Bloggers, surveys, Touts and media lab presentations — Oh, my!

Michelle Rogers (that's me), director of community engagement and editorial training for Digital First Media's Michigan Group, runs the Southeast Michigan Media Lab in Ypsilanti.

Michelle Rogers (that’s me), director of community engagement and editorial training for Digital First Media’s Michigan Group, runs the Southeast Michigan Media Lab in Ypsilanti.

Last week was a busy time at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, and that’s what makes this job so much fun. When I make a number of commitments — sometimes more than I initially think I can deliver on — and then finish the week with everything completed and up to my standards, it feels so rewarding.

Among the highlights last week was presenting to Eastern Michigan University’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter. I worked on my PowerPoint for the group Monday, cobbling together some slides I had used for a presentation to the Milan Area Chamber of Commerce with some other slides I shared with marketing students in Macomb County schools, as well as new slides appropriate for their needs.

The presentation gave background information about the media lab, our free services and opportunities for public relations, marketing and journalism students, as well as a rundown of free digital tools they could use to hone their skills.

While it started out bumpy, as the bag containing my projector was missing a crucial cord to plug the projector into an electrical outlet and I had to run back to the office (luckily, I arrived early enough to have time to do this), it was a success in the end. When I asked students to raise their hands if they thought they would be visiting the media lab soon, everyone (I am pretty sure) raised their hands. In fact, a few approached me afterward and followed up through email with ideas for partnerships, including an Internet radio show on BlogTalk Radio and two blogs.

Also on Tuesday, I was on a three-hour webinar with Digital First Media colleagues across the United States listening to Thomas W. Rhoads of Bucks County Community College’s Center for Workforce Development present the Innovation and Creativity Program. We weren’t even through the entire program and I was already emailing Claire Gavel, DFM’s chief learning officer, suggesting everyone in our organization go through the training. While it’s cost prohibitive, as Claire explained, she said they would be presenting it again and she would allow me to invite specific individuals who I thought could benefit from it the most.

During the training, I felt inspired and invigorated as we, as a group, were encouraged to innovate and lead. I felt empowered and wanted others I work with to feel the same, in whatever they do. Among my takeaways was Rhoads’ assertion that we should all be open to learning and growing as that’s what inspires innovation. Collaboration is and always will be important. As Rhoads puts it, innovative organizations collaborate. And don’t be afraid of being judged or hurt because that will stifle your own creativity.

Accountability was another big theme, as well as consistency, authenticity and having standards/values. It’s important to empower people by asking for their ideas. People share more if they believe you trust their ideas, Rhoads said. Also, don’t be afraid to fail. If something doesn’t work, you learn from it. If it works, you can count it as a success and then look at how you can improve upon it — always grow and learn.

Making a difference, staying engaged, offering encouragement, trusting and courageousness inspire people, so I have renewed my commitment to all of those approaches as I move forward with my work at DFM’s Michigan Group.

The next day offered another fun-packed day with a webinar on trends in online journalism offered by the Online News Association, a one-on-one session with a blogging partner,

a conference call with my new boss and a workshop for the public on contributing guest columns and letters to the editor.

What’s cool about my one-on-ones with bloggers is that I always learn something new, too, while trying to help them troubleshoot a problem or implement something I had never thought of doing. When I met with Linda Tubbs of Professional Volunteer Corps, we were adding a tab on her blog and sub-pages under the tab. In doing so, we learned together, through trial and error, how to do it by designating a post as a “child” under a “parent” page. We also played around with embedding her WordPress blog on the group’s WordPress website without totally moving it. While we searched online for advice and found some HTML code that should have accomplished exactly what we wanted, it didn’t work. So, WordPress may have changed something since the post was written. I came up with an alternative of setting up a RebelMouse page, embedding it on the website and running her blog’s RSS feed automatically through the RebelMouse page, but she didn’t like it because of the RebelMouse branding. So, I’ll continue to work on solving that dilemma.

Also Wednesday, while waiting for a conference call that ended up being canceled,

A screen shot of or Best of the Blogs page on RebelMouse.

A screen shot of or Best of the Blogs page on RebelMouse.

