state (7)

What is Code Night?


Inspired by Northwestern's Knight Lab, I have begun hosting a Code Night for Ball State's chapter of SND.

This is not a hackathon or anything resembling one, to be clear. It is a night for people who know code or want to know code to hang out and ... code.

The point is to create a community in which people can feel supported to try new things, ask each other questions and seek feedback about development and design.

If a you're working on a project, we want you to come on in, so if you run into problems there are people around who can help find solutions. Or maybe you're just too busy to plug away at a project; this is an excuse to set aside at least two hours a week to code.

Right now, we have a few people strong in HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery who are available to answer questions. Over time, I hope our mentorship group becomes more robust so we're capable of answering more and more questions.

I anticipate, too, that mentors may not have answers to every question. But working through a problem is a critical part of development. So we can figure things out together.

I'll continue to host these every Wednesday from 8-10pm in the student newsroom through May. Then, I'm handing over the reins to my buddy, Aidan Feay.

If you're a Ball State student, I hope to see you there!

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Like Alice in Wonderland

So I've been coding my buns off lately.

I feel like I'm lost in coding Wonderland. I haven't encountered the Mad Hatter yet. Just CMS-es that eat CSS.

I'm definitely still not a code expert.

But in the last 24 hours, I've published this piece, created new ad spots for my student paper's website and worked on this ongoing project.

Just a quick breakdown of these tasks ...


The story is about Jolly Blackburn, a man who creates comics about playing "Dungeons and Dragons" based on his time at Ball State. When I read it, I loved the story, but saw definite need for elements to help break it up.

I emailed Blackburn to ask him if he could illustrate a few scenes from the story. I wanted people to see his work, but I also thought it would be totally meta if he illustrated himself for a Ball State student media story about him creating a comic based on himself and his friends during their time at Ball State.

You follow that? DiCaprio is staring in the movie about it all.

I was able to tweak the template (for lack of a better word) that I had created a while back, so it all went relatively smoothly.

The downside? It exists outside our student media website's CMS. So I had to input all text, photos, etc. manually. Totally inefficient. Definitely motivating me to learn PHP and other server-side languages.


PRETTY PLEASE click the image to see the real ad. This static thing does not do it justice.

This is a fake advertisement I created for article pages on One of my projects for next year is to help link advertising and editorial a little more effectively.

Thanks Vox Media, for introducing me to this style of ad. (Tangent, I'll be interning there this summer, and I could not be more stoked. I'm positive I'll learn a lot.)


This bit of nonsense is the development of a project in one of my classes. Using an abundance of multimedia, my instructor told my classmates to document student life at Ball State on the weekend.

I get the pleasure of piecing it all together. The content is not yet in, so I am working on creating frameworks that I or my peers can edit with relative ease.

Again, a huge challenge is that I'm not working with a CMS here. I wish I would have had the foresight to learn Tarbell for this.

My life ... would have been so much easier ...

One of the challenges is that I'm working with designers who don't have too much code experience, but who want to help. So I'm creating a bunch of classes (probably more than necessary) so they essentially have a library to work with in helping me construct this.

I hope to publish the finished product by April 21.

In other news, I won first place in the SND Mizzou contest's infographics category for the piece below.


Obviously, that's a huge honor, and I'm absolutely thrilled. My staff won several other awards, and my friend, Emily Theis, won third for student designer of the year.

I'm also about a third finished with an online course I'm trying to design to help journalists learn how to scrape data. It's a huge, challenging undertaking. But I'm working with Dr. Adam Kuban and Jennifer Palilonis of Ball State, so I have awesome mentors.

More to come, including a rundown of how Ball State's Unified Media Design Studio functioned this year ... and what the UMDS is.

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BSU at the Games

It's been a crazy two weeks.

I've been participating in a class at Ball State called "BSU at the Games." In it, more than 40 students act as a media group creating content for the Olympics.

Most participants went to Sochi, but seven of us voyaged to the land that I love, Chicago, to make graphics for the Tribune.


We are primarily visual journalism students, though some of us are in advertising.

It's been one heck of an experience.

Though I am returning to the Tribune, this is several students' first time in a newsroom environment.

And it has gone ... smoothly. To date, we have had 17 pieces published, including two full page graphics. (See one here.) We have at least four more we are working on.

