Connecting the media lab with nonprofits

Last week, Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, presented "Digital Communication Tools" to the SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization.

Last week, Michelle Rogers, director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, presented “Digital Communication Tools” to the SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization.


Through my outreach as director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, I’ve had the pleasure of presenting and working with numerous nonprofits. In the last week, I’ve traveled to Oakland and Macomb counties encouraging nonprofits to use digital communication tools.

The SouthEastern Michigan Computer Organization invited me to present on Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Meetup and Eventful March 9 at the Mahany/Meininger Senior Community Center in Royal Oak. SEMCO talkIt was a little intimidating at first knowing I would be presenting to computer nerds, who are at a whole other level in their knowledge and understanding of technology. I feared they would look down on me and see my suggestions for social media tools to help take their nonprofit to the next level as elementary or pedestrian.

Boy, I was wrong.

For the most part, the group, ranging in age from about 55 to 75, was in awe of the knowledge I was imparting. They asked a lot of questions and really seemed quite fascinated with all the tools I presented on. They had so many questions that I ran over my two-hour time allowance, and had to push through Eventful pretty fast. In addition, I was running the PowerPoint from my GoogleDrive and livestreaming on UStream all off a personal hotspot that, as you can imagine, was running down my battery at breakneck speed.

As I wrapped up, many members asked if I’d be available to present to other nonprofits they are involved with, as well as return to SEMCO to drill down deeper on individual communication tools and teach a more hands-on workshop. I call that success.

Facebook Post

The following Friday, I paid a visit to the Macomb Literacy Partners at the invitation of Executive Director Ken Lampar. We had met a few weeks earlier at another presentation I had given to Macomb County nonprofits. Ken was looking for me to come in and meet with his assistant and himself so they could “pick my brain” about social media and digital media, and their current social media strategy.

It was a different experience than the earlier presentation to 40-plus people who had attended the SEMCO meeting. Working with them one-on-one in their office as an adviser felt rewarding. They looked to me as an expert and I enjoyed recommending tools and strategies after learning about their mission and main goals.

Among other things, we talked about adding a YouTube channel featuring the success stories of some of the people they are working with, the stories of volunteers and why they devote their spare time to Macomb Literacy Partners, as well as video updates from Ken and his staff, and tutorials. They also liked my suggestion of setting up Twitter lists to be better organized and facilitate more retweets and two-way conversations with their audience on the site. I also recommended the tool WeJoinIn for scheduling events and volunteers.

Their No. 1 priority, or task to accomplish, will be to launch a blog and write about their efforts at Macomb Literacy Partners, share success stories, recruit volunteers and announce special events. The blog will feature widgets or links to all of their other social media channels, and it will be linked to The Macomb Daily news site as part of a blogging partnership. In return, we will ask them to add our headline widget to their blog to help attract readers to our content, as well.

If you are involved with a nonprofit and you’re looking for a speaker to present on digital storytelling tools or social media, feel free to reach out to me via the comments section of this blog or tweet @CommunityMediaL.

We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab. Helping the community — including nonprofits, businesses, government and individuals — embrace social sharing and use digital tools to communicate a more engaging message is what we set out to do, and I love every opportunity that comes my way to do that.

SEMCO post

Digital First Media’s ideaLab coming to an end

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, part of my ideaLab project, will continue, although the ideaLab is coming to a close.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, part of my ideaLab project, will continue, although the ideaLab is coming to a close.

It’s hard — and not so hard — to believe. After 3 1/2 years, Digital First Media’s ideaLab is coming to an end.

I was shocked when I was named to the inaugural group in July 2010, surprised when it continued past what I thought would be a year-long stint and forever grateful how my time spent experimenting with digital media tools has helped me grow as a journalist, editor, mentor and trainer.

The news came in the form of a phone call Dec. 13 from Mark Lewis, communications/operations editor for DFM’s Thunderdome in New York. He wanted me to know the project was ending. He also solicited my feedback about the experience and announced a new project could replace ideaLab in the coming months. I wasn’t completely shocked at the news because my boss, Glenn Gilbert, group editor of 21st Century Media’s Michigan cluster, had warned me that it might be happening, and I knew many of the labbers had taken on new roles in the company or left for other endeavors.