I created a RebelMouse page curating the RSS feeds of 25 of our best blogs and shared it on all of our sites to give an extra boost to our blogging partners. I plan to change the featured bloggers quarterly, so everyone gets the extra exposure.

The workshop in the evening was a fun collaboration between me and reporter Andrew Kidd of The Oakland Press. Andrew had proposed about a month or so earlier that we travel around to our various newsrooms and teach our audience the basics of editorial writing. Andrew also serves as the opinion page editor of The Oakland Press, Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune, so he has been coming across a number of issues with unsigned letters, letters that lack focus and submissions containing sexist, racist and homophobic remarks. Using Google Presentations, we collaborated on a PowerPoint and spoke to our first group Wednesday at The News-Herald in Southgate and broadcast the session live using uStream. We had a small group of five, but we are hopeful we will have more interest this Wednesday from readers at The Oakland Press.

Thursday was another rewarding day as my help was totally embraced by staff at The Oakland Press when I put in my fourth day of office hours. Three earlier times, offered around the holidays, were not as fruitful — probably because of the holidays, shorter deadlines and smaller resources with staff on vacation. I was thrilled to walk in this time and have four people immediately set up times to meet with me. It really made my day, especially after the 2 1/2-hour commute in horrid driving conditions. From creating Valentine’s Day surveys in Google Forms with Lara Mossa Stump and setting up labs in Kathy Blake’s gmail to brainstorming Tout ideas and reviewing RebelMouse setup with Aftab Borka to experimenting with TweetPic with Carol Hopkins, helping my colleagues learn new tools

and overcome technology-related stumbling blocks really brings me great joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Friday was more social media postings and monitoring, the announcement and start to a social media revamp for our Michigan cluster, and a conference call with editorial trainers across our organization about a new Learning Management System we had been trained on a couple weeks ago called Desire2Learn. I am really excited about the potential of this new tool, and I will devote an entire blog post to it in the coming days. Basically, it will facilitate our training, allow us to work more efficiently and through collaboration, and run our own internal learning institute as reporters and sales representatives continue to learn, grow and evolve in this changing environment we work in.

Over the weekend, I wrapped up some loose ends I hadn’t attended to during the week, including starting a survey through SurveyMonkey for The News-Herald’s annual “And the winner is …” contest for the Academy Awards. Since it had been longer than six months since I used SurveyMonkey, I wanted to get in there before showing reporter Andrea Blum how to set up the survey for her audience. As soon as I started, I remembered how intuitive and easy to use the application is for laymen. Later today, I’ll walk Andrea through the process, as well as her boss, Managing Editor Rick Kessler, who will be developing a Reader Focus Group survey.

And, finally, the icing on the cake today came in an email from my new boss, Don Wyatt, vice president of news for DFM’s Michigan Group, who dubbed my suggested name for a new drop-down tab on our website for in-depth data-driven stories as the winner. After coming up with a long list of suggestions, Email from Don Wyatt narrowing it down to a top 5, asking our readers to vote and/or give suggestions, and then deciding none fit the bill, I suggested DataWorks over the weekend and he liked it. Feeling as if your time is well spent, and your ideas and help are valued, really makes for the most awesome feeling at work. In fact, it makes it feel as if work is play, and that is what I strive for in life.


Recruiting journalism interns in the digital age

Intern candidates will be asked to "Pick a tool. Any tool. Or two."

Intern candidates will be asked to “Pick a tool. Any tool. Or two.”

For the first time, in my role as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and as director of community engagement and editorial training for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group, I’ll be recruiting interns from Central Michigan University. I initiated contact with CMU after seeing a post on Facebook that MLive would be there recruiting interns, and thought 21st Century Media should be doing the same.

What I hope will make the experience different for students with our media group is that I will ask candidates to demonstrate their digital storytelling skills. I will still ask them the standard questions about their backgrounds, passion for journalism and career goals, but I’ll also ask them to produce content about Digital First Media, its CEO, media labs or other related news using digital storytelling tools. What I am interested in seeing is their choice of tools, whether they choose to write a blog post; use Storify or RebelMouse; create a video, audiocast or photo slideshow; or maybe make a timeline or NewHive expression.

