May
2010

Little Ol’ Me

I grew up in Cortland, New York. It’s, a small town, sandwiched between Ithaca and Syracuse, New York. My earliest memories are of watching TV. I love watching, as much TV as my parents would allow me. My parents didn’t use the TV as a babysitter. I was watching these many hours with family. I didn’t just watch the classic 80’s TV shows that were on at the time, no sir. I was a TV geek even then. I watched tons of “I Love Lucy,” “I Dream of Jeanie,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Get Smart,” the list goes on. Syndication was king back in the 80’s, so shows like these were everywhere. Then “Nick at Nite” was born, and I had a regular schedule of shows to look forward to.

When I wasn’t watching TV, I was out playing TV. My friends and I would re-enacting TV shows, flexing the power of our imaginations. While acting out an action sequence from Superman, I underestimated the power of my jungle gym. Falling off it and discovering what it felt like to have the wind knocked out of me.

When my parents got divorced I moved to Maine, back to NY, then to NH. In New Hampshire, I graduated from high school and followed my chemistry partner off to a tiny, yet crucial, college in Vermont.

At Lyndon State College, I was able to harness my TV knowledge and take the leap from imaginative audience member to active producer. Since graduating, I went to Albany, New York. A station called Capital News 9 was just starting out. CN9 was a local 24-hour news network. During the job interview, they mentioned they were owned by Time Warner so all of my cable channels would be free, and I would get the full package. Free TV, with every channel I could have ever wanted, my 10- year old self would be so jealous.

At this job I was a news photojournalist, or Photog. I shot video, edited, and ran live trucks. After being there a month, they sent me to New York City to help out our sister station NY1. I was going to run my very first live shot, in Time Square, where I failed miserably. I was unaware that there was an electrical malfunction in the truck, so the shot never happened. It was an important day too, the one year anniversary of 9-11. Working in NYC for that week was an eye opening experience, one I hope to never forget.

A year in Albany was enough for me. It was time to head back home to New England. My chemistry partner, who became my girlfriend in the four years of college, got a job at WMUR in New Hampshire.

TV jobs in New England are very hard to get into. There are very few, people stay at their jobs a long time, and stations have high standards. I landed at the NBC station in Portland, Maine, where I have stayed for the last seven years. I have been the producer of a show called “207.”

We call it “207” because Maine only has one area code, a rare thing these days. We have a team of six people who work on the show, sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. The job is different every day. I can go from a doggie makeover, to chatting with Tippi Hedren about Alfred Hitchcock. Everyone comes to Maine. So we get an amazing array of celebrities and newsmakers. I have met an incredible list of people. I have the chance to do what I want with the show. Some days I am a photographer, other days I am a reporter or producer for the show. While this show is on the air, the world is my oyster.

May
2010

The Admission Essay

Brett Whitmarsh’s Quinnipiac Statement Aug. 2009:

The clock is ticking at WCSH 6, the NBC television station in Portland, Maine, where I work. As I sit at my desk in the newsroom, the big digital clock reads 6:50; ten minutes before the show I produce goes on the air live across the state. As the seconds tick away, I think of the suspenseful beeping of the famous clock on the TV show, “24”. This newsmagazine show is called “207”. If you are not from Maine, the name might seem odd to you, but Maine has only one area code, 207.

The computer screen in front of me displays my “I-news” scripts, and I decide to print them. At this point in the evening, I am either going to feel very confident or very nervous about the show that is about to be broadcast. “207” has been on the air nearly six years, and I have been here from the start. I was brought in a week before the dawn of “207” as the field producer for the show and also for a second weekly show, “Bill Greene’s Maine”.

Before Portland, I worked at a 24-hour news channel, Capital News 9, in Albany, New York as a news photographer and live truck operator for a year and a half. After being in Albany for only a few weeks, the station sent me to New York City to work for their more famous sister station, NY1, for a few weeks. Those weeks set the tone for the time I spent in New York and also taught me some valuable lessons. My first live shot landed me in the center of Times Square. Sadly that shot was cut short by a technical glitch within the truck, which caught me off guard. I had been adequately trained how to run a live shot, but not how to fix the truck when it didn’t work. At that moment I learned two things: always have a back up plan and that the more I knew about everything, the better off I would be in life. Simply put, knowledge is power – the power to go anywhere and do anything and to get the job done right.