I was so honored to be part of the ideaLab. When I first learned in a blog post by company CEO John Paton that I was part of the exclusive group of 18 representing editorial, advertising, finance, circulation, production, IT and Classifieds, it came as a total shock because I had not applied. My name came up as top brass deliberated over the makeup of the team. When I read the post announcing who was picked, it blew my mind, as noted in the “about” page of the ideaLabHeritage blog I created to share information about my project and its progress.

The ideaLab met for the first and last time in late August 2010 for a daylong summit at company headquarters in Pennsylvania. Members received advice and tips from a newly minted advisory board and we hashed out our individual project ideas and goals. At that time, while I was telling the group my interests, we determined my goal would be to “incentive co-workers to learn new technologies and understand the value of digital; train co-workers to utilize new tools by showcasing the strength and potential of each offering.” We were each given a smartphone, iPad and netbook, a stipend of $500 per month and encouraged to spend 10 hours of our 40-hour work week on our projects, and communicated through conference calls, email and a Facebook group.

What came of my project initially was a partnership with Eastern Michigan University professor Michael McVey and the Saline Area Historical Society to create a virtual historic walking tour of downtown Saline, with audiocasts sharing each building’s history, digital map, and photos from the past, as well as today. I learned how to use Audacity for editing audio, although Michael did the bulk of the work, and I partnered with one of my reporters, David Veselenak, for the mapping component. I also crowdsourced photos from the historical society and used a freelance photographer to get modern-day shots. Given the opportunity to tackle this project three years later, I would do it very differently, using different tools and presenting it as a cohesive package using ThingLink.

After the historic walking tour podcast was completed, my ideaLab project evolved into an effort to document, through audiocasts, historic moments and milestones that local residents experienced. As part of the effort, I visited Brecon Village retirement community in Saline to interview older residents about their lives. I tried to get staff and the community involved, as well, but that proved difficult to do with limited resources and scheduling conflicts. I used the tool ipadio.com to gather and share the phonecasts, which were embedded on our website under a drop-down menu under the news tab our web department created especially for us. I later added audiocasts on other topics to the channel.

In February 2012, as the ideaLab grew in number, with the acquisition of Media News Group, and as a request for proposals to develop community media labs came forth from Digital First Media, my project morphed into the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, the muse behind this blog. My proposal was among 12 approved in 2012, and the only one in Michigan to receive funding. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to dedicate my ideaLab time toward an even greater good, teaching the public digital storytelling and social media tools to grow our network of community contributors and blogging partners.

With the newly invigorated ideaLab came a virtual space for us to work called BaseCamp. Here we created to-do lists, sought advice from one another and shared the progress of our projects. In February 2013, my ideaLab project had morphed into my job, along with other responsibilities, and my home became SPARk-East, a business incubator in Ypsilanti where our media lab was — and continues to be — based.

I’ve had much success with the media lab, where I’ve hosted dozens of workshops, led by local media professionals, educators, social media gurus and myself. We have a loyal following of nearly 100 “labbers” on Meetup.com. I would estimate I’ve worked with several hundred people either individually in person or virtually through email exchanges, Facebook, Twitter and live chats, as well as workshops. Next month, in my last blog post about my ideaLab project, which I will post on my ideaLabHeritage blog, I’ll provide more concrete numbers, analysis and reflection.

Earlier today, while working at The Oakland Press, where I am now offering regular office hours to teach our journalists new digital storytelling skills, I created a NewHive expression featuring some of the tools I’ve learned over the last three years or so. While my ideaLab project is ending, my job continues to be “to learn new technologies and understand the value of digital; train co-workers to utilize new tools by showcasing the strength and potential of each offering” — and for that I am extremely grateful to the company for investing in me and my potential to help our newsrooms grow the skills of our digital journalists.
Digital storytelling tools

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.