I created a NewHive expression to share the challenge with the students. I also will come armed with copies of Digital First Media’s recruitment brochure, list of editor contacts at our publications across Michigan, and internship opportunities at Digital First Media’s Thunderdome office in New York City’s Financial District.

A promotional piece about our recruitment efforts on CMU's website.

A promotional piece about our recruitment efforts on CMU’s website.

Thunderdome is a nationally focused digital newsroom that works with more than 100 local newspapers, including The Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, El Paso Times, New Haven Register and The Oakland Press.

I’ll be meeting Jim Wojcik, the internship coordinator at CMU’s Department of Journalism. He has lined up a few students interested in interviewing with 21st Century Media. They’ve been asked to send a link to their resume and clips using Pressfolios. I’ll give the students a short deadline for turning around their digital-first assignment, and then make recommendations to our editors based on the candidates’ skills and location preferences, and editors’ needs.

Digital First Media's Thunderdome is looking for interns.

Digital First Media’s Thunderdome is looking for interns.

AP Style for elections

With the Primary Elections over, we have about 30 seconds to breathe before we start gearing up for the big guy: General Elections on Nov.6.

I’ve been trying to organize what needs to be covered as elections and proposals are posted on Washtenaw County’s website to try to make coverage go as smoothly as possible.

I did, however, stumble upon a nice link for the journos, election geeks and bloggers out there: A compilation of AP Style rules for elections. For those of you who don’t know, AP Style is what most newspapers are written in. It’s why sometimes you feel like journalists write slightly strange. Like e-mails (Why the hyphen?) or Web (Capitalized? Still?). It is the set of spelling and grammar rules that most journalists follow near religiously.

Either way I found the compilation of guidelines is exceptionally helpful because it not only has general election rules, but it also has rules that specifically pertain to the 2012 elections.

So, bookmark it. Save it for November. And remember to register to vote before Oct.9.

Using lists on Twitter

During last Friday’s coverage of the fatal shooting in Aurora, Colo. I used a tool we often use to compile public comments from Twitter called Storify. The tool scans Twitter for tweets about the subject you’ve searched for. While doing this I was looking for comments made by local politicians about the tragedy and found it particularly difficult because my Twitter lists were in need of a good sprucing up.

So in between the hurry up and wait process of uploading several videos from our newest video intern, Jared, I decided my time in the lab would be good for the task of updating my Twitter lists.

The lists function on Twitter is incredibly useful, and as I started digging around I found it to be pretty underutilized by many of the people I follow. I find the lists to be helpful because I follow a lot of accounts, and often get lost in the fray of it all. Also because I’m a compulsive organizer, but that’s a different post.

You can see the lists I’ve created here. What’s particularly useful for my work as a journalist is how I’ve created different lists for the cities I cover with people and businesses that reside there. This lets me look at the Twitter contacts I have for a specific area of the county and see what’s going on at a glance. This is easier in the larger cities such as Ypsi and Ann Arbor that are more plugged into the Twitter, but it’s a continual process anyway.

I also have lists set up for Michigan-specific news and national/world news at large. This helps me quickly hone in on what’s going on at the local and more broad levels without having to do an advanced search. I also have other lists for politicians, favorite musicians and colleagues.

You can also follow other Twitter user’s public lists if they’ve compiled particularly good ones. I found this option really useful when I first started at Heritage last November. By following lists of other journos in the company I was able to get familiarized a little bit quicker.

So I suggest trying out the list function on Twitter and getting yourself organized. As your following and the amount of those you follows grows, it becomes a pretty helpful tool.

Follow me on Twitter @kgjestland, and let me know if you have any more questions. As usual I am stationed in the lab 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday. You can also reach me via email:

It’s election season!

Today was fairly quiet at the Community Media Lab, which was actually great for me because fellow government reporter Sean Dalton and I have been spending the last month getting election coverage rolling.

We’ve sent out questionnaires to each candidate in all of the elections in Washtenaw County (around 300, including townships!). As the deadline for submission came and went, we found ourselves with less than we anticipated. So we extended the deadline and began going through each of the questionnaires we already had.

