In 2000, I invented a database that would automate the job that TV producers perform in newsrooms. An algorithm would choose the stories a viewer would watch based on preferences and past viewing history. I prototyped the database and content with my students. I abandoned the project after realizing that Internet video was developing slower than expected and that the networks were not interested in customized newscasts because of the way advertising was structured. I was delighted in 2006 when YouTube emerged with suggested playlists for individual users, a development that is similar to what I tried to create six years earlier.
Storytelling for iPad
Storytelling for iPad
I worked with the beta of Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), an extension to the InDesign application. DPS includes a suite of tools that make digital magazines interactive, including videos, scrolling images and VR. In spring 2011, I worked with students to develop a magazine called Mass Hands that celebrated master craftsmanship. I successfully published apps with Adobe DPS on Apple, Android and Blackberry marketplaces, making Emerson Journalism the first program of its kind to distribute using DPS.
In January 2012, Apple introduced the iBooks Author application for publishing content for iPad. My students and I developed a YouTube channel called DIYJourno to document the software. It quickly became the most popular way to learn how to use iBooks Author. We published our first book called Mass Perfection in April 2012. Since then, I have worked on at least two books with students each year.
Social Network Analysis
Social Network Analysis
While modding a PC in 2005, I recognized that 64bit computing was about to go mainstream. This change in processor and memory architecture would solve a fundamental problem in social network analysis (SNA). Network data expands exponentially as more nodes are added, making the study of large networks difficult and hindering progress in SNA. Newer, cheaper 64bit processors in 2005 dramatically increased the amount of nodes of information analysts could track, making it easier to observe patterns and correlate events. This change in technology is the core reason why social media and the big data movement blossomed after 2005.
In December 2005, I ran an experiment with a group of graduate students to use the snowballing method to map how news spreads within a neighborhood. This started a project called bostonchinatown.org, which was a social map, database and a vlog about Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Bostonchinatown.org launched in December 2005. It was cited by the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next study. The site was honored by the Knight Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism 2007. And, it was a finalist for the AEJMC Great Ideas for Teachers Award 2007.
Article on BostonChinatown.org in Convergence Newsletter.
Putting Open Source Tools to Work for Community Reporting by Tom Johnson
In 2006, I saw a Sony GPS logger at a trade show, and it captured my imagination about how geotagging might change visual storytelling. In 2008, I brought 33 students to work at the Beijing Olympic Games, and I conceived a project where we would strap GPS loggers to student backpacks and match their photos and text messages to their location. The project was calledEmerson in Beijing. Later I worked on another geotagged story with students about a trend toward cash-only stores in downtown Boston.
In the early days of geotagging, a separate device would log your position and a software app would match the time stamp on a photo with the GPS log. Today, the process is automated within every smartphone.
Open Source Social Media Campaign
Open Source Social Media Campaign
The Great Northeastern Japan Earthquake on 3/11/2011 captured my heart. The images of the tsunami engulfing Sendai and Ishinomaki were at such a scale that the waves seemed to approach in slow motion until the water smashed into homes, cars and walls. The crisis reminded me of Kobe, and I remember the psychologic shock it created for that city’s residents.
A vulnerable moment for survivors occurs during the move from emergency shelters to temporary housing. The new environment is private, spartan and disconnected from the social relationships individuals have fostered their entire lives. I thought it was essential to let the people of Tohoku know that others around the world were thinking of them during this period of transition. This is why I created the Genki Notes project with the Japan Foundation, U.S.-Japan Council and friends from Kobe.
The Genki Notes project also allowed me to experiment with Eric Raymond’s framework for open source projects. I designed the project with Raymond’s factors to encourage school children to make cards of encouragement and to send them to me. The cards were scanned, geotagged and feedback was sent to schools through FaceBook. The project received more than 7,000 cards within six weeks. The moment the factors of Raymond’s framework were withdrawn, the project collapsed as planned. The cards were given to the US Military to handout at temporary housing compounds, and I led a group of journalists to Japan to deliver cards in June 2011.
I have always disliked vox populi stories, also known by journalists as “man on the street,” “MOS” or “POS.” Vox populi ambushes individuals in a public place and asks for their snap opinion. These stories lack meaningful insight, deceptively present a impression of statistically validated opinion, and are largely unmemorable. Vox populi is a staple of journalistic storytelling because it is easy and cheap to do.
I have been thinking about how to improve the vox populi story to make it less lazy, slightly more meaningful and more memorable. The bar of quality is set low, so it should be easy for technology to improve.
In 2012, I tried a concept to improve vox populi stories by downloading the top 10 videos on YouTube and Vimeo about a topic. The videos are ranked based on an algorithm of user preferences, which is slightly more objective than a reporter stopping people on the street. The videos were recut into a single sequence to show the “web” opinion on a topic.
The traditional journalistic interview involves a reporter and an interview subject. But, journalists are generalists by trade, while most people are specialists. Journalistic interviews can be understood by a broad audience. But, they are also inherently superficial because the journalist is not as “invested” in the subject as the interviewee. The journalist also doesn’t expect to maintain a relationship with the circle of experts and build social capital.
In 2008, I co-produced a radio program for Asian Americans called As I Am with Helen Zia. The show allowed me to try peer interviewing between two novelists. It also gave me an avenue to integrate art and journalism through poetry and first person narrative. The result is a thoughtful, honest, truthful examination of the concept of “home” for Asian Americans.
The program won a national Gracie Award for “Outstanding Special Program” and was aired by public radio stations nationally in 2008.
In the pre-broadband video era, television was a regional medium, defined by the reach of broadcast signals. Neighborhoods could not expect their issues to be covered in depth on television. Yet, video can be an effective medium for sparking public discussion because it is rich with information and emotion.
In 2005, I produced a documentary with a class of students about the gentrification of Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. The documentary was distributed by DVD to see if this could become an important medium for micro video audiences. The response was surprising. Chinatown residents hosted viewing parties for their neighbors and community organizations sold copies of the DVD as a fundraiser. Overshadowed: Boston’s Chinatown won a 2005 Evvy Award for Best Documentary, and was shown nationally at film festivals and conferences.