Students are learning the true meaning of the word "deadline," as well as how to produce high-quality graphics with a lot of time and with no time at all. This in addition to making professional, published clips they can show future employers.

A few have been able to reach out, network and talk about internships and job openings at different locations.

It's been a lot of blood, sweat, tears of laughter, tears of sorrow. Sometimes, it's been a lot of alcohol consumed late on weekends.

But the real question is, what does a program like this show other student journalists?


What we are doing is unique in that student journalists are having work about the Olympics published through NBC, the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere.

But the idea of student journalists contributing content about specialized topics for larger media organizations should not be so uncommon, nor does it need to be so decentralized.

For specific events, content consumers can simply not get enough. Their hunger is insatiable. Student media groups can help "feed the beast."

Thus, I believe it reasonable that journalism schools create their own media groups.

These groups do not have to specialize in specific events, such as the Olympics. Rather, whenever something big happens, schools can jump on the opportunity to create content to offer to professional organizations.

These events could include election coverage, football bowl games and local politics to name a few.


Journalism programs that engage in this sort of program can build a name and relationship with news organizations. Their students will do the same.

Ideally, a successful media group will be able to funnel interns or potential employees to news organizations as necessary.

But student journalists do not have to rely on their schools to build this sort of relationship.

It is possible a student news organization, for instance, Ball State's Unified Media, could begin offering content to professional organizations independently.

If this is the case, it is possible the student group could begin generating an alternative form of revenue, charging professional organizations nominal fee for the content they offer.

(Or maybe not, depending on student groups' pay systems or lack thereof.)


Free or cheap content, plain and simple. Professional organizations that agree to cultivate this sort of relationship are able to supplement their existing coverage with even more, boosting web traffic to websites and feeding the starving beast that is an internet audience.

Furthermore, these programs allow professional groups to groom students to a point where they are hirable immediately after – or even before – graduation.

So, that's food for thought.


For me, the experience at the Chicago Tribune has offered me the chance to revisit relationships in the newsroom and assert myself as someone who can lead and organize.

I was a primary contact between Jonathon Berlin and the Ball State graphics crew in the month leading up to the Olympics.

I was able to play around with a lot of data, too, and though not all of my research led to something publishable, I had a fun time collecting it.


• Ball State just opened its Unified Media Lab. It's beautiful. Expect a full write-up on it soon, and possibly a link to a website I may be commissioned to design.

• I've launched the Unified Media Design Studio system with help of a talented, dedicated crew of student designers at Ball State. It's an environment where a single student may design for print, tablet or web and across four publications in a single week. More on that later, with the official launch of its website.

And that's all, folks! More soon.


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I've been published!

On the SND website. I wrote a post about my experience coding my website from scratch.

Here's a bit of it:

Don’t come to me with your questions about coding. I’m not your guy. My knowledge is limited.

But, my limited knowledge is what I hope makes this blog valuable.

Last month, I sat down and began building a website. I had never coded a website before, but in one weekend, I began abandoning the controlled design environments of Wix or SquareSpace and became exposed to the chaos and freedom of coding.

Check out the full post here.

And click here to check out my website.

Expect another update soon.

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A new website means time to analyze

The Ball State Daily News just worked with other student media organizations to relaunch


The site is now responsive and works well on mobile devices and tablets, instead of just desktops.

I'm using this new website as an opportunity to pursue my love of data and analytics.


Disclaimer, the relaunch just took place Oct. 16, so any trends or patterns I may think I see from these few weeks following may not be indicative of our overall successes or failures.


But here's what I know:

• For a month prior to to Oct. 16, mobile visits daily accounted for only 0.2 percent of the total. On Oct. 16, mobile visits jumped. They have since accounted for about 34 percent of our daily visits. This jump seems drastic to me, so I have emailed our support folks to see if any other variables may account for the increase.

UPDATE: I learned that because our former website host redirected mobile to a separate website, they had not been collecting data for mobile accurately.


• Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15, 70 percent of page visits lasted 0-10 seconds. After, about 60 percent stay 0-10 seconds. Conversely, the number of visits lasting 11 seconds or longer has increased.



• Twitter typically has accounted for about a third of our web traffic. With recent breaking news, however, there have been days it has contributed more than half of our overall daily visits. (Side note: We are currently working to cultivate our social media presence. Being a free service to the students, it is crucial that we continue to expand our reach and target students on services they are using most often. We do not want to become an unused app on someone's home screen – we want to actively participate in and engage with students' lives.)


