Working with WordPress

One of my assignments for my Digital Communication Systems class is to review my experience working with WordPress. I started my WordPress blog HildysHub in the summer of 2013. (Unfortunately I have been inconsistent with posting on it. ) Going into it was a little daunting since I can sometimes be a bit of a luddite.

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I recall the initial set up was fairly user friendly, but I also remember spending quite a bit of time the first few days learning all the bells and whistles. I put a lot of thought into picking out a theme and I’m still happy with the design I chose. (It’s called the Esquire theme.) I like the white background and the color accents of yellow and red. I think the titles of the posts stand out nicely and I like the pop of red on the first letter of the beginning paragraph. Overall it has a clean look.

 

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WordPress menu bar

Creating posts is a very user friendly experience due to the menu bar. It is easy to navigate with self explanatory visual symbols. Another key feature is that the post is continuously being saved so there is no worry of losing your work.

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WordPress automatic draft save

An important feature that was added since I joined is the multiple preview option where a post is sized for a computer, tablet or mobile device.

My biggest challenge – and sometimes continues to be – is sizing photos and graph images. I think if I was more consistent with posting I would eventually figure out the learning curve on this.

As for whether or not WordPress is only for small blogs, I think that has already been discounted. WPBeginner wrote an article in 2014 listing 40 notable brands that use WordPress for their website, including TechCrunch, The New Yorker and Best Buy. It’s not just for bloggers.

 

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Example of a website powered by WordPress

 

I would definitely recommend WordPress for anyone considering starting a website both big and small.

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Digital and Advertising

This week’s class discussion and coursework focused on the effect of digital on advertising. The conversation got me thinking about commercials.

In the past two years, I have significantly cut back on watching live broadcast television and instead view most programs online on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. This has significantly changed my commercial viewing experience.

In some ways, online commercials give viewers more control over their advertising experience. Then again, maybe it’s the illusion of control. Many of the videos I watch on YouTube begin with an advertisement, but after a certain number of seconds give the option to skip the ad. That’s not always the case when I view videos on other websites where I am required to watch an entire commercial before being able to view the video content. Sometimes I don’t bother watching the content if I don’t have the patience to sit through the commercial.

hulu-fitts-law

When I watch Hulu I am often given the option to choose my ad experience. Three commercials are offered with the instruction to pick one. I suspect most people are like me and just randomly choose an ad without giving it much consideration. So much for data mining. Hulu also offers an extended ad experience at the beginning of a program allowing the viewer to watch the show without commercial interruption.

What does all this mean for advertising? Brands have only seconds to capture a user’s attention according to this Inc. article:

Your advertising efforts ultimately boil down to the first five seconds. In these crucial moments, consumers decide whether they’ll buy into your brand or check out completely. After that, engagement drops drastically.

It’s funny to note I have been watching the 1960’s series Route 66 on Hulu. Chevrolet was the main commercial sponsor of the series back then and the program includes the old advertisements. These commercials are quite long compared to today’s ads, yet I happily sit through them and find them fascinating to watch. Go figure.

Speaking of old commercials, a political ad from 1964 recently resurfaced titled “Confessions of a Republican”. The actor in the ad plays a republican who is conflicted about voting for Barry Goldwater saying, “This man scares me.” The video, which has received more than 11 million views on Facebook, makes comparisons to some voters unease with Donald Trump’s run for the White House. It’s rather ironic that a fifty-year-old television advertisement can still connect with an audience as well as go viral over the internet.

 

 

Disruption

Our class coursework and discussion this week focused on how the digital world has disrupted journalism. I have had a front-row seat to these changes.

When I attended undergraduate school for journalism 30 years ago, I was told to choose wisely when considering my area of concentration. The options at the time were print, radio, magazine, or broadcast. It was made clear that once I chose a specialty, there would not be an opportunity to cross over. That all changed within a few years of graduation.

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photo: Casey Marshall / Creative Commons

Digital transformed the industry not only through technology but also through the means by which to create and communicate a story.  It was clear the field of communications was rapidly changing, requiring knowledge in all aspects and forms of storytelling.

