USA Today design manager Tory Hargro to join Facebook

And I don’t mean as a user. I mean as an employee.

USA Today design manager Tory Hargro announced a couple weeks ago:

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As a student at Alcorn State University, Tory co-founded a digital design boutique, Nextverge Digital Media, that served state and nonprofit clients. He also served as director of development for WPRL, the NPR affiliate there in Lorman, Miss.

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After graduating in 2007, Tory served a visual journalism fellowship with the Poynter Institute and then, that fall, went to work at the Orlando Sentinel as a multimedia designer. A year later, he leaped to a similar position at USA Today. He was promoted to manager of new product development and design in 2010 and then to design manager in 2012.

Tory worked his last day at USA Today this past Friday, May 26. He starts his new job at Facebook next Monday, June 8.

Tory tells us:

Can’t say much about what I’ll be doing except that I’ll be working on “creative labs” products.

Find Tory’s Twitter feed here.

Two more cool pages from the Toledo Free Press

James Molnar tells us about his most recent project for the Toledo Free Press Star:

I love collecting vintage postcards (or at least postcards with vintages designs) when I’m  visiting a different city. I was inspired to come up with something like that for our annual guide to “101 ways to spend 101 days in Northwest Ohio.”

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I’m really happy with the results. It was a great lesson in Illustrator and Photoshop.

We also requested photos and ideas from our Instagram followers (with the hashtag #TFP101).

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This key to the pictures ran on page seven.

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James writes:

This is similar to what we for 419 day back in April. We went with a photo grid on the inside cover and sprinkled their photos throughout the guide.

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If you’re ever in the area, the 101 list has some great ideas for exploring our region. Our project editor Jordan Finney, an intern from Hillsdale College, did a fantastic job compiling the list.

Find our complete digital version here.

A 2009 graduate of Marquette in Milwaukee, Wis., James served as a reporter, designer and then visual content editor for the student paper there, the Marquette Tribune.

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He spent a couple of months as a designer and editor for the Daily of Chatauqua, N.Y. and then seven months as an apprentice optician at Eyeglass World in Toledo before catching on at the Free Press in 2010. He also covers movies for the Free Press.

Find James’ personal blog here, his portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.

Indianapolis Star hopes to #ShareTheLove with internet critics

Here’s the coolest idea I’ve seen this week…

The folks at the Indianapolis Star have taken a cue from Jimmy Kimmel‘s “Mean Tweets” segments and had staffers read some of the mean-spirited — and, sometimes, just foul-mouthed — feedback they get from readers.

Among the staffers included are investigative reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski

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…columnist Matthew Tully, who got his journalism credentials from a box of Cracker Jack…

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…columnist Erica D. Smith

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…editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel

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…and former designer Cori Faklaris, who was named the Star‘s network editor a year or so ago.

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Funny stuff.

The Star is attempting to turn kindness on the interwebs into a mini-meme this week. according to an unbylined story accompanying the video:

Think no one reads the mean, personal comments some people write on www.indystar.com? Believe it or not, real people are on the other side of the screen. Yet we know these kind of comments come with the territory of working at IndyStar.

Do they need to come with the territory for readers who only want to engage in meaningful, civil conversation online?

The story goes on to make this pitch:

What would the Internet be like if everyone behaved online as they do in real life? If the bravery to be a digital jerk disappeared and we treated others as we’d treat strangers in real life? (Yes, we know there are real-life jerks, too).

So we’re going to stop asking “what if” — and do something about it.

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And we’re asking you to join us. Please help us #ShareTheLove online during the week of Feb. 9 through Feb. 15.

So, what’s the reaction been like? The Star‘s engagement and utility content manager Amy Bartner tells us:

Overall, it’s been great.

Our engagement and digital team spends a lot of time and energy interacting with the online community, so we knew there’d be some inevitable negativity. But that also means we know how valuable the positive comments are, as well. The campaign made it to BuzzFeed, USA Today and several local media folks in the city have helped share the message, as well.

There’s a collective feeling of, yeah, something has to happen to create a more civil environment. I wasn’t expecting so many people to feel the way we do about that — which just tells me that it’s time to for a culture change.

Go here to read the Indy Star’s story about the campaign.

And if you’ve never seen Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” segments, say goodbye to the next half-hour or so. Because you must see these:

Yet another tacky-as-hell ad tagged to something in the news

You marveled over Tumbledown Trails Golf Course in Verona, Wis., that offered the tasteless deal: Nine holes of golf for only $9.11 on 9/11.

But did you see the solicitation that dating site OKCupid sent out via email to folks in the Boulder area, where they’ve had catastrophic flooding the past few days?

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Not smart.