• Not surprisingly, our tablet numbers are staying relatively stagnant. Daily visits were 8 percent from Jan. 1 to Oct. 15, and after have remained at about 5 percent. Ball State has studio that creates digital publications for tablets, and they have found that publications geared toward students have very few downloads. Furthermore, a 2013 survey by Ball State associate professor Michael Hanley shows about 68.3 percent of the student body do not even own tablets. You can't target a demographic that doesn't exist.



So those are the basics. I know I cannot use the statistics from Oct. 16 to present to inform my long-term plans. I have, though, been experimenting with this knowledge on a day-to-day basis, using trending stories and engagement numbers to generate story ideas and manage presentation.


I've always called The Daily News a sort of journalism playground. Analytics help me play.




• Next semester, I'm enrolling in a class that produces a tablet publication, 72HRS. It functions as a weekend supplement to The Daily News. Because people are producing the content specifically for tablets, the content lends itself to interactivity. I am focusing my time in the class on producing this content for, integrating audio, video, photos and interactives so they can supplement each other seamlessly. Or at least, that's the goal.


• As I've mentioned in prior notes about Ball State's Unified Student Media organization, the university's student media organizations have slowly but surely been working together to create a media group. As a part of this, the university is creating a massive, digital-focused newsroom that will be complete in December. They took the walls around it down this week.


• I met Michael Rogers, the former New York Times futurist-in-residence, when he visited Ball State last week. His lecture, Q&A and my discussion with him after were all extremely motivational. That may also become its own blog post, soon.


• There are not enough hours in the day.

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Racially denigrating tweets.

Confederate flags.

A new smoking ban.

It's been a fast-paced year full of change at The Ball State Daily News.

I took over as editor-in-chief in August, and since then, we have had a slough of fantastic stories.

But as important as the stories themselves, we have had the visuals team to help push the stories forward.

This year more than the past two I've been a part of the student paper, our photographers, designers and reporters have been collaborating to produce visuals that tell stories as well as the words themselves.

This could in part be because this year we have a dedicated art director, Amy Cavenaile, who works hard each day to make sure each editor is communicating and contributing to get photos, illustrations and graphics when necessary.

Undoubtedly, is is also because of the hard work of Michael Boehnlein, our design editor, and Corey Ohlenkamp, our multimedia editor.

They and their staffs have been blowing me away this year.

And trust me, I've been challenging them.

This year more than ever, we've been considering the nature of our newspaper. I tell our design staff time and time again, treat the top fold of the front page as a billboard for The Daily News.

We have a few brief seconds to capture people's attention as they walk by our stacks of newspapers. More often than not, we are competing with friends and phones for attention.

So make it sassy.

Between the increased relevance of our stories' topics and the energized way we now present them, the return rate of our paper is lower than in years past.

As we continue to reconsider the way we use our current design style, we are also moving forward with a redesign. Our top concern as we redefine ourselves is usability. We want our print product to be easy to follow, enjoyable to read and able to compete with the "lean forward" mediums while still being a "lean back" experience.

This means we are reconsidering the types of stories we include in the paper, as well as how we structure them. Even previews, for instance, rarely are treated as full stories. Instead, they are posted on our twice-weekly "Bulletin Board," to which people submit their events and we write a few sentences about them.

That allows us to devote many reporters and a lot more space to news of more consequence. For instance, we have been able to focus far more on administrative issues, policies affecting students and other changes in campus life because we have spent less time on this fundraiser or that.

Of course, it is always our priority to report on the lives of our readers. But as a print organization, a campus event that happened yesterday isn't news tomorrow. That's what the internet is for.

We want people to pick up our paper – to think and learn because of it.

That said our web focus has grown far stronger. We no longer have a photography staff. Their name is now the multimedia staff. They produce videos and photos, now, knowing that the things they cover needs for more than stills and text.

We are working with Ball State's new media organization, Unified Media, to cover spot news and daily events in a timely way for the web.

(As a little background, last year, The Daily News got rid of its website in favor of posting, which aggregates all forms of student media on campus. The student media organizations now work together to cover news and produce multimedia packages. It is still a bit rocky, but it's an amazing project that has enabled our staffs to grow as multipurpose reporters.)