Four workshops scheduled at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab

I’ve scheduled four workshops at the media lab, and thought I’d make a NewHive expression promoting it. As part of my workshop, I will be teaching people how to use the tool. A bonus is that I discovered in addition to YouTube, Vimeo and Syndicaster videos, I can embed Touts.

Below is the article I wrote and asked all of the editors in the 21st Century Media Michigan Group to share in print and online.

The Southeast Michigan Media Lab, 215 W. Michigan Ave., at SPARK-East in downtown Ypsilanti, will host four free workshops designed to teach writing and social media skills to area residents.

Rick Kessler, managing editor of Heritage Media and a blogger, will teach a two-part series on blogging from 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 3 and 10. Have you wanted to start a blog, but weren’t sure where to begin? Or, maybe you al-ready have a blog but you’d like to know how to take it to the next level? Kessler can answer those questions and more during his two-part series, “Blogging 101.”

Part I will cover every-thing from how to start a blog to how to find content for your blog. Part II will show participants how to grow their audience and discover advance blogging techniques. Each seminar will have a question-and-answer session and an op-portunity for one-on-one instruction.

Kessler is the author of the Gr8LakesCamper blog, which “celebrates the world of RVing, camping and tra-vel destinations in the Great Lakes region.” He started the blog in June 2007 and since then has had more than 1,400 posts and 360,000 page views. Visit his blog at gr8lakescamper.blogspot.com or email him at rkess-ler@heritage.com for more information.

Michelle Rogers, director of editorial training for 21st Century Media’s Michigan Group and director of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, will present “Emerging social media tools and how to use them” from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 10. The workshop will introduce participants to RebelMouse for curating social media and web feeds into a personal page, and NewHive for creating crea-tive expressions, invita-tions, special pages with video embeds and photos.

The workshop will be hands-on, so participants are asked to bring a laptop, their ideas and content to build their own NewHive expression with photos, text, video and links.

Attendees should decide in advance which Twitter handles and hashtags they want to feed into their Re-belMouse pages, along with RSS feeds, and consider whether they want to in-clude their Pinterest, Insta-gram, Tout, YouTube and Flickr posts.

Monica Drake, community engagement editor for The Oakland Press, will present on citizen journalism from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 12. She will empower participants to become contributors to their local news media, teaching them the basics of journalism, photography and video, as well as other tools designed to help doc-ument and share community news. For more information, email moni-ca.drake@oakpress.com.

To sign up for any of the free workshops, visit the Southeast Michigan Media’s Lab’s Facebook events page or Meetup.com profile. Meetup.com will no-tify participants of future workshops.

Intern Elise Waller starts at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab

Southeast Michigan Media Lab intern Elise Waller

Southeast Michigan Media Lab intern Elise Waller

Having an intern at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab has renewed my faith in the next generation of multimedia journalists and their work ethic. When I was running a newsroom, it seemed some reporters were burned out — and maybe rightfully so given the amount of work and responsibility handed to them — and lacked the same enthusiasm I had (although admittedly I may be overly amped) for using new digital and social media tools to complement our storytelling. At times, I had the impression they viewed these tools as more work, rather than embracing the tools as a way to bring more information to readers on platforms that readers may prefer, whether video, audio, photo slideshows, locator maps, polls, timelines or through social media.

But if Elise Waller’s work ethic and passion for digital media is indicative of what we will be seeing from J-school graduates in the coming years, the news industry is going to be on fire with innovation and experimentation driving journalism, and a work force game for trying anything that helps them become better news gatherers and storytellers.

Elise, a junior at Adrian College studying digital media and journalism, joined the media lab May 22 to help livestream and produce video of a workshop we were hosting on Google Drive taught by Eastern Michigan University professor Toni Stokes Jones. The next day, she came in and edited the video that she shot, started a blog, wrote her first post about the workshop and set up a phonecasting channel on ipadio.com. I interviewed her for her first audiocast, which is featured on her blog through RSS feed. She also created a RebelMouse page. So, boom, in a matter of a few hours, she had completed all of her assignments for the week, as she is asked to produce three pieces each week to collect her internship stipend.