Digital technology also changed the competition. Television news outlets were no longer just competing with other cable and network broadcasts. At first, it was websites and blogs featuring slideshows, infographics, podcasts and streaming video. Once social media took hold, we were also competing with citizen journalists.

These changes required us to understand our audience better. Viewers were turning off their televisions in favor of their mobile devices. The grip of digital technology on attention spans created a difficult challenge in television news and transformed how we informed and interacted with an audience.

Our class discussion focused not only on disruption but also on the effect digital has had on journalistic values. One of those values was the time devoted to telling a story. At one point in my producing career, a five-minute video story was common. But over the years, the average running time for a video story has been whittled down to about ninety seconds. Somehow we convinced ourselves those three and a half extra minutes of story time didn’t matter.

Less value was also placed on original reporting. Provocative headlines brought in higher ratings and became the driving force of many news programs.

One of my own personal experiences with journalistic values had to do with my final days at CNN. The program I worked on had been canceled and I met with the young EP who had been hired to launch a new morning show. I was on the fence about whether it was time to move on and the answer became clear after I asked him what types of stories I would be producing. At the time, Justin Bieber had abandoned his pet monkey in Germany and the EP used it as an example of a jumping off point for a story about celebrities and their unusual pets.

I realized at that moment that I wasn’t making a decision to quit the industry. It had already quit me.

 

 

Back to Earth

Last night’s class discussion focused on big data and how it has disrupted the status quo of what was once considered normal. We examined its effect on banking, education, health and fitness, and retail. Needless to say, big data has transformed all of these industries and our lives in both structured and unstructured ways.

While I’m supposed to be reflecting on our class discussion, what stuck with me from last night is what happened after class ended. I decided to watch the livestream of astronaut Scott Kelly’s return to earth onboard the Soyuz space capsule.

scott kelly

NASA/Bill Ingalls

After all these years I had grown used to NASA’s space shuttles using aircraft technology to land on a runway. Spectators and the media would view and report from a safe distance.

Watching the Soyuz capsule parachute out of the sky and land on a barren field in Khazikstan brought back memories of the early years of the Apollo missions when command modules re-entered the earth by splashing down into the ocean. For all the talk about recent technology transforming our lives, it’s interesting to note the Soyuz spacecraft hasn’t disrupted the status quo. It really hasn’t changed much over the past 50 years. A BBC news article  refers to the Soyuz as “the space equivalent of a white van or pick-up truck. It’s built to do a job.” Meanwhile, NASA’s space shuttles have been retired.

It wasn’t just the Soyuz that fascinated me. Once on the ground, Commander Kelly and the cosmonauts were physically pulled from the capsule which was completely surrounded by photographers and videographers. As soon as each man was pulled out he was carried over to a nearby recliner and wrapped in a blanket. One of the cosmonauts looked slightly motion sick.

While Scott Kelly kept saying how amazing the fresh air felt,  I kept thinking there is something so delightfully refreshing yet old school about watching this. There were no press ropes keeping the photographers at bay. There were no specially designed images or messages. It was just three space travelers sitting in recliners out in an open field for all the world to see.

It made me realize sometimes transformation can be overrated.

 

 

Online Privacy in the Digital Age

This week’s class discussion kept circling back to one big question – is there a reasonable assumption of privacy in a digital era? The short answer is “no”.

Between openly sharing our lives on social media sites and digital tracking becoming more sophisticated, most of the public’s online information is there for the taking.

It’s not that we don’t try to protect ourselves. According to a Pew Research Center study on privacy in America, 86% of internet users have tried to use the internet in ways to minimize the visibility of their digital footprints.

online visibility

While we may make an effort to control our online information, the Pew study also shows 59% of internet users do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online.

Rami Essaid, CEO and co-founder of Distil Networks says this is the price we pay for a richer and more convenient online experience. He believes the real question is not about an assumption of online privacy, but instead about transparency.  Here’s what he wrote about the topic in TechCrunch:

The fight should be about bringing tracking out of the murky shadows and into the sunshine of full disclosure. The Internet public has a right to know the “Five W’s” of tracking at every site they visit: Who is tracking me, what are they doing with the information, where, when and why?