That was posted yesterday at Failbook. Also, Mother Jones has written about this.

Facebook slaps me on the wrist. Seriously.

This weekend, I found something interesting in my Facebook news feed: An ad that appeared to have a naughty image in it.

Now, I don’t think it was actually a naughty image. I think it was designed to look like a naughty image. I think it was designed to trick someone into clicking on it.

I was fascinated, though, at how low Facebook had stooped in selling ads this particular Saturday afternoon. I didn’t think for a moment that Facebook had signed off on that ad. But the fact that it made it as far as a my news feed suggested something was very wrong at Facebook.

So I screencapped it and sent it to Facebook.

Here’s the ad, with the picture edited out to make it “safe for work.”

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Want to see the unedited version? Click here.

You can even see a ghosted box at the bottom left. Just as I was taking my screencap, Facebook gave me notice that a friend had commented on a post I had written earlier in the day. Had I known I would publish this screencap later, I’d have taken another.

So anyway, I went to the “report a problem” section of Facebook and I sent them the image two different ways: 1) As a complaint. (And boy, does Facebook make it difficult to send them a complaint. I don’t believe for a second that’s not intentional.) And 2) I posted it in a forum for reporting ad abuses. This is in a section that Facebook calls its “Help Community.”

All this happened on Saturday afternoon. I sent the message, groused about it a little on Twitter and then dropped the matter. It hasn’t crossed my mind since.

Until Monday evening, when I received a message from Facebook informing me I have been blocked from posting in the “Help Community.” This ban will be in effect until 8:31 p.m. Tuesday.

Well. Isn’t that rich?

Now, realistically, this little wrist slap doesn’t hurt me at all. I’m not a frequentuser of that particular forum. I’ve used it exactly three times, that I can remember. But still, it’s the principle of the matter. I’m a longtime media editor, consultant and instructor. Among the topics on which I’ve taught: Social media. So I’m awfully displeased to suddenly find myself on Facebook’s “naughty” list.

So here’s what our takeaway is from this shameful little incident…

  1. It’s OK for Facebook to drop this image into my newsfeed. But if I screencap the image and send it back their way, I get disciplined.
  2. Not only is Facebook arbitrary in its policy over image use, it’s also incredibly flaky in the way it handles what it says are abuses of its service.
  3. Either that, or Facebook takes it personally if you make a complaint about them.

How does this affect you? Well, more and more companies do business on Facebook. More and more, we’re seeing newspapers that require readers to sign in with Facebook in order to comment on a story. Readers who don’t use Facebook despise these arrangements. However, we justify it is by saying: Hey, everybody is on Facebook these days.

Well, that ain’t necessarily the case. “Everybody” might not be on Facebook. Facebook’s policies are very wonky, its enforcement is loose as hell — and, in some cases, laughably tight as hell. Our readers — who have a perfectly legitimate expectation that they might comment on our stories — are essentially blocked from doing that if they don’t have Facebook accounts. And, as you can see, it’s quite possible one could quite easily not have a Facebook account.

The newspaper industry is increasingly using Facebook as if it’s a public utility. But public utilities have oversight. If you’re treated unfairly by a public utility, you can go to your local public service commission. If you find yourself treated unfairly by Facebook, good luck finding someone to help you.

I’m beginning to think it’s irresponsible for the newspaper industry to rely so heavily on Facebook. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been wrong to use it so much in my blogging and networking efforts.

Most of all, though, I’m just pissed off.

This is the second unpleasant run-in I’ve had with Facebook in three-and-a-half months. Let’s hope there’s not a third.

The city of Virginia Beach needs a copy editor… and a social media manager

Multiple fails on the part of the City of Virginia Beach this morning.

First, the city tweets about the grand opening of a new state-of-the-art library this weekend.

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Just one little problem: It’s not July. Last time I checked, this is August.

Secondly, when you follow that link, you’re taken to this press release.

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That’s a little hard to read, so let’s zoom in on that date for you.

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Yep. Same data, different error. “April” starts with “A,” though, so you might argue they’re getting warmer.

So then my friend Kevin Copeland spots these errors and, once he’s done laughing, notifies the city via its Twitter account.

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That was more than two hours ago. The city has not responded to Kevin’s tweet, nor has it corrected the errors.

So a big social media fail on top of the two embarrassing copy-editing fails.

  • Lesson No. 1: If you’re going to maintain a presence on social media, you have to monitor it.
  • Lesson No. 2: If you’re not going to do social media correctly, then do the rest of the world a favor and don’t use it at all.

Thanks to Kevin for the alert.

And enjoy the grand opening… if you can figure out when they’re holding it.