We had Friday off, as I was in Chicago, as well as Monday for the Memorial Day holiday, so Elise returned to work Tuesday. We met at the studio for WLBY 1290 Ann Arbor Talk Radio for an appearance on the Lucy Anne Lance Radio Show. Having experience in radio, serving as on-air talent at her college station, Elise was super excited to be back in the studio. Lucy Anne interviewed us both about the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and our efforts to bring the audience in the newsroom as news-sharing partners, as well as changes in the media landscape and asked our thoughts on changes to the industry as a whole. Elise added valuable insight about her generation’s use of social media and media consumption habits. What I found particularly interesting was that she said most people she knows who are her age get their news and information from Facebook and Twitter, not traditional media sources. Listen to the entire interview here on the Lucy Anne Lance Radio Show website.

Southeast Michigan Media Lab Director Michelle Rogers at Ann Arbor Radio.

Southeast Michigan Media Lab Director Michelle Rogers at Ann Arbor Radio.

When we returned from the studio a couple hours later, Elise, who said she was doing the internship more for the experience than the pay, was quick to edit a video that she shot of us while we were being interviewed, and uploaded it on the media lab’s YouTube channel. She also wrote a blog post about the experience, and set up her Tout account so she could begin Touting 15-second videos — something all multimedia journalists at 21st Century Media will start doing in the coming weeks.

On Wednesday, we met at The News-Herald, where we were scheduled to spend the day and make ourselves available to staff journalists interested in learning more about social media and digital media tools. We worked with nine reporters and editors, who also renewed my belief that people who work in the industry are willing to learn new tricks, throughout the day showcasing Tout, NewHive, RebelMouse, Twitter, ipadio, ScribbleLive and uStream, among other tools. During this time, Elise also edited five videos shot by freelance photographer/videographer Dave Chapman for the The News-Herald and shot this Vine video (so cute) on life of an intern. And, again, boom. She had completed two weeks of her internship in a matter of two days.

Elise has experience, from her studies at Adrian College, in radio and TV broadcasting. She has served as news anchor and on-air talent for the college’s news station, and has worked as editor of the college newspaper. All of these experiences and the skills she is learning while at college and during her internship will serve her well when she graduates and begins her career, whether in radio, television or digital media. I am looking forward to teaching her more digital media tools and introducing her to emerging social media channels. She will be honing her skills at festivals throughout Washtenaw County this summer as she produces video, photo slideshows, NewHive expressions and podcasts, and sharing her work on the media lab and Heritage Media’s distribution channels. Be sure to look for her and give her feedback on the work she produces as she practices her budding craft.

Teaching new and experienced bloggers at Blogger Fair 2013

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The Southeast Michigan Media Lab hosted its first Blogger Fair May 9, attracting 31 people either interested in starting a blog or currently posting to an established blog. The event drew writers from across Southeast Michigan, from Metamora, Sterling Heights and Birmingham to Flat Rock, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, where the lab is located.

The fair featured an overview about the media lab, its free workshops and instruction, as well as its mission to recruit 100 new blogging partners for parent company 21st Century Media’s Michigan group of news websites managed by Digital First Media. In the last three months, with blogger fairs held at sister publications and through the efforts of editors and staff, 43 new blogging partners have been added. The program has been such a success that the webmaster of Heritage.com had to figure out a way to accommodate all the new RSS feeds because they were overloading the website, with a total of 89 partners. Blog categories were added under each tab, rather than all under the “Life” section. The Oakland Press has the highest number of blogging partners with 126, followed by The Macomb Daily with 85.

Breakout sessions followed the media lab presentation, with News-Herald Online Editor Joe Gray leading the session “Blogger Basics and Social Media;” Monica Drake, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, led “Understanding Search Engine Optimization, Analytics and How to Monetize Your Blog;” and I led “Incorporating Visuals and Interactive Elements in Your Blog.” The 3-to-5 group saw the largest turnout, and the 5-to-7 group also featured some writers from the earlier group who wanted to join a second breakout group. Copies of my presentation were handed out to participants, and an electronic version can be found on Scribd.

