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.


Surveys and focus group show readers want to contribute and share content


A focus group held April 17 at The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich., and a survey used to learn readers’ thoughts on the newspaper and website, use of social media and interest in contributing content have netted some interesting feedback that shows, of the readers who responded, most want to contribute community content and share local news links on social media.

A total of 19 people attended the focus group, 11 filled out a survey on site and 31 people responded to the survey online. The online survey was promoted through a NewHive expression, which had 180 views, with 77 views coming through a link, shared on Facebook and Twitter. There were 44 clicks, and 30 responses, on a link to the questionnaire, which was hosted on SurveyMonkey.

Of the readers who participated in our survey, 65 percent said they consume their news both online and in print. Just 12.5 percent said exclusively online and 22.5 percent said only in print. Most, nearly 61 percent, said they want a mix of county, state and national news, while 31.7 percent said state and county, and only 7.3 percent said community specific.

A total of 24 respondents, or 75 percent, said they watch video on our website, 59.3 percent click on hyperlinks, 50 percent want to see timelines, 46.8 percent participate in online polls, 43.7 percent read blogs linked on our website, 37.5 percent appreciate locator maps and 37.5 percent would like to listen to audiocasts.

What’s exciting is 48.7 percent of the respondents are interested in contributing content to The Oakland Press and 41.4 percent said they may be interested if they felt it was important. Only 9.7 percent said they were not interested. Of those respondents, the majority felt comfortable contributing community news and guest columns (56.25 percent), 40.6 percent would submit an item for the community calendar, an equal number felt comfortable sharing photographs of school and community events or share story ideas (37.5 percent), 15.6 percent are interested in becoming blogging partners with The Oakland Press, 12.5 percent would be interested in shooting local video and submitting it, and 9.3 percent would share sports news.

Contribute to The Oakland Press

The folks who took the poll are active on social media. A total 63.1 percent said they actively share news links, 26.3 percent said they are not active on social media and 10.5 percent said they are active but rarely share news links. Facebook is their No. 1 social media channel, with 93.5 percent using it, followed by 54.8 percent on Twitter, 48.3 percent on LinkedIn, 25.8 percent on both Pinterest and Google+, 16.1 percent on Blogger and 12.9 percent on Instagram.

When asked what keeps them coming to The Oakland Press website, the majority (89.4 percent) said local news, followed by county news at 73.6 percent, features and human interest stories at 52.6 percent and state news at 44.7 percent. Information on events attracted 42.1 percent of the respondents, followed by crime and entertainment news (28.9 percent) and court news at 18.4 percent. The video-based news webcast “News at Noon” attracts 15.7 percent, or six of the 42 respondents, the same number of people who said they come to the website to read blogs.

What you like to read

When asked what The Oakland Press needed to improve on, one respondent suggested a government page showing how our leaders have voted and their attendance record. Another suggested more information about amendments to the U.S. Constitution with information on when and why they were adopted. Another said more news about Pontiac is needed and one other responded that coverage of local and countywide news could improve. One loyal reader who attended the focus group said she wanted to see more letters to the editor in print and wanted the Mallard Fillmore cartoons banned. Another member of the focus group asked that the TV Guide page be printed again daily.

“Don’t ask fluffy questions on social media like, ‘What are you doing today?’ People are dumb enough to say, ‘I am going on vacation (please steal from my home),” one person stated in a response to what The Oakland Press could improve on.

“Provide more news, particularly coverage of positive local school and community news. Stop allowing anonymous comments on the web. Require those individuals to be accountable for their comments. Too easy for individuals to make derogatory remarks,” another stated in the online survey.

That Waterford resident’s comments were echoed by the majority of the focus group members, as well, who don’t like anonymous comments from “Sound Off” used in print.

A Pontiac resident noted in the online survey that The Oakland Press should include more outdoors sports news. “Outdoor sports are almost non-existent in your paper. It used to show photos of kids’ first large fish. I would like to see an outdoors section in every edition or on Sundays at least. Not just a page and a larger font.”

Another reader said she would like to see more positive stories about the community, people and events, while a Waterford respondent said the paper needs to report more news. “Stop the ‘action news’ style videos at noon,” another wrote. “Make stories easier to find on web pages instead of having to type in search to locate it.”

