Journalists' Toolkit

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A training site for multimedia and online journalists

Updates to design, HTML, CSS resources

The latest updates here:

Design Resources: Links for typography, color, Web browser statistics, screen resolution, page layout and usability.

HTML Basics: Essential tags to know, tutorials, HTML5.

CSS Basics: Shortlist of need-to-know items. “Reset” stylesheet. CSS3 information. Tutorials.

7 Do’s and Don’ts for Video on Point-and-Shoot Cameras

Video shot with a still camera costing less than $300 is often better in quality than video shot with a video camera in the same price range.

For best results when shooting video with an inexpensive still camera, follow these tips:

1. Do NOT zoom. Ever. EVER! The quality for video on these cameras is only acceptable at the widest angle (not zoomed at all). This is true even though the zoom works great for your still photos.

2. Do NOT move the camera around while shooting. This will make your clips difficult to edit. VERY difficult. Stand completely still, like a rock, while you are recording video. Do not pan (camera moves left or right). Do not tilt (camera moves up or down).

3. Do NOT shoot inside an apartment or a house. They are almost always too dark! Some indoor settings are fine — for example, a brightly lighted classroom with the overhead fluorescent lights on.

4. DO pay attention to the light — not only the amount of light, but also the direction. If the light is BEHIND your subject, the person will be a dark blob in silhouette — and that’s not good!

5. Do NOT shoot in dark places. Video game rooms, pool rooms, bars and indoor performance venues are usually too dark for acceptable video with these cameras. A more expensive digital video camera ($600 and up) can often get decent video in low light, but most of these little cameras can’t compensate for darkness. (For exceptions to the rule, look for a camera with a bigger sensor size.)

6. Do NOT turn the camera into a portrait position (vertical) for video — EVER! Always hold it in landscape position (horizontal).

7. When shooting a video interview, DO stand VERY close to your subject. The microphone built into the camera is going to capture all the sound around you, and unless you are quite near the person who is speaking, the voice will be drowned out by surrounding noise.

More tips for shooting video: Five Shots, 10 Seconds.

Avoiding the shakes: How to hold the camera.

Soundslides: Getting started, tips and help

A new resource page here: Soundslides: A Brief Introduction.

It provides a simple overview of what Soundslides can do and how to get started with the application — which is widely used for creating simple audio slideshows for the Web.

At the bottom of the page you’ll find some helpful links.

You might also be interested in this site’s Soundslides Troubleshooting Guide, which covers the most common errors made by new users of Soundslides.

iMovie 09 tutorials for journalism students

For journalism students just starting to learn video, I created two compact, illustrated handouts in fall 2010:

Basic iMovie 09 Tutorial — PDF, 9 pages, 1 MB

More iMovie 09 Tips (Part 2) — PDF, 6 pages, 552 KB

The reason I made two handouts instead of one:

In the first video editing class, I teach purely editing. I focus on how to trim, what to trim, and how to match the action. I talk a little about avoiding jump cuts. I explain how to export a high quality file.

In the second video editing class, I devote most of the time to how cutaways work and how to make them. Then I cover how to add audio, titles and credits. Adjustments to audio volume and detaching audio from video are also explained.

You can use these handouts under this Creative Commons license.

Apple’s how-to videos for iMovie 09 are here.

New resource: Page Design Basics

This resource — Page Design Basics — provides a very simple overview of how to lay out a Web page.

Students new to using CSS often make a mess of it because they do not grasp the utility of DIVs. By introducing these four regions of a Web page, an instructor can help students understand a basic structure that can be created with four DIVs. Font families, colors, and other design elements can be specified independently for each DIV.

For more information about CSS, see the the HTML and CSS Resources page.

Use Kuler, Photoshop to make a quick palette

What’s the quickest way to whip up a beautiful color palette for a new website?

1. Start with Kuler, a free online tool from Adobe.

2. Register and sign in so you can download a color swatch for your chosen palette(s). Not signed in? Then you can’t download. (Pay attention to WHERE you save the file!)

3. Open Photoshop and find the Swatches panel.

4. Open the Swatches panel menu and select Load Swatches.

5. Find that file you downloaded in step 2 and select it.

6. The last colors in your Swatches list will be the new ones from Kuler (open the Swatches panel menu and select Small List to see the hexadecimal color codes as shown below).

There you have it! To learn more about using Kuler, watch this video at Adobe TV (6 min. 34 sec.).

It’s useful to finalize a color palette in Photoshop before you start coding your CSS. Test all text and link colors against the background colors where they will appear to ensure that the contrast is okay.

Smart Tip: Save the palette as a PNG-24 file and upload to a Web server or Dropbox. Then test it by opening that file on every computer you can get your hands on. Hues and contrast can vary widely on laptops and desktops, Mac and Windows. Make sure your palette will work for all users!