Essaid says this would give people the power to decide what information they are comfortable sharing and would serve as a self-correcting market force, giving sites a blueprint to follow of what the online public considers an appropriate level of data tracking.

It’s an interesting concept.

 

 

 

 

Digital Fast

Remember when people use to give up chocolate for Lent? That’s so last century. After class last night, I went on Facebook for a quick look and a couple of friends posted they are giving up the social media site for Lent.

I have noticed the past few years that taking a fast from social media has become a common trend among some of my friends. The period of time can vary. Some people pick Lent, others the first month of the new year and still others choose to take a break during the summer. No matter what time of year, it seems the overall desire is to step away from the computer and use the time to connect with the real world. But eventually, they all come back again.

 

photo: Sean MacEntee / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

 

I recently had my own insight into how much time I spend on social media. Our coursework this week included an assignment to keep a digital diary for a 24 hour period of time. This not only included time spent on social media, but also the overall amount of time we spend on our computers, tablets, smartphones, televisions, radios and any other digital devices that are now part of our daily lives. At the end, we each tallied up the total number of hours we use these devices.

Our class as a whole ranged from about 6 hours to 17 hours. I ended up on the low end at just over 7 hours. I think my number would have been closer to 9 hours if I had picked a day that didn’t start with an early morning meeting outside my office.

I don’t think I felt as surprised about the amount of time I spend using digital devices as many of my classmates did. My job requires me to either be on the computer or using other media related technology throughout the day. I’m okay with the fact that these devices and the internet are a big part of my life. Much of this digital technology either keeps me informed or more easily connects me to colleagues, friends and family. It also helps make my work a lot easier.

My digital diary for that particular day showed I was on Facebook for about a total of 25 minutes. Is that excessive? I don’t think so.

This is not to say I never find myself falling down the rabbit hole of mindless internet surfing or wasting time on social media. But I have become more aware of when I’m doing it and make a point of trying to be more intentional when I am online.

I also don’t feel the need to take my iPhone everywhere I go. Three years ago when I left my television news job I was convinced I would go through withdrawal when I handed back the company Blackberry. That didn’t happen. Instead, I felt a sense of freedom from being tethered to the device and didn’t miss it one bit.

In the end, I found the digital diary exercise interesting. But I don’t see myself taking a fast from my digital life anytime soon. Or giving up chocolate.

 

 

Beyond Facebook and Twitter

Our class this week took a deep dive into the multitude of social media platforms that are now a part of our everyday lives. I have to admit it came as a surprise to me how many different platforms are out there. 

A great illustration that was part of our discussion is this chart called the Conversation Prism. It’s a visual map of the social media landscape and was first created in 2008 by digital analyst Brian Solis. The prism, which continues to be updated, tracks the latest in social media platforms and organizes them by category.

The Conversation Prism / Brian Solis + JESS3

The Conversation Prism / Brian Solis + JESS3

Once I started exploring it I realized how much my engagement with social media goes beyond the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s staggering to think how many of these platforms have become a part of our lives in a short span of time.

A recent Pew Research Center study shows 65% of American adults use social networking sites. That’s almost a tenfold increase since 2005.

source: Pew Research Center

source: Pew Research Center

During our class discussion, each of us did an analysis of a social media platform. Some of them were familiar to me like Yelp, Reddit and Snapchat. But others were new including a photography blog called Strobist, an online image sharing community called Imgur and a Q & A website organized by a community of users called Quora.

After each presentation, I thought, “I’d like to try that platform”, but the reality is all these social media options are starting to feel like an all you can eat buffet. At some point, you have to push yourself away from the table.

A second look at the Pew graphic shows a similar reflection. While the number of users shot up over the past decade, the overall number of users of social networking sites has leveled off since 2013. As the saying goes, “All good things in moderation”.

The Future is Now

We had some fun during this week’s class when we went into the “wayback machine” and took a look at a Newsweek article from 1995 about the internet.

It was originally titled, “The Internet? Bah!” and in recent years updated online to “Why the Web Won’t be Nirvana.” The author, Clifford Stoll, a computer expert, gives his assessment of the burgeoning technology calling it both “trendy” and “oversold”.  

