Copyright clearance from outer space

@Cmdr_Hadfield Tonight's Finale: The Nile and the Sinai, to Israel and beyond. One sweeping glance of human history

@Cmdr_Hadfield Tonight’s Finale: The Nile and the Sinai, to Israel and beyond. One sweeping glance of human history

Copyright clearance is a minefield.

It’s even harder when your clearance needs to come from a superstar astronaut orbiting the earth at 28,000 kilometres per hour at an altitude of about 370 kms.

Like millions of people, I’ve been awed and inspired by the photographs of earth being distributed via social media by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, now commander of the International Space Station.

On the last day of the Christmas holidays I discovered he was also composing and recording original music from space.  I became captivated by his song “Jewel of the Night” and thought it would make a great soundtrack for his photos.

@Cmdr_Hadfield This cave painting is, in fact, raw geology in central South Africa.

@Cmdr_Hadfield This cave painting is, in fact, raw geology in central South Africa.

Filled with enthusiasm, I cut a video.  Then I posted it to YouTube … and showed no one.  The settings were private.

Although Hadfield’s photos are being widely disseminated, his music is published under a standard YouTube license as opposed to Creative Commons.  The standard license doesn’t allow users to reuse or remix.

@Cmdr_Hadfield Paris sous le soleil. Les ombres de l'Arc de Triomphe et la Tour Eiffel sont a peine visible.

@Cmdr_Hadfield Paris sous le soleil. Les ombres de l’Arc de Triomphe et la Tour Eiffel sont a peine visible.

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Birch Cliff News: A two-month status report

Birch Cliff

It’s been two months since the launch of Birch Cliff News, a hyperlocal website in the suburbs of Toronto, and I’m happy to report that yesterday our page views surpassed our population.  Yep.  There are 13,084 people who live in the boundaries we’ve defined for the neighbourhood and we have 13,157 page views.  And counting.

I am pleased and very surprised, but I’m not writing today about metrics because when it comes to hyperlocal news, I think the numbers are secondary.

What’s most important is that if an informed community is a stronger community, Birch Cliff has taken a stride or two forward in the last two months. Continue reading

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The launch of Birch Cliff News

Just for fun, before you start reading this post, go online and google “Birch Cliff” and see what turns up.  Not much.  The first hit is an energy company in Alberta, followed by cottages for rent south of Algonquin Park.  If you scroll further down, you’ll see a some informational websites from schools and churches as well as my favourite, a professional looking site by a local real estate agent. What you won’t find, however, is a website that provides news and information about what’s actually happening in our Toronto neighbourhood.

That changes today with the launch of Birch Cliff News. Continue reading

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Average Canadians say goodbye to “Smiling Jack”

There has been an outpouring of emotion today as Canada mourns the death and celebrates the life of NDP leader Jack Layton. Noble thoughts have been conveyed and fine words spoken, none more eloquent perhaps, than the tributes paid by average folks.

Amongst the flowers at the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill, an incongruously placed can of Orange Crush, a symbol of the NDP’s rise to Official Opposition status under Jack Layton:
A fitting farewell from a local restaurant to the politician who took up the cause of small business:
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Tough to separate truth from fiction on Twitter about Birmingham disorder / riot

I have more than a passing interest in last night’s disorder/riot in Birmingham, as I lived there for six months this past year, have many friends there, and developed a real affection for the city.   Growing increasingly concerned at the end of the work day here in Toronto, I logged on to Twitter and found it virtually impossible to get factual real-time information.   Initial reports, corroborated by photos, of about 200 young people rampaging and looting in City Centre quickly escalated into a torrent of alarming reports about fires and escalating violence which were tweeted without verification and then retweeted extensively.

A major case in point, was the claim that Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital was on fire:





This was, of course, not true:



People tweeting responsibly seemed outnumbered by the ill-informed as well as trouble-makers, who rushed to liken what was happening in Birmingham with London through the use of conjoined hashtags #londonriots #birminghamriots.

Consider the many tweets about the fate of the iconic bull statue in front of the Birmingham Bullring shopping mall:










Someone went to a lot of trouble to post that photo but I didn’t find out the truth until the light of day:










And on and on it went.  This post is about a bookstore outside of City Centre, very close to the flat where I lived:






All of this misinformation made it difficult to know the truth when people started tweeting about a police station being set on fire in Handsworth.







This one turned out to be true:




I’d like to believe that most people are smart enough to seek reputable sources of information during a crisis, but from my vantage point it appeared that trusted sources were few and far between, and often behind the news.  I read many tweets from Birmingham residents who couldn’t find out what was happening locally because they said local television coverage was focussed on London.

And then there was this:




The lack of information led many people to follow Redbrick, the University of Birmingham’s student newspaper, which was liveblogging and attempting to curate information.  They did a particularly good job of debunking reports of the violence spreading outside City Centre.




People were also following live updates from @caseyrain at

In the end, I sorted through all of this mess by tweeting people I know and trust who live in Birmingham who responded with the following:






When I logged on to Twitter today, it appeared that legions of Birmingham citizens had arrived in City Centre this morning to help with the clean-up, but found their services not necessary.   Meanwhile, there are rumours of more public disorder tonight.

