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 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 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


Creating a social front page with RebelMouse

Our RebelMouse page embedded in our Southeast Michigan Media Lab blog.

Our RebelMouse page embedded in our Southeast Michigan Media Lab blog.

RebelMouse, a real-time social blog that can serve as your front page, is my latest obsession. I was on a webinar May 2 to learn more about it and it has sparked my imagination.

After creating a RebelMouse page to represent all of my activity on social media through my personal Facebook page, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and ideaLabHeritage Twitter account, I decided to embed it in my ideaLabHeritage blog on WordPress, where I write about my efforts as a member of Digital First Media’s ideaLab. I was confused at first, not knowing if I use the embed code or some other code RebelMouse provided, but an email to was promptly returned and I was in business.

Next I set my sights on my ideaLab project, the Southeast Michigan Media Lab, wanting to feature it on a RebelMouse page, as well. I have fewer social media accounts associated with it (just Facebook and Twitter), but I do have YouTube video and ipadio audiocast channels that I was able to add through RSS feed. I also embedded the page on my Community Media Lab blog on WordPress.

As a result, I have two live blog pages, where people, who may not be following me on all of my social media channels, can see all of my activity. From my Facebook posts about upcoming presentations in the media lab, videos on YouTube from our workshops, recommendations for digital media tools, as well as tweets — my own and those I retweet — are all featured in a single feed. The page is visually pleasing, showcasing photographs and video, with headlines and text. And, best of all, it’s not static like a blog. Every time you tweet, post and share, it’s there for the world to see — like your own personal front page.

After adding the RebelMouse pages, I spoke to a colleague about the site’s potential. On the webinar, Megan Berry of RebelMouse talked about how you can pull in a Twitter hashtag campaign, add RSS feed from numerous sources, including Facebook groups, customize your design, move things on the page, freeze elements, add posts to the page, and integrate it on your own sites as a social sub-domain, front page, social sidebar or front page for your blog. This was all very exciting to hear and got me thinking.

First, I thought it could be a valuable tool for our blogging partners, who often struggle to post a couple times a week. If they are more active on social media, they could make their RebelMouse page their blog’s front, which could take the pressure off as it would have fresh, active content as they interact on their social media channels. What’s also great is the page has infinite flow, meaning all of your posts can be seen without disappearing into archives.

In talking with Joe Gray, a colleague at The News-Herald in Southgate about the upcoming Downriver Cruise, I thought it would be fun to create a hashtag campaign around the event and pull in the community’s tweets and retweets about the cruise, and videos and photographs of the cars to capture the buzz on a single page we can host on The News-Herald’s website.

Megan said media outlets using RebelMouse have seen a 10 to 30 percent increase in page views. She also said time spent on RebelMouse sites is twice the average. It’s obviously a powerful up-and-coming tool and I am pleased to be one of the early users of it.

Helping the Saline Chamber of Commerce set up a Twitter account

On Friday at the Community Media Lab, I had the pleasure of helping the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce set up a Twitter account.  I had met with Executive Director Art Trapp and Project Coordinator Mary Alice Smith a week earlier to inquire about presenting information about the CML to the chamber’s membership at a breakfast meeting. First they needed more information, so I talked to them about my ideaLab project, the Community Media Lab, offered examples of how we have helped local business owners write press releases and set up social media accounts, and showed them a video aChamberTwitterbout the lab. By the time it was all said and done, not only had I sold them on the idea that I would be an informative speaker at their breakfast meeting, but they were interested in coming to the CML in Ypsilanti to set up a Twitter account for the chamber.

Before they arrived, I had emailed a list of possible Twitter handles to pique their interest. I came up with @SACC_Michigan, @SACC_BizNews, @SalineMiBiz, @SalineMichBiz, @SACC_News, @SalineChamberMI, @SalineBizNews, @YourSACC and @MichiganSACC. Former Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Director Larry Osterling already has the @SalineChamber Twitter handle, but he has never Tweeted anything and only has five followers.

Art and Mary Alice arrived in the late afternoon and had selected the Twitter handle @SalineChamberMI. It took less than an hour to set up the account, import the chamber’s logo, start following local businesses, community leaders and stakeholders, and explain how to create lists. We also sent out the chamber’s first Tweet. As of Monday morning, they had 20 followers and were following 54. I suggested they look at those following their hometown newspaper @SalineMilanNews, as well as followers of @SalineSchools and others in Saline with Twitter handles, to build their following. Once people are notified via email that you are following them, they usually follow back, and that’s how you build an audience. Mary Alice also posted on the chamber’s Facebook page that the chamber was on Twitter and shared a link, so people on Twitter could choose to follow.