In addition, freelance photojournalist Mark Bialek of Ann Arbor Nights took portrait photographs of the participants who wanted new photos for their blog and/or social media channels.

We have received positive feedback about the event via our page on Meetup.com and through email. Additional blogger recruitment fairs are in the works at The News-Herald and The Oakland Press. Voice Newspapers, The Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune in Royal Oak held similar successful events earlier this year.

Below is a video from the event. If you are interested in becoming a blogging partner, call 734-719-0192. Also, you’re welcome to stop by the lab for help with your blog or to attend our free workshops. On June 20, the topic is “Blogging for Nonprofits.” “Using Social Media to Engage Your Audience” will be presented July 25. Visit our Meetup page for times and sign up to be notified of future events.

Adding visually-interesting elements, widgets and gadgets to blogs

Blogger Chris Watkins writes "Spiritual Voices."

Blogger Chris Watkins writes “Spiritual Voices.”


Some days at the lab I am lost in another world on my computer exploring new digital storytelling or social media tools — like Talkshoe on Monday and tame.it Tuesday — setting up live chats, recruiting workshop leaders and newsroom trainers and talking about events and interesting content on our social media channels. Other days, I actually have real human interaction — like yesterday and today.

On Tuesday, Roger Beukema, one of our blogging partners based in Oakland County, stopped by the media lab in the morning to learn how to spruce up his blog and use social media more effectively. In between stories about his family, his career as a cop and his connection over the last 30 years to The Oakland Press, we made some headway. It was a purely enjoyable experience for me and didn’t even seem like 2 1/2 hours as I got lost in his stories, along with the fun of learning new digital storytelling tools.

I talked to Roger about adding hyperlinks to content he references in his “Outdoor Notes” posts, sharing YouTube videos related to what he’s writing about, adding more photographs and maybe a podcast after he buys that smartphone he’s been wanting to get for a while. I also shared with him my PowerPoint, “Contributing Community Content: Visually interesting ways to help your content stand out and engage your audience.” The presentation is an introduction to a variety of digital storytelling tools that he could learn about at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab and then incorporate into his blog posts.

Blogger Roger Beukema writes "Outdoor Notes."

Blogger Roger Beukema writes “Outdoor Notes.”


On Wednesday, Chris Watkins, who writes the “Spiritual Voices” column for Heritage Media-West, came in for a morning appointment. A few months ago, she decided to convert her print column to a blog to reach a wider audience and become more interactive. Chris and I had a great time, too, chatting about her past jobs, her personal life and life experiences, in addition to technology and what we could do to enhance her blog.

Chris uses the Blogger platform. We logged on and I helped her add a number of widgets to her blog to make it more interactive. Now followers can connect with her on social media, her most read entries will be highlighted, her blog archives are displayed and she is hosting the Heritage Media “Life” section headlines to help drive traffic back to the Heritage Media news website. I also suggested she shoot some photos to either add images to her blog design or add a photo slideshow. In addition, like I did for Roger, I suggested Chris aggregate content and add her commentary to it, as well as YouTube videos.

I also took a look at Chris’ Twitter account @OnBendedKnees. When I saw she only had six followers and she was following six, we had a chat about how social media can help drive traffic. I showed her how to shorten her blog post urls using Bitly and then tweet them out. I also explained the “connect” and search functions on Twitter, and encouraged her to retweet, reply to tweets, and start interacting with people on Twitter. While we were at it, we followed all of the Heritage Media publications in Washtenaw County, where her column appears in print and her blog is shared on the website Heritage.com, assuring her that editors and reporters would help her out with some retweets and mentions.

While my meetings with both bloggers were fun and I enjoyed helping them, what I look forward to most is our next meeting — after they’ve mastered the basic skills and we can advance to the more fun stuff. For a list of my favorite digital storytelling tools, visit my NewHive expression.