Learn more about Web color and Photoshop: The Mysterious “Save For Web” Color Shift, by Doug Avery.

Convert WMA files with Switch

Switch Sound File Converter is a free program from NCH Software. You can download it here (Mac or Windows).

I have been using this program and recommending it widely for about two years. It’s easy to use, and it’s especially useful for converting WMA format files to WAV so that we can edit them in Audacity (which cannot open WMA files).

However — and the reason I am writing this post — Switch does something complicated and annoying on Windows systems. It didn’t always do this underhanded sneaky thing that it now does, and it has caused many journalism educators (and students) no end of headaches and extra work.

On the official download page, you can clearly see that the company touts the free version: “A free version of Switch is available for non-commercial use. The free version does not expire and includes most common audio file formats.” Call me silly, but I think “free” means free. Don’t you?

Here’s the sneaky part: After about two weeks, Windows users will get a message that they now have to pay for Switch. (I have not seen this yet on any Mac system.) Does this mean that NCH Software lied to you? Not technically. Here is how to get your free version back (instructions for Windows 7; other versions may differ):

  1. Close the Switch program completely (if it is open).
  2. Open the Windows Control Panel.
  3. Select “Uninstall a program.”
  4. A gigantic list of program will open. Scroll in the list to find “Switch Sound File Converter.” Double-click that item.
  5. In the dialog box that opens next, select “Downgrade to the free version (fewer features but free).” Yeah, I know. This is SO SLEAZY! You downloaded the so-called free version. What is this crap?
  6. Click Next.
  7. DO NOT click the button in the middle of the next sleazy screen. Just click Next (again).
  8. The dialog box closes. Wait a minute or two.

Now Switch will work properly again.

If you would like to see a step-by-step demonstration of how to use Switch to convert audio files, watch this video tutorial (don’t worry, it is actually and in fact free).

New tutorial: Windows Live Movie Maker

As an aid to a journalism training session I agreed to give, I created a short PowerPoint that is aimed at journalism students.

Windows Live Movie Maker Tutorial

Windows Live Movie Maker is quite different from its predecessor — Windows Movie Maker (not “live”). It is less versatile in several ways. To answer my own questions about WLMM, I did quite a lot of searching on the Web. To spare others the trouble and share the answers I found, I made a two-page PDF with links:

Windows Live Movie Maker Tips (PDF, 128 KB)

If you have any helpful WLMM links to suggest, please add a comment.

10 ‘next steps’ to improve your WordPress blog

So you have set up a WordPress.com blog. Congratulations! I’m sure you are feeling proud of yourself — and you should.

I hope you have selected a theme that you like a lot (if not, you can change it easily).

I hope you have written and published your first post.

Here is a list of things you need to do next — and that means now — to make your blog speak for your competence and intelligence. What I mean to say is, your blog looks amateurish if you fail to do these things.

1 ) Change your TIME ZONE to the closest city that’s in the same time zone as you (so that the time stamp is correct on your posts). Change this in Settings (see instructions).

2 ) Give your blog an intelligent TAGLINE (instead of “Just another WordPress.com weblog”). Change this in Settings (see instructions).

3 ) Upload a distinctive PHOTO so people can identify your comments easily (it does not need to be your face). Change this in Settings (see instructions).

4 ) Write something on your ABOUT page (see instructions) so it doesn’t say this: “This is an example of a WordPress page, you could edit this to put information about yourself …” (Nothing says “Amateur!” quite as obviously as an unchanged About page.)

5 ) Customize your blog’s sidebar with WIDGETS (see instructions). For example, if your blog theme has a calendar on the side, you can remove it (why do you need that anyway?). You can add your own blogroll, or links to your own Twitter or Facebook pages. Some blog themes have two sidebars; some have a footer; all can be customized with widgets.

6 ) Learn how to embed images in your blog.

7 ) Learn how to embed YouTube videos in your blog.

8 ) Is the “site title” of your blog something like john’s Blog or maria’s Blog? Is that really the best you can do? Just look at the highlighted posts on the WordPress.com home page to see the clever and creative titles people have chosen for their blogs.

9 ) Delete the “Hello, World!” post. This is the little dummy post that every WordPress blog has as its first post. It looks quite stupid to keep this post on your blog. Learn how to delete it — and any other post you don’t want to keep.

10 ) Learn the difference between TAGS and CATEGORIES. Then decide how you want to use these on your blog.

Beginner’s tutorial for Audacity

> Watch and listen to the tutorial.

It’s been a long road to making this tutorial, but finally, it’s finished. This is essentially my entire lecture and demonstration about how to use Audacity, step by step, for journalists and journalism students.

The target audience is people who have never edited audio before.