The clock back in Maine now reads 6:55. It is still ticking and I have not seen or heard from my director. A small moment of panic washes over me as I decide if I could direct the show if I needed to, and yes, I feel confident that I could. Relief arrives when I hear my director’s voice from behind me asking for his scripts. My next thought focuses in on my two anchors, more specifically, where are they? I decide it’s time to get into the control room and wait for them there. I have known them both for six years and they like to cut it close. Sometimes I think it gives them a little thrill to make me nervous.

I sit in the control room and stare at an even bigger digital clock, 6:58 and still no anchors. Could I anchor the show if I needed to, yes. My face would not be unfamiliar to viewers. Over the years I have been a reporter, writer, photographer, and editor. In fact, I edited all the video in tonight’s show. I might even go so far as to say that I know this particular show better than anyone.

At 6:59 the anchors are settling in, cracking a few jokes with each other. They have a brilliant chemistry together, not to mention they look good sitting next to one another. My final thoughts before the show cover a wide range of topics. Is the blog up? Did we activate the recipe on the cooking section of our website? Are all the links on the site working properly? Did I stream the right video for tonight’s show? Does everyone have what he or she needs and are they where they need to be? The answer to all of this is yes because I have been working throughout the day to ensure that all is going well, but I never stop worrying until 7:30 when the show ends.

Tonight’s show starts at 7 with a great story on a guy in Boothbay Harbor who makes lobster ice cream, then comedian Bob Marley has everyone in stitches as he makes funny faces. A cooking segment follows featuring a delicious stuffed salmon recipe. Finally, we bring it on home with a rockin’ band all the way from Scotland.

There is so much more I want to do with this show using new techniques and following new directions; however, there are things I want to do in communications beyond this show. When “207” fades to black for the last time, my goal is to make a transition to education and teach at the college level. I have had great opportunities and varied experiences in my career and education in this industry. I would like to share that knowledge and those experiences with others, to help shape journalists, broadcasters, and producers of tomorrow. The online master’s degree program at Quinnipiac will give me the tools I need to move forward with my career.

Quinnipiac offers the right program for me because it will allow me the flexibility to continue to produce the show I love from the state of Maine while earning my master’s degree. The design of the structure of the Interactive Communications Degree Program from Quinnipiac will give me the further education that I need to be a more effective professional in the communications field.

I hope to be looking at a different clock in my future, one in a classroom where I will be running through a mental checklist deciding how much more I can fit into my class schedule before letting the students go for the day.

This is my moment to move forward, the right time for me to acquire my master’s degree. Quinnipiac University and the Interactive Communications Masters Degree seems well tailored to my goals.

Oct
2009

“Back To The Future”

The Internet was born out of great intentions. The idea was to share information in a fast way to save time and money. What no one had the foresight to factor in was the human element.

The human element is unpredictable. Unlike computers, humans have ideas, emotions, and goals. There is great good in humans, but also a considerable amount of evil. History has taught us that with any new advancement in technology humans have always found a way to abuse it. So as we move into an amazing future of unpredictable new technology, how can we prepare ourselves to not make mistakes that can hurt society, and damage our world? The answer is in science fiction.

Poet George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it.” So how can we learn from our past as we look to the future of technology? In a sense we already know the future. All we have to do is look to our past to see it. Our favorite TV shows, movies, and books are the keys. Our collective past has always found great entertainment in the realm of science fiction. Many of today’s astronauts chose their career paths after watching “Star Trek as kids.

Our history of science fiction is both our future and our past. As silly as it may sound, within our science fiction; we can learn our greatest lessons.