@TheSalinePost was the first Twitter follower of the chamber to Tweet back, welcoming the chamber to the Twitterverse. I then showed Mary Alice how to “favorite” that particular Tweet. I also showed her the Twitter application on my iPhone, which makes it easier to manage your Twitter account, and I showed her how to direct message someone, retweet, search using @connect and proper use of the #hashtag symbol. I suggested they may want to use #business when Tweeting business news or #SalineMich for Saline news, and always use the @ sign along with a local businesses’ Twitter handle when mentioning them or speaking to them publicly.

The process wasn’t without a few snafus, however. For some reason, even though we went through the steps, we couldn’t get the chamber’s Facebook page to link properly to Twitter, so that the message will be Tweeted out every time they post on Facebook. I told Mary Alice, it could be she  just needed to close the pages and reboot, so she will try later on her own. Also, the chamber’s logo with the name is rectangular and Twitter requires a square logo. We were able to use a square image of the swirl from the original logo, and I suggested Mary Alice ask chamber member DesignHub to create a Twitter background with the chamber’s full logo.

I was glad to help the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce establish a new marketing/promotional tool and, hopefully, I was able to share enough information about Twitter that they understand the value moving forward. I suggested they could Tweet out information about chamber events, community events, and feature a business each day.  They could share links to local businesses’ websites, Facebook pages and Twitter pages, as well as share photos via TweetPic, There are so many ways for a local chamber to build and connect with their audience on social media. I am excited for the chamber to embrace Twitter, start conversations on it and continue the chamber’s efforts as a cheerleader and advocate for local businesses.

Preparing a PowerPoint for a Community Media Lab workshop

As the founder of the Community Media Lab, it’s about time that I led a workshop and shared my excitement about the free technology tools I have learned as a member of the Journal Register Company’s ideaLab.

I have volunteered to teach “Contributing community content in different ways” from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 12 at the lab, 215 W. MichigaPowerPointCovern Ave., in Ypsilanti. My focus will be on sharing free media technology tools that will enhance storytelling in visually interesting ways. I will  showcase Flickr for photo slideshows, ManyEyes for data visualization elements, Scribd to embed documents, ipadio and Google Voice for audio embeds, Animoto and YouTube for video sharing, Survey Monkey for crowdsourcing, uStream for livestreaming video, CoverItLive for live chats, and Capzles and Dipity for timelines, as well as other tools. I also plan to share tips on what editors are looking for, and how to package your submissions and promote your content on social media once it has been posted online.

On Friday, I spent some of my time with Community Media Lab supporter Chris Wechner, an Internet marketing specialist who has been using our free services and giving back by helping me brainstorm ways to promote and market the lab. I showed him my PowerPoint in its early stages and he gave me some tips on improving it. Since it’s my first PowerPoint, I appreciate all the help I can get. In addition to helping me utilize some of the PowerPoint tools to enhance my presentation, he offered me tips over the weekend on presenting next week. He has delivered many presentations and I value his advice.

Chris joins a small-but-very-dedicated posse of supporters that also includes community blogger Bob Cummings, EMU professors Michael McVey, Nancy Copeland, Toni Jones, Anne Bedar and Carol Schlagheck, Eastern Echo adviser Kevin Devine, freelance editor and journalist Sarah Rigg, and social media maven Leslie McGraw. All have volunteered their time to help make the Community Media Lab a success. I will be drawing on the goodwill of these individuals, as well as some other colleagues and local professionals, to teach workshops in January and February. Please look to our Facebook page for future workshops, and remember that the Community Media Lab is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. You are welcome to come in for one-on-one instruction on anything from setting up a social media account or blog to editing a video or photo slideshow, to tips on writing a news release.

As always, I appreciate your comments and ideas. Feel free to reach out to me, Michelle Rogers, at

EMU’s Educational Media and Technology Dept. adopts Community Media Lab

Shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday, I received an email from Eastern Michigan University professor Michael McVey. It was just three sentences long, but those three sentences will result in an exciting opportunity for the Community Media Lab that will help shape its future.

We had a meeting of my program today and we would like to adopt the Ypsilanti Community Lab and run regular series of workshops: Audacity, blog basics, and video editing. I suggested a few of us do a road trip tomorrow to check it out. –Michael M

And, sure enough and true to his word, on Friday, while I was in the Community Media Lab, Michael and two colleagues from Eastern Michigan University’s Educational Media and Technology Department stopped in for a tour and to chat about a partnership — or, as Michael puts it, their “adoption” of the Community Media Lab. Professors Toni Stokes Jones and Nancy Copeland shared their excitement about teaching a variety of workshops, and suggested I survey our readers to prioritize which workshops to offer first. From editing video and audio to designing wikis to building web pages and creating surveys using Google Docs to conducting workshops on productivity software such as Office, Excel, PowerPoint and Prezi, they are willing to teach it all.