An account from West Midlands Police about what happened in Birmingham last night can be found here.

For other blog posts about the riots and Twitter, you may want to check out Adam Westbrook and Andy Dickinson.

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Three cool things I learned at Hacks and Hackers Toronto

I attended my first Hacks and Hackers Toronto meetup this week and was amazed by the turnout — it was standing room only as more than 100 people gathered to share information and inspiration and generally bridge the divide between journalists and computer programmers.

As someone who’s spent most of her career in msm I’ve discovered there’s much to learn by rubbing shoulders with the techno wizards — either directly through the talks, by chatting one-on-one or through osmosis. It’s an excellent antidote to intimidation!

I picked up a lot of information, but here are three cool things that stuck out.

Winnipeg rules at comment moderation

During an interesting talk about story comments by Jennifer MacMillan of the Globe and Mail (13,000 comments per day) and Kim Fox of CBC News Online (300,000 per month) I learned that both media powerhouses contract out their comment moderation to a company called ICUC.  Go figure — the world’s leading online content moderation service is based in Winnipeg.  I checked out their website and saw that their other clients include NPR, CTV, Rogers, Virgin, Moson, Unilever, Calvin Klein, JCPenney and the Government of Canada. Continue reading

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Audio Slideshows: an assignment on new media forms and communities of practice

I decided to study audio slideshows because in the practice of multimedia online journalism, it’s important to choose your tools based on the information you want to communicate.   There is a wealth of content and a story that needs to be told buried in a dusty, moldy vault  at our local public school in Birch Cliff, where I soon plan to launch a community news website.  The school’s 100th anniversary is approaching and I’ve been toying with the idea of exploring the archives for the better part of ten years.  I’ve joined forces with a member of the parent council, Tamara Hermann, who has started digitizing the  old photos, diaries and newspaper clippings and the best way to get them online is through audio slideshows.

I’m also interested in the genre because, as a journalist who’s worked in television for many years, I was intrigued by the concept of audio slideshows in general — why use audio when you can use video?   My first step was to explore the wealth of audio slideshows online in order to determine best practices and find slideshows that work just as well, or better than video, which I blogged about here.

What makes a good audio slideshow?

It was interesting to discover that the criteria for excellence is the same in both television and audio slideshows:  great visuals, compelling characters,  good stories, emotion, lots of natural sound, behind-the-scene access, brevity and innovation.   They key difference,    according to Benjamin Chesterton of BBC Radio and Duckrabbit:  revolves around the way the viewer processes the information: Continue reading

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Data Journalism: An assignment on new media forms and communities of practice

As I began my exploration of data journalism and its community of practice, I was cognizant that I needed to examine the craft from a broader perspective than I had in the past.  My previous efforts were focused too narrowly on data journalism tools, which is perhaps understandable coming from someone with a lengthy reporting career who finds the journalism easier than the technology.  When exploring new media forms, however, it is important to remember that while the medium is the message, the message or information can’t get lost in the medium.  In other words, the goal is still journalism.

My approach to this assignment, therefore, was two-pronged:  to continue my exploration of increasingly sophisticated data tools but to let the content decide the form in order to ensure that the end product conveys new and interesting information.

Infographic:  Who earns what at Birmingham City Council?

It wasn’t long before my simultaneous search for a story and an appropriate data journalism tool yielded results.  Acting on a directive from central government, Birmingham City Council released the salaries of its top executives just days before voting on an unprecedented austerity program that would cut approximately 10,000 jobs  and lower the earnings of thousands of lesser paid employees. Continue reading

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A Thread to the Past in Birch Cliff

I’ve created an audio slideshow about the history of Birch Cliff Public School, in the heart of the neighbourhood.   It’s a piece featuring  Tamara Hermann who’s done a fantastic job preserving the past by tending the archives at Birch Cliff.   It is the first of what I hope will be many multimedia pieces that will wind up on the Birch Cliff Blog — coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

In order to view the slideshow click here.

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Excellent advice on data journalism for those of us who don’t code

In an effort to further develop my data journalism skills I’ve been exploring communities of practice in search of technical help, feedback, advice and inspiration.  As a journalist who doesn’t code (yet) I’m finding it daunting to infiltrate a field dominated by programmers and already cross-skilled reporters whose expertise level surpasses mine.  It’s useful to read online forums, but difficult to contribute when the ethos of the group requires posting specific, practical questions and answers about issues beyond my skill set.

I decided to try the direct approach by emailing Michelle Minkoff after reading her tweets and posts on the NICAR discussion forum because she seemed approachable and I could relate to her approach to data-driven storytelling at PBS:

We’re pioneering the concept of DataStories, which combine the visual power of data visualizations with the structured organization traditionally associated with data applications, and add a layer of editorial contextualization to enable Web users to learn something new about their world that is most relevant to them.

Michelle was kind enough to respond with excellent advice which I’m passing along here for other people who may be in the same position as I am.  I’ve stripped out most of the specific feedback about my work, but if you’re interested in the context, you can see it here, here and here. Continue reading

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