For example, we all know those little Bluetooth devices many people wear use for their cell phones? What if those devices could connect to your brain, and download information for your day? Sound impossible? Well here is an example of what I mean:

The clip is from television’s longest-running science fiction show, “Doctor Who.” Since the beginning of this show back in November of 1963, this show has asked its viewers to dream the impossible dream; humans being whisked away to travel through time and space with an alien known only as ‘The Doctor,’ in a rickety old police box called a TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). Here, take a quick look:

Now, you might stop and laugh, and your initial thought may be that I have lost you, but stay with me. Before I launch off into a lecture about how great both the old and new “Doctor Who” episodes are, consider a simple, more basic idea. Yes, travel in time and space, may be out of our reach, but what if we can take a small space and make it bigger on the inside? What about the dimensions? What if we could take a cramped little blue box, and make it gigantic on the inside?

As absurd as the idea could seem, what if the Fab Lab at M.I.T. could figure it out? If anyone can, I think the think tank at the Fab Lab could do it. Under their sales pitch of any idea is possible, why not make something bigger on the inside? Just imagine how this would solve so many of our worlds’ problems. Now obviously one could argue we have too much stuff as it is in this country, but just how amazing would it be to have an entire house, full of stuff, fit into a tiny little box? You may not want a little box like me, but the ideas could be endless.

To slightly flex my geek muscle for just a moment, The Doctor’s TARDIS has something called a “chameleon” circuit. In the show, this circuit is broken, but when it’s working right the TARDIS transforms to blend in with the area they land in. It takes into account the time around it and turns into something that makes sense for the landscape. Now how about that? How handy would that be too? Sick of how old- looking your car is? Well, activate the chameleon circuit and “pop” you have a new-looking car (but sadly with all the same old problems).

I dare say that even some of the things they dreamt up, on the show, in the 60’s and 70’s are even possible today. Take for example, The Sonic Screwdriver:

The Sonic Screwdriver has been with The Doctor since the early 70’s. While it has taken multiple shapes over the years, one thing has stayed the same: it’s a screwdriver with multiple functions. Nowadays you have to look high and low to find just a plain simple screwdriver. Most modern screwdrivers have multiple functions or the very least different heads. So there you have it: one incredibly simple way Doctor Who has predicted a piece of technology we have right now.

It goes way beyond that though; think of all the technology we use everyday. How many of those devices have multiple functions? A great majority of them; Cell phones, MP3 players, cameras, printers, copy machines, the list can go on and on.

Science fiction doesn’t just help with the development of our future, it also influences where we will go. So many of our great thinkers were influenced from the science fiction they loved as kids. Here is a great example called “How William Shatner Changed The World:”

Maybe it’s strange, but it’s definitely true. Some of the most brilliant minds that attend the TED conference every year were once little children sitting at home watching shows like “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek,” and dreaming of a world where the things they saw on TV could actually exist. Would we have nearly half of the technology we have today if it weren’t for Star Trek?

Think back to the opening of each episode of Star Trek; “Captain’s log, star date…” does that sound familiar? It should because it’s a podcast. If it were written down, then it would have been a blog.

Remember the phaser on Star Trek, so often set to “Stun?” Well, now we have stun guns. The police try to use them more often then real guns. If it weren’t for Star Trek we might never have lived through; “Don’t Tase me dude.”

Obviously not society’s most dignified moment, but certainly one many of us remember. Now the most obvious of all devices we use today is the cell phone, most of which have a push to talk feature. This resembles the communication device they would use on the show. Maybe that was also the first use of the speakerphone.

How about when the captain would say “plot a course” and the navigator would program in their destination. Well, today we have GPS devices for our cars. We can plot our own destinations for anywhere we want to go.

I could spend a career going through popular TV shows in modern history and showcasing where some of today’s technology may have gotten their inspiration. From “The Jetsons,” to “Quantum Leap,” we have been raised on dreaming up ideas for the future. All of our wants and desires have been established through our science fiction pop culture. I never would have wanted an iPhone if it weren’t for the device Al would use on Quantum Leap.

On the show the device was a remote to a super computer called “Ziggy.” Al would use it to download information to advise Sam on what happened in the timeline. He could call back to the base, compute calculations, and so many other functions. This was when the show was supposed to be based in 1998.

