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


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 or email him at 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

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

Making yourself marketable in journalism today

The Southeast Michigan Community Media Lab is located at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti at SPARK-East. It's a free resource for journalists, students and the public.

The Southeast Michigan Community Media Lab is located at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti at SPARK-East. It’s a free resource for journalists, students and the public.

A reporter I had hired to cover sports and write news a few years ago — but who then left for another media company — contacted me last week and wanted to meet. I knew he had been laid off from the company he had left for, but he had rebounded and was hired by a daily near his home. I assumed he wanted to visit me at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab to learn some new skills he could apply in his relatively new position.

I was surprised, however, when he told me that after just a few months he had been laid off from the second company. I shouldn’t have been too surprised, though, given the state of the industry and after going through our parent company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy (twice). Since emerging from bankruptcy, the company I work for has been working hard to change the culture of our newsrooms, encouraging reporters to embrace digital media and the tools that can generate content to complement their storytelling while helping to share it with a wider audience. But not all companies have been as successful, including, I suspect, the two that had let go of this reporter, as he told me that neither was using social media and digital media tools to the extent we and other leading media companies were.

As we talked, I saw that he wasn’t there to learn as much as he was there to network. He was checking in to let me know he was back on the market and wanted to know if I knew of any job openings in the industry. So, I pointed him toward the Facebook group DFMjournalismcareers and took a look at his resume. The first thing I told him was to ditch the traditional printed resume and copies of his clips, and set up an account at Pressfolio, as it’s made especially for journalists. It’s a nicely designed site that’s easy to navigate. It aggregates all of your clips and you can view it by “section,” such as breaking news, sports, features, and include page design, video and other work. There’s an “about” section and a “skills” section similar to LinkedIn, as well. Its “featured” selection reminds me of the same functionality that I use on to highlight an upcoming workshop.

I also advised the reporter to immediately dump the old flip phone in favor of a smartphone. Every journalist, I told him, has to have a smartphone. In today’s world, it’s more essential than a reporter’s notebook and pen, as it will connect you in real time with your readers, and — bonus — you can take notes with it, and record audio and video.

Until I got my iPhone in 2010, I had no idea what I was missing. Using free apps, I can capture audio for an immediate post on my phonecasting channel at and share videos in real time using Tout and my social media channels to distribute breaking news from the scene. Live tweeting an event, court proceedings and government meetings has become standard practice, just like sharing updates, links and crowdsourcing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. We use Instagram and Pinterest to share photos, and there’s ScribbleLive to update a live blog and uStream to livestream video from a remote location.

Let’s not forget Google Maps to ensure we don’t get lost while driving to the scene of a breaking news story or interview, and the weather app to report on a weather event or check whether you should bring your umbrella. There are a lot more, and I encourage people reading this post to share their favorite apps in the comments section.

At the end of our conversation, I had hoped I got through to this reporter. To be marketable in the field of journalism today you have to be social media and tech savvy. You must master the social media and digital media tools that will aid in your reporting and set you apart from the pack of other laid-off journalists looking for work. Having those skills also will make you competitive with the journalism school graduates who have embraced many of these tools while growing up and those skills have become second nature to them.

This journalist has the reporting chops and source-building skills necessary to succeed. Those are always at the top of any publisher or editor’s list when filling open positions. But if you haven’t figured out how to share video, photos, text or audio from the scene of a breaking news story or crowdsource information using social media, you’re sunk.

Practice makes perfect, I reminded the reporter, so get out there and start playing with some of these tools. Take control of your destiny and grow in this ever-evolving field so that you can continue to do what you love.

Before we parted ways, I handed him a flier listing all of our free workshops he can take advantage of at the media lab to learn some of these skills, and I encouraged him to return for individual instruction, also free. The next workshop is “Using social media to engage your audience,” and it will be taught by Eastern Michigan University professor Gina Luttrell.

Now, let’s see if he shows up.

I am crossing my fingers — and toes.

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 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.

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 bloggers pursue their passions

AdriannaBlogWhen Adrianna Lypecky entered through the doors of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab in Ypsilanti yesterday, it was like a ray of sunshine peeking through the heavy Michigan clouds we’ve become accustomed to this winter. She was bubbly and excited to be there, and grateful for the help. A travel blogger linked at The News-Herald and Press & Guide websites, she was relatively new to the Blogger platform and was looking for design help.

And that’s where Monica Drake, community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, came in handy.

I had been in e-mail contact with Adrianna. She was looking for some feedback on her blog, and I gave it to her. I wrote:

Add hyperlinks to places you reference — beaches, hotels, restaurants, landmarks, etc.
Add locator map embeds
Include photo galleries or photo slideshows
Incorporate YouTube videos of these destinations
Ask readers questions such as have they been there or ask them about their favorite destinations. Start a conversation. Get some comments.
Encourage readers to share your posts on social media. You should be sharing them on all of your social media channels, as well. Feel free to post a link on all of our channels.
Include an “About Me” page so readers can relate to you as a person. Give your background and explain what qualifies you as an expert in travel.
Suggestions on changes: Eliminate all the white space around photos and text, and stay with one color of type/text. It looks a little crazy.
I like the recipes from the different locales. Great idea. I also like that you blog more regularly than some, but keep in mind our goal is three per week.
You may want to look into the different templates Blogger offers and find one that better suits your goals.
You can call me if you want to talk more.
But sometimes when people ask for help, they don’t really want it. They want to hear you say great things about whatever they’ve produced. But Adrianna was different, and her sincerity was apparent in her reply.
Thanks ever so much for all your suggestions. I really appreciate it. Is there any chance that I could meet you at your office in Ypsilanti and go over the details in person? It would be much better to meet one on one rather than talking via the phone.
Please let me know if this is at all possible. 
I really want to make my blog much more dynamite and entertaining. With your assistance I think I can make major improvements which will give me more enthusiasm to be creative and inventive. I do need some pointers on how to use software so that the blog is more eye catching.
I thank you for your assistance and hope that sometime in the near future I can meet with you so that you can help me make my blog reader friendly.

So, of course, I welcomed Adrianna to the media lab and introduced her to Monica, who knows Blogger like the back of her hand. In the next two hours, Monica helped transform Adrianna’s blog into a visually-appealing site, with a custom header that featured a photo reel of Adrianna’s travels and the name of her blog at the top, a new background photo, a new template and layout, incorporated some of Adrianna’s videos, made her “about me” box more prominent, and she linked Adrianna’s Twitter and Facebook feed to the blog.

In addition to Adrianna, Paul Rodman, a regular gardening columnist at The News-Herald in Southgate, came in after I approached him about turning his print column into an interactive blog. He, too, was excited about the prospect of going digital. Paul understood the value of digital, which will enable him to add hyperlinks and embeds of documents, photos, videos and information he is referencing. His newspaper column is called DigIt and he’s thinking about calling the blog DigIt Digital.

Paul’s visit was short. We talked about the various blogging platforms available and decided on Blogger. He then set up an account and decided he wanted to go home to digest all of the information before getting started. The plan is for him to start posting his weekly column, as well as a photo, video, aggregated content or a tip from him twice during the week.

One of the perks of working in the media lab is helping others pursue their passions, and discover how much fun it’s to express their creativity on a digital platform, where they can add all kinds of bells and whistles, interact with their audience in real time, and reach a wider audience from all over the world that they couldn’t have reached in print.