As I was (and still am) working on this, I can’t help but to think how awfully confusing election years can be, especially for those who aren’t heavily involved in politics. So I’d like to share one resource with you all that will help you sort out who’s vying for what and when and who you’re voting for in the August primaries. is especially helpful at figuring everything out. On there you can look up if you’re registered, find where you need to vote, what’s on the upcoming ballot and who’s running for what by simply plugging in your name, birth month and zip code.

The website shows you where you’re registered, what elections are coming up, who’s running for what office and what millages are on the ballot all in one place.



Just plug in your personal information.


It’s nice to have a comprehensive place to find information like this. The website also features information on absentee ballots, finding your local clerk, statewide ballot issues and volunteering. Definitely a helpful tool during election season, journalist or not. Now you have no excuse not to vote!

Remember, I’m stationed in the Community Media Lab from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday. You can reach me at or on Twitter @kgjestland.

Setting up for our workshops

Today I moderated, live blogged/tweeted and live streamed one of our workshops for the first time. During each of our workshops someone typically fills this role and today it was my turn.

To live blog our workshops, we usually use CoverItLive, a tool that lets you live blog an event while integrated Twitter and user comments. It’s simple to use and generates an embed code so that we can share the live blog with our entire community by posting it on our website. You can replay the live blog of the event here, which will give you a better idea of how CoverItLive works.

When using CoverItLive, you can integrate Twitter accounts and hastags into the conversation. I integrated the CML’s Twitter account (@CommunityMediaL) and the hashtag #CMLWorkshop. I chose the hashtag because it was something that could be used during other workshops and could help the dialogue continue. Or so, that’s my theory. Integrating Twitter into the live blog helps broaden our audience and engage more people.

Today’s workshop was on narrative and column writing and was hosted by Renee Collins. Collins is a former editor at Heritage Newspapers and now teaches journalism classes at Adrian College in Adrian, Mich.

I used UStream to provide a video stream of her presentation. UStream is another easy tool to use. I used one of our netbooks that has a webcam installed in it to video the presentation. The program is free and doesn’t require any software to be downloaded, which is always a plus. I simply turn on the channel I’ve set up on the website and turn the computer toward my subject (in this case, Collins). I was able to just let that run while I live blogged and tweeted the rest of the workshop without having to think about the live stream. Hassle-free, which is great when you’re juggling everything thing else.

You can see Collins’ presentation here, though the video isn’t the best. I believe that fault lies with the quality of the small webcam on our netbooks, not with Ustream.

We had a fair amount of engagement during our workshop with 10 viewers of the CoverItLive blog. For being 1 p.m., I’d say that’s a decent turnout. For anyone who missed it, you can rewatch the live video and blog here.

Have any questions about how I set this up or any of the tools I used? Email me at, or follow me on Twitter @kgjestland. I’ll be back in the lab 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Monday.

Videography help?

Last Friday, The Eastern Echo dropped off a Mac fully equipped with iMovie.

Because the videos we create for our website are usually between 90 seconds and 2 minutes in length, iMovie is the program we typically use to edit and create videos.

Today was a pretty slow day, traffic-wise, in the lab so I had our intern Chris Nelson come in an use our “new” Mac to edit a video the two of us shot over the weekend of an annual canoe race in Manchester, Mich. Shooting, editing and posting videos to our website helps give the readers another dimension of the story, so although videography doesn’t always come to mind when thinking of newspapers it’s a pretty important and growing aspect of our storytelling.

Most professionals use Final Cut or Final Cut Express for video editing, but iMovie has a lot of advantages for people who don’t spend their lives or careers creating and editing videos. First of all, iMovie is free (if you have a Mac computer, that is). Final Cut can cost you upwards of $800 for a software license. And iMovie is really simple and easy to use for anyone who is just playing around with making videos. Although video editing can take some time to learn, once you get the hang of where functions are it becomes much easier.

I’m in the lab 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Monday (except next Monday, May 28, which is Memorial Day). If you’re interested in learning how to use iMovie to create videos for yourself, your business, your organization or even just for fun stop in and I can help you out.

If you’re already using iMovie and have questions, feel free to send me an email at or Tweet me at @kgjestland.