Again, I could go on endlessly about how science fiction has influenced the technology we currently have, but the bottom line is to learn from the mistakes laid out for us in our history of science fiction

I will conclude on this thought. In the movie “The Invention of Lying,”

The characters live in a bland world where there is no creativity. There are no far-fetched ideas, just what is practical. Ricky Gervais explains that in order to be creative, we must be able to allow our minds to wander off into a world where we can dream of a better life and leave reality behind. It’s that dreaming of better things that leads us to create science fiction. Then the inspiration of science fiction allows us to wonder if such things are possible, then it’s on to create such impossible things.

The potential of technology is truly endless. We will never know how far we can push the world unless we try. With each idea we put out there, someone else might just pick up on it and take the next step.

Oct
2009

“At Home News”

Below is the text version of what is above:

1. What is it you are offering? What are you contributing?

I am offering an alternative to the way people currently get their news. When someone wants to know more about what’s going on in their area, they turn to their local news. The local news broadcasts on average between an hour, to two hours a night, of what is going in an area. Their websites do offer more, but only what they have time to post.

The world of journalism has been hit just as hard as the rest of the country over the last year. We’ve seen a great number of jobs cut and newsrooms loosing resources, but the still the local news needs to fill the same amount of time each night. So how is all the news we report relevant to what all the viewers needs? While we do a good job balancing the big stories of the day, there are still important stories out there we just can’t get to.

I’m offering something more personal. I call it “AtHomeNews” it’s the future of blogging and news, more personalized.

We’ve all heard the phrase “we report you decide,” but how about “you report-then you decide?” My website offers viewers the chance to tell their stories in their own words. You become the reporter, the producer, and the editor. This website is all about you and your hometown.

Based on the idea of Wikipedias’ news site, “AtHomeNews” is completely user generated. All the stories are uploaded from the user.

2. What makes you think people are looking for that? What is your evidence?

Recently CNN has been seeing a great up tick in their user-generated site called the “ireporter.” The basic idea is the same. CNN welcomes anyone who wants to be an ireporter. The user then finds a story and reports on it. If the story is really good, CNN might just use it on air.

The website has been very good for CNN and their numbers keep growing. The ireporter site has developed into a great community among the reporters who help each other out. They can rank the stories or the reporters and how good a job they are doing. They also watch out for each other and make sure comments are appropriate.

Another example is the recent launch of Hearst- Argyle’s “U-local”. U-local is a user-generated branch of all Hearst-Argyle local news station’s websites. The idea is to give viewers an outlet for their stories. The difference with this site is the expected use. Users aren’t expected to report the news of their local town, but this is more of an outlet for sharing pictures and videos of your community.

The goal for the Hearst stations is to have a place already established so if there is breaking news the viewers have a place to go to upload their video or images and the stations can get them directly. For the most part the site serves as a place for family vacation photos, sporting event updates and maybe some area fall foliage pictures. Still in it’s infant stages U-local has the potential to be a key assets to the local news.

The reason being, people are looking to have their voices heard. They want an outlet for their story. Even with newsrooms at full capacity, they can hardly tell every story that comes into their newsrooms. They just don’t have the time. But with this website the viewer has their chance to have their voice heard and get their story out there.

My site, At-Home-News is more like U-local, but with more of an emphasis on sharing local news.  In the theme of Craigslist, a user would go to my site, choose their state, and then select their town. Then they can upload their story.

The stories can range from getting the word out about a blood drive, to reporting breaking news that could be happening in their town.

3. How are you going to find and connect with those people? Why will they come to your site? Who are your direct competitors for their attention?

Getting the word out will be the toughest challenge. The appeal to the site is to work like Craigslist. Currently the options out there for user-generated sites serve a more national level and not a local level. The goal of AtHomeNews is to be all things local. A resource for anything a town may need to stay informed and share information about what is going on in their zip code.

4. What will you get from them and how? What makes them keep coming back (if that is central to your model)?

The user will be able to report their own stories. They can upload just text like a blog, video, or a podcast. Each story will have a category that it needs to fit under.

