google Earth to locate that place, visit it, and have our words, images, and audio pop up at that most relevant moment.

All of that sounds daunting, but editorial pages need not dive into all of it at once. Start small and build your digital profiles and skills over time.

Gahran had the most prescient advice as we look for new ways to reach our readers, "Whatever sounds the coolest to you, start there."

E-media tidbits:


The KQED Center for Locative Media


Christian Trejbal is an editorial writer at The Roanoke Times in Virginia and is chair of NCEW's Open Government Committee. Email: [email protected]

Copyright MASTHEAD National Conference of Editorial Writers Summer 2008

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