See into the Future / photo:  Christian Weidinger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

See into the Future / photo: Christian Weidinger / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode

While visionaries at the time predicted a future including telecommuting, virtual communities and online shopping, Stoll wasn’t buying it. He couldn’t imagine an online data base taking the place of newspapers, books and even a trip to the mall.

It’s easy to laugh at his lack of foresight, but can we even fathom where this technology is headed? Look at how the predictions Stoll wrote about actually became a reality in just twenty years. The technology continues to evolve at an amazing pace and it is transforming our lives both at work and home.

This transformation has been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and is the theme at this year’s World Economic Forum.

4th-industrial-revolution1

The Forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab has written,

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

The visionaries of today predict the rise of robots and artificial intelligence which will reduce the need for human intervention. They say this will have all kinds of implications in business, government and how we as humans interact with each other.

You don’t need to be Clifford Stoll to feel a little overwhelmed trying to wrap your head around that.

We interrupt this blog…

The big news story in my world is that I started graduate school this month at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. So for the time being this blog will expand beyond issues about women in media and instead I’ll be using it to reflect on the coursework and classroom discussions from my Introduction to Digital Communications class.

Our first topic out the gate is digital convergence. The part of our class discussion that I would like to focus on is the effect it has had on television news media. Digital convergence changed everything from the technology used to report a story to how the actual news is being reported.

Imagine a newsroom with people banging out scripts on typewriters and ripping copy off of newswire machines. Yes kids, that’s what a newsroom looked like thirty years ago when I started my first job at ABC’s Good Morning America. While my career began at the tail end of the IBM Selectric phase, it was not long before the first computers were introduced into the office. These machines mostly functioned as word processors and we had to share them.

As the years went on there were more technological developments with fax machines, email and even early cell phones which were about the size of a brick. All of these devices made our jobs easier and delivered the news more efficiently, but did it make us better reporters?

Part of our class discussion touched on the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the effect it has had on in-depth news reporting. Some said they no longer trust broadcast news organizations and that the public now needs to do a lot of the digging in order to get the full story.

This made me think about how my job as a producer changed overtime. In the early part of my career as an associate producer, we often took weeks to research special series. I recall spending many hours on the phone talking to experts and sources to research and set up stories. It was not uncommon to be sent to the town or city where the story was taking place to do some of this research in person before shooting any footage.

All of this dramatically changed in the mid 1990s when the internet made its way into the newsroom. Suddenly there was a trove of information at our fingertips. This instant access accelerated the speed at which we turned stories and reported the news. But while the internet made us feel more globally connected, it also seemed to keep us tethered to our desks.

The new century brought with it new competition. Networks and cable stations not only had to vie for viewers with other broadcast outlets, but also on the internet. Consumers were looking elsewhere for their news including online media outlets and social media. The popularity of smart phone technology led to a whole new dynamic in the flow of information and diminished attention spans. The industry turned to talk-oriented shows filled with opinions and commentary and wall-to-wall coverage of big news stories to grab the attention of viewers. Today “breaking news” is the mantra of the broadcast industry, but I think some in my class would say “broken news” is a more accurate description.

Christiane Amanpour makes headlines just by speaking up

An interesting on-air exchange took place yesterday at CNN between chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and anchor Wolf Blitzer.

Of course what followed were these headlines:

Christiane Amanpour Snaps At Wolf Blitzer Over CNN Ukraine Coverage

 

Christiane Amanpour Scolds Wolf Blitzer: ‘You Have To Be Really Careful’ About Ukraine Facts

 

CNN’s Amanpour Battles with Blitzer and Guest over Allegations of Anti-Semitism in Ukraine

Snap? Scold? Battle? Oh my. That doesn’t sound very ladylike.

I don’t mean to get all Sheryl Sandberg on you here… oh hell, maybe I do…

It’s worth pointing out to all of us women that what Amanpour did was assert herself in her area of expertise. Amanpour reminded her colleague of CNN’s journalistic responsibility in reporting on events in the Ukraine. Yes, she raised her voice as did Blitzer, but it never got unprofessional.

I know for many women, including me, speaking up to a male colleague is not always easy.  I’m going to keep this exchange in mind the next time I find myself hesitating to speak up. I hope you will too.

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