Some example would be:

Community news

Breaking news

Personal stories

Event information

Town notices

The need to get the story out and seeing whom they can connect with will keep people coming back. They will want to see any updates to the story, they will want to see if others have comments on their stories. Maybe someone else may report the same story differently, or have a follow up on a story.

5. What are the informational resources (assets) you need to host on your site? Documents? Videos? Databases? Do these already exist, or will you need to build them?

To make this site work to it’s best potential it will need to be able to host video, audio, and images. The most common personalization of the site will be text, or web text stories. They will mostly look like blogs, but should have some resemblance to web reporting.

Then there should be an option to store an archive of any of the video or images that people upload. We could link in with YouTube, or a blog system like “Wordpress” to help with the storage and the need, but in a perfect situation we should build our own.

6. How will your site be organized? How many pages will it have, and in what order? How do you move from one page to another? A sketch of a site map might be helpful here…

Craigslist has the best model for location. On their front-page the have a list of states. From there you can choose your town. I could either use this model or design something like Google Earth and allow for users to punch in their zip code then be transported to their area.

Once in their area they can then upload their story and choose their category for the story.

7. What does your site look like visually? At this stage, a sketch on a back of a napkin is fine: just something to show the layout and some of the design elements. Are there sites from which you are drawing visual queues?

Simple design. They layout should be simple and easy to navigate. My complaint on Wiki and ireport is that I can’t find anything local. If there is something happening in my town, it’s complicated to navigate to that.

-Easy use, not too complicated, easy layout. Anyone from a 16 year old to a 60-year old should understand how to use the site.

-Spell check.

-Mapping feature.

-Sharing feature, share with social media sites (Facebook, twitter).

-Upload options, video, and audio, still images.

-Browsing options, view other states news, or browse your area.

– Source confirmation, at the bottom of the page for each story, the user must make clear the source of the story.

-Phone applications, CNN just launch the ireporter iphone app. the ireporters can now upload on the go.

-Commenting, it will be up to the community to police the site and report and/or block inappropriate comments.

IF I WERE TO LAUNCH THE PROGRAM TODAY THE FOLLOWING IS HOW I SEE IT WORKING:

As the user logs on for the first time there will be a logo of a house with the sites name on it. The front door would have place to enter a zip code. Once entered the user would be re-directed to a screen with multiple windows. The top of th page would identify the location.

The side of the page would list either other towns in that surrounding zip code or simply an option to browse other areas. Before the user can take the next step, of telling their story, they will need to log in and create an account.

Most importantly in the center of the screen would be “upload your story.” Here the user has a choice of a simple text story, video upload, or even an audio upload.

The next step would be to classify the story. Is it a personal story, breaking news, traffic, events notification, general news, sports and so on. Each one of these categories will have a description in order to better explain to the user best where their story belongs. Also the idea is to not give too many options. I don’t want to confuse the viewer so they get frustrated and go away, never using the site.

Once they have classified their story, then they can move on to uploading it. Similar to a wordpress blog, they can write the text here or copy and paste it from another program. They could also upload an image, video or audio. Just like YouTube, there will be an agreement each time they upload confirming that they have the right to upload this video, audio or image.

Next up will be the confirming of the story. This will have two parts. All stories will need a source. If the story is categorized as a “personal story” then no source is needed, but this should be made clear at the bottom of the stories page. If the story is “breaking news,” the user will need to explain how it’s breaking news. Sports will need to explain the person attended the event.

Finally all stories are considered pending until the user logs into their email and confirms via a link that will be emailed to them. Something like, “are you sure you want to post this and is all of the information you are posting true?”

So there you have it a quick view of “AtHomeNews” a user generated site that focuses on local news as reported by the user.

Oct
2009

Ethical Concerns For Web Idea

My website idea is a user generated media website, where the user can access and post information about their local area. The goal of the site is to become a Wikinews or iReporter like site with a style like Craigslist.

As with anything on the Internet these days, this site has the potential to do great things, but it also has potential ethical issues attached to it as well.