Their visit was the highlight of my day at the Community Media Lab. As they left, I asked Michael to send me an email noting their intentions so I could share it on my blog. Here’s what he came up with:

In an effort to become more engaged with the Ypsilanti community, home to Eastern Michigan University, faculty from the Educational Media and Technology program offered to help with the Ypsilanti Community Media Lab in any way they could. During a recent visit to the location, faculty members Nancy Copeland, Toni Stokes Jones, and Michael McVey (also an occasional columnist for us) expressed an interest in running workshops on blog development, podcasting, video editing, using Google Docs for collaborative writing, and making online surveys. As part of  the College of Education, the EDMT program helps to train new teachers in the use of new and emerging technologies in the classroom. They also run an online master’s degree program.

Now it’s my job to create and distribute a survey to discover what potential participants will be interested in so we can start taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity. I plan to use Survey Monkey, but here’s one using Poll Daddy.


Making friends at the Community Media Lab

While most of my time at the Community Media Lab today was spent editing stories, sizing photos for the website and posting content online, I did have two visitors — one scheduled and one surprise. A second scheduled meeting was a no-show, but my surprise visitor more than made up for the disappointment.

Ed Vielmetti, former lead blogger for and an editor for ArborWiki, who wears many other hats and has so many interests that it can be quite overwhelming getting up to speed on all of them, was my surprise visitor. He wandered into the SPARK-East building looking to update the business incubator’s information on ArborWiki. He introduced himself to me, while I worked in the lobby area that we use for our Community Media Lab, and our conversation took an interesting and exciting turn as we talked about possible partnerships. From adding his blog to our blog roll to teaching a workshop, Ed seemed enthusiastic about my suggestions on how he could become involved in the Community Media Lab. In particular, I would love to see him teach a workshop on how to contribute to ArborWiki and use it as a community resource. My only interaction with

Ed Vielmetti was a visitor Friday at the Heritage Community Media Lab.

ArborWiki has been to update my professional profile, and I never thought of turning to it for photographs or information for Heritage Media. Sometimes, the obvious isn’t so obvious when you’re caught up in your daily grind and routine. All I can say is, Duh!

I hope Ed does lead a workshop because I will be the first to sign up. And I hope he visits the lab more often. Whether it’s to work one-on-one with students or other members of the community or just chat, he is someone we can all learn a lot from. Check out his blog by clicking here.

Rose Martin, former director of Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor and founder of Rose’s Good Company, was my other visitor today. While I have read about Rose’s good deeds for decades, I first talked to her a few months ago after she called me at Heritage Media. I can’t remember exactly what she called for — I a

Rose Martin has her own blog now and absolutely loves it.

m guessing to share some information for a possible story or contribute to our publications — but I do remember suggesting she should start a blog to share her voice, experiences and perspective. She embraced the idea and has been on our blog roll ever since.

Rose came in to thank me for suggesting she become a blogger. I was touched by her words, as she shared with me how much personal satisfaction she gets from it. I am glad to see Rose embrace writing and publishing in the digital age. We talked about her work with Rose’s Good Company and, as a result, I see so much more potential for her to share stories. But, most importantly, I think we need to develop ways to promote her blog. We talked about her returning to the Community Media Lab, so we can help her set up a Twitter account. She already is on Facebook and has a website. Twitter is the next logical step.

I return to the Community Media Lab next Friday, and I look forward to making new friends and helping people share their voice, skills and talent. I have found that I usually learn as much from them — and sometimes more — as they learn from me.

Homeschool Kids in the Media Lab

Today I had a blast in the Community Media Lab working with Rita Fischer and her two sons, D.J. and Rigglee, who are homeschooled. The family volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol Michigan Wing and wanted to set up a blog about their adventures. We set up an account for them on WordPress, where they filled out profile information, uploaded aerial photos of the Dexter tornado aftermath and added contributors to the blog. The blog will be a great outlet for them to share their experiences with people who may not be familiar with the Civil Air Patrol and its mission. We may add the blog to our blog roll at after they finetune it. I also suggested they set up a Twitter account to help publicize it. They plan to return soon to the Community Media Lab, and I look forward to working with them. It’s exciting to see kids energized about technology and ways to communicate with the world, while also creating a space where they can express their ideas and share their passions and skills. Check out their blog and amazing photos of Dexter, Mich.

On April 13, I helped the Fischer family set up a blog.