Others said The Oakland Press needed to improve on accuracy, grammar and spelling, and reporting more local news, sharing more posts on Facebook and coverage of business.

A reader in West Bloomfield wrote, “There is nothing wrong with The Oakland Press that more journalists doing more stories with more time wouldn’t fix.”

“Provide more coverage of Oakland County, especially Pontiac,” a Bloomfield Township resident wrote. “Write news stories which are longer than three sentences. Do not repost the same story day after day on your website.”

Another wrote, “Remove the government bias and start reporting. Look at Ben Swann in Cincinnati. By creating a liberty-oriented crowd, he has grown many followers and supporters. I canceled the OP years go because of the socialist articles by Bill Press and similar authors.”

A Rochester Hills resident said, “National politics seems to be lacking. I watch national news pretty regularly and TV snippets don’t often tell the whole story. The brief selection of AP stories leaves a lot to be desired.”

Surprisingly, only 15.8 percent of the respondents had heard of MiPrepZone/Oakland and 79.5 percent had not heard of the Southeast Michigan Media Lab affiliated with The Oakland Press. A total of 48.7 percent had watched “News at Noon,” the online news webcast produced by the newspaper’s staff, and 23 percent had never heard of it. Another 28.2 percent had heard of it, but hadn’t watched it.

So what do the survey takers think The Oakland Press is doing right? Listening to the community, and writing stories about community issues and events were among the responses. Sunday coverage of local parks and professional sports teams, as well as delivery service, working with community groups, sharing news on social media, “News at Noon,” local sports, school news, crime news and human interest stories were also cited.

“There are a wide variety of stories on different topics and focused in different cities, not just specific cities,” a Waterford resident noted on her survey.

One enthusiastic respondent said in response to the question “What are we doing well?” “Everything — and then some. All of you! And I thank you. Reading my Oak Press is primary for me!”

A West Bloomfield resident also noted her appreciation, saying, “Not many newspapers are still in print, let alone seven days a week!”

Monica Drake is spending time in the Southeast Michigan Media Lab

Monica Drake, the community engagement editor at The Oakland Press, part of Journal Register Company’s Michigan Group, is now joining the Southeast Michigan Media Lab on Mondays. She is a great addition to the lab, and offers expert advice on search engine optimization to bloggers and business owners with websites, and can talk to bloggers about how they can monetize their blogs

Monica Drake

Monica Drake

using Google AdSense.  Make an appointment at the lab or come see Monica between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays.

Today at the lab, we worked on setting up a reader focus group for The Oakland Press and Monica began experimenting with the cloud-based presentation tool Prezi. If you haven’t seen this tool in action, you’re missing out. It’s truly awe-inspiring, and Monica plans to master it and teach it in the lab. In addition to the presentation, we will have a survey for readers to fill out in person and another version online compiled using the digital tool SurveyMonkey.

Also today, we reached out on Facebook to student newspapers and area colleges and universities, sharing information about the Southeast Michigan Media Lab via a PowerPoint link on Scribd and encouraging students to come in for free assistance. We also reached out to The Oakland Press and Macomb Daily/Royal Oak Tribune blogger groups on Facebook, and individual blogger prospects. We’ve added four new bloggers in the last two weeks and we’re working with eight others to get them linked to our news websites across Michigan. If you have a blog or are interested in starting one, please let us know. We would like to recruit 100 in the next year.

We also have plans to present on the Southeast Michigan Media Lab March 22 at Saline High School in hopes of recruiting students for blogging and news-sharing partnerships. The opportunity will be a great learning experience for them, as well as a way to build their portfolios before they head off to college. We’ve also reached out to officials at Belleville and Willow Run schools, and would like to make contact with students across Southeast Michigan.

Three upcoming workshops are planned at the media lab, so mark your calendars. Chris Wechner, director of The Ultimate Analyst, will present “Marketing blogs so people know and want to read your posts” from 1 to 3 p.m. March 28; Monica Drake will present “Understanding Search Engine Optimization to help drive more traffic to your blog or website” from 6 to 8 p.m. April 11; and Toni Jones, a professor at Eastern Michigan University, will present on Google Drive from 6 to 8 p.m. April 24 at the media lab, 215 W. Michigan Ave., in the SPARK-East building in Ypsilanti. Sign up on our Facebook events page.