COPYRIGHT

The site is a placeholder for information. The copyright belongs to the user who posts the information. So if I am a local reporter, the story I tell on the website must be entirely my story to tell, and I alone hold the copyright to that story. It is my choice to share that information with the world.

The site will state clearly that any user, who does not own the rights to this story, will be penalized. They will have to agree that the story is theirs and they alone hold the rights to that story.

The exception to this rule is linking or posting video from another site. That other site must be the copyright holder’s site. Meaning if I want to share a story that I saw on the local news, if the local news’s website has posted the story on their site, then I can link to that or embed their video to my story. Here it will be clear that the story came from the local news. The difference being, I cannot record it to You Tube off the local news broadcast and then upload it as my own.

There is some flexibility here as well. If the reporter is covering something that is a public event, or is the eyewitness to a story, they can state that as their claim to being able to tell the story. If the information is public information then they must also state that. They cannot copyright public information as their own, but they can be an eyewitness to an event that has happened in public. An example would be seeing a car fire on the highway. I see the fire, record the video, and post it to the site. The video is copyright to me, but the story is a public one.

PRIVACY AND EFFECT ON THE USER

Ethically this is the most crucial part of the website. People want a place to be able to tell their stories and report the news they feel their local, or network news can’t or won’t tell. This website can their outlet. The issue being though, are they telling a story about someone that may not be true? Do they have the evidence to back up the story? Will someone be hurt or libel because of a story that has been reported on here? Does any of this reporting violate someone’s privacy? This is the area where user generated “journalism” gets into trouble. Not being professional journalist, the average user may simply not care about the repercussions of their actions. Nothing really holds them to any ethical standard like a professional journalist. The site can establish a code of ethics (and should), but someone may be so hell bent on destroying the reputation of someone else they may just plow through all the ethical walls the site would have put in place.

Being a website and not real newsroom, there is no immediate oversight. It will be up to the other users to police the site. It will be very important that the site designer thoroughly check these stories. Give clear reasons why a story may or may not need to come down off the site should it be too libel.

What about if the story has already been posted and the damage is done? Is the site held responsible? The site should have a statement posted clearly that the user generated content is that of the user and the site should not be held responsible, but that the site monitors all postings and does try to fact check everyone. This could be an endless job though. Here again the pre-defined categories of where the stories will be placed under will be key in tracking down the stories that might be questioned.

Certainly if information is available in the public record and can be found online, the source of that information must be cited. A town meeting or a public vote is certainly something that can be reported.

Here again is where commenting on the stories can be an issue too. Should the comments be a place for rebuttal? Or would the comments add to further tell the story or will they be a place for attacks? It might be wiser to have a “Tell your side of the story” section to each story posted as opposed to a comments section. Putting a little effort into it may cut down on how many negative actions could be taken otherwise.

This site belongs to the user. There will be a community of users that will need to check stories and report wrong information. Much like the iReporter site there can be more experienced user. Just like on Ebay when a seller has high marks or a buyer is considered a good person to do business with. There can be a ratings system established to show which reporters have experience.

There are a great deal of questions here. Similar to other sites there will be agreements in place for the user to understand before proceeding with their post. There will need to be an ethical and copyright agreement for each post they write. Within those agreements there should be highlighted words that can link to better clear descriptions if the user in unclear what the ethics are they are agreeing to. There will also be an email setting that will be in place to launch the story. So once they have agreed to the ethics, and the story is written, they will be sent an email that will have a link in it that will make the story live. This email is the final agreement to all ethical and copyright issues for that certain story. While this all may seem a bit excessive, the goal is to weed out spammers and people who are trying to libel someone. It is in no way a perfect system, but will need trial an error to figure out a better one. User feedback will be key to finding a way that is faster. Once the community if built that may help cut down on all the extra steps one take. Perhaps after a reporter has posted a certain number of stories and has a good track record then some of these restrictions will be reduced.

COMMERCE

The goal of the website is to share stories/information, and report on local news. At this time I cannot see a way to profit from the website. Certainly that is not the goal of the site. Should a way to make money off the site in an ethical way, meaning one that doesn’t compromise the goal of the site or the sharing of information and local reporting, then it will be considered.