Because of our shifted focus on online coverage, we are also about to launch a new version of

Launching later this week, the website is responsive and has a much stronger focus on visuals and video.

It is a website meant to compete for attention, and because of that, it demands attention through strong images, sounds and headlines.

Furthermore, we are contributing to Unified Media's new tablet app, The Weekly. (I should note Amy Cavenaile had a major roll in designing the app as the new website.)

The app publishes, as you would expect, weekly, and is meant to highlight the top stories from the week prior. It is highly interactive and meant to truly engage through touch, not just look.

Every image, button, link makes you want to say, "I'd tap that." I really encourage you to download it!

In short, I and my staff recognize that media organizations cannot continue as they have in the past. We are trying to be solutions instead of victims.

If you haven't, feel free to take a look at our staff's account. We would love your feedback. (

And please, let us know what you think of when it launches Oct. 18.

Thanks for your time!


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Fun. in the newsroom.

An unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

That's what I experienced the evening of Jan. 25 when trying to report on Grammy nominated band Fun. using the Ball State Daily News's new –- and sometimes bugged-out –- website.

Instead of going to the concert on Ball State's campus, I opted to stay in the newsroom and coordinate coverage with my managing editor, Steven Williams.

(Click here to see the end-product.)

We created an action plan ahead of time. What would we want to cover? How would we cover it? Who would be where? What play would it receive on our website? Steven and I knew we would be monitoring social media, checking our phones for photos and text updates, and compiling everything for the web.

The Daily News only publishes Monday through Thursday. In the past, we would have run this story in print on Monday, effectively being three days late in our coverage. As a part of our digital-first push, though, we saw that we needed not only to publish a story over the weekend, but that we would need to publish as the concert was happening.

The content we wanted to package included:

  • Video
    • A short, video before of people excited to enter the auditorium
    • Another short video after of people reacting to the show
  • Stories
    • A play-by-play of major events
    • A column discussing the impact of the show
    • A story covering the after party at a local bar
  • Social media
    • Live-tweets & a Twitter widget
    • Collections of photos
    • A Storify
    • A live-updating Instagram widget

We decided that as the show was happening, we would banner our coverage across the top of the homepage. After it ended, we would drop the story into the homepage rotator, along with the others.

Unfortunately (but as expected), not everything worked as planned.

  • Our "before" video of the audience fell through because of an equipment issue
  • The Twitter widget and Storify (and all <script> code, for that matter) are incompatible with our website at the moment
  • The Instagram widget worked, but not as anticipated, thus we had no way of filtering photos except through the #BSUfun, and we had to remove the component when people began posting profane photos (a concern we had from the start).

Here's how we ended up playing everything on the website:

  • At the beginning of the night, we had a banner across the top of our home page linking to a story. The story simply said something along the lines of "check here for updates on the Fun. concert." We included the Instagram widget, and an outside link to our Storify.
  • As things developed, we added them to the story, rewriting as necessary. 
  • Here's what our home page and story looked like about midway through:
    • You can see the Instagram widget on the home page. The photo in the story was sent via text from one of our reporters. You can see how the integration of embedded tweets was awkward because of the unchangeable size of the side elements. I worked around this later.


  • After the show ended, we played things differently:
    • You can see that the banner is gone, replaced by a photo in the rotator. Also, note that in the story, the photo is replaced by a better-quality photo GALLERY. Below it is a link to the Storify. Later, we added the reaction video under the gallery. We also placed it as its own component on the homepage. See also that the tweets look far less awkward here.



The entire time I was posting updates to the website, Steven and I were checking social media for critical information, as well as sharing critical information via social media. Not only that, but we also attempted to engage our followers with conversations. Check #BSUfun -- the hashtag I started -- to see what I mean.

All in all, this was a good dry run. The concert gave us an opportunity to see the strengths and weaknesses of our new site when dealing with live, breaking news and new technologies.

I'm seeing that my interest in news design is integrating well with online journalism. I am able to consider alternative ways to tell stories, as well as how to present elements and information.

Know also that I am gaining an interest in things such as dayparting, managing the Daily News' social media and using Google Analytics to determine when to publish what content.

All in all, my goal is to get good information to the public effectively and efficiently. And I'm loving every minute.

Thanks for checking in!

Stay tuned for updates about this semester –- we have a lot of graphics planned and a talented staff to make it happen.

And, as always, I would love your feedback and advice!


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