Kevin, by the way, runs Beach Tec in Virginia Beach. He is the go-to person for all matters technical with your Apple computers, iPads, iPods and iWhatevers. Find his web site here.

By invitation only

Oh, thank God. I didn’t think Twitter was ever going to give me permission to send them money.

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I’m so glad Twitter invited me to advertise.

I, on the other hand, invite Twitter to cut out all the spam from bogus accounts.

Norfolk TV station hires Lisa Suhay to be social media coordinator

If you’re going to hire a social media coordinator, you should seek out the most energetic and prolific communicator you can find.

That’s what WVEC channel 13 back “home” in Hampton Roads did last week when it hired Lisa Suhay for that position.

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A 1988 graduate of Monmouth University in New Jersey, Lisa is a free-lance writer, a longtime contributor to the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times and the Virginian-Pilot, the author of eight children’s books and an activist.

Among her books: Haddy the Doorstopasaurus (2003), Dream Catchers (2001),,,

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Pardon Me, It’s Ham, not Turkey (2007), Tell Me a Story (2000)…

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Tell Me Another Story (2001), The Mermaids and Yellow Jack: A NorFOLK Tale (2007)…

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…and perhaps her most famous one: There Goes a Mermaid: A Norfolk Tale (2004).

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The last time I went to South Africa, in fact, I insisted on taking a batch of that last one to hand out as gifts. Lisa was kind enough to autograph them all for me.

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Lisa’s passion lately has been NICE, the Norfolk Initiative for Chess Excellence, a group she founded and co-directs. Via that group, Lisa uses chess as a way to reach out to kids.

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As if all that wasn’t enough, Lisa’s husband, Robert Suhay, is an ace A1 designer for the Virginian-Pilot.

Lisa doesn’t start her new job until tomorrow, but I’m betting the station sure could have used her this weekend: WVEC announced Lisa’s hire on Thursday. The first tropical storm of the summer brushed over the area on Friday. And then this weekend was the big Harborfest in Norfolk.

Find the WVEC Facebook page here and its Twitter feed here.

Find Lisa’s chess project blog here and her Twitter feed here.

Facebook taking both the ‘social’ and the ‘media’ out of social media

The story I have for you today isn’t about newspaper journalism. Instead, it’s about citizen journalism and how one man’s effort to serve a niche audience has become derailed by the incompetence of a major social media giant.

Yeah, I’m talking about Facebook. I’ve sat by and watched as many of my friends have become fed up with Facebook’s constant tinkering of its format, its not-so-user-friendly privacy issues and the array of spam, timewasters and unwelcome messages that come your way every time you log on.

I’ve been telling everyone that despite its flaws, Facebook is still a vital tool for just about everyone, whether they’re a professional journalist or not. The reason: Your audience is there. Elementary mass communication theory: You have to go where your audience is.

But maybe I’ve been too soft on Facebook. They’re really pissed me off this time.

Meet my friend Scott.

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Scott spent years traveling the country and the world as a respected management consultant. Until a decade or so, that is, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

You’re aware, I’m sure, that most people don’t survive brain cancer. I’ve had two very dear colleagues succumb from that particular disease. Scott managed to beat it.

However, brain cancer did take its toll. Scott’s battle left him a bit unsteady on his feet and a lot unsteady with his memory. He recently wrote about his frustration with pulling simple words out of his own head. Unable to come up with the word “broccoli,” he resorted to calling it “little trees.”

He has drawn on his experience as a highly-organized instructor and businessman to develop a number of workarounds and coping strategies. He’s as bright and as friendly as he ever was. More to the point, Scott’s amazingly positive and he has this amazing drive to help other folks who are struggling to come back from similar experiences –not just brain cancer, but also traumatic brain injuries like you might see resulting from a car crash. Or the type of injury that many of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered.

Eager to help others, Scott started a blog in which he writes about some of his experiences and shares ideas about how one might overcome injuries of this type.

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Even better, Scott has opened up the subject matter he covers and writes about the importance of staying positive in the face of adversity. As someone who spent four-and-a-half years unemployed, I’m greatly attracted to this aspect of Scott’s work.

Even the business cards Scott hands out demonstrates his outlook on life.

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“Full-time optimist.” You gotta love that.

I met Scott during my apartment search here in Southern California: In fact, he’s an old college buddy of my new landlord. He found out that I’m an experienced blogger and instructor and I found out what he blogs about. So we started spending a few hours together each weekend, during which I give him a few tips about blogging and social media and, in return, I get to soak up a little of the positive force that Scott projects.

I probably come out on the better side of that bargain. Scott’s a real pleasure to be around. Given that I’m 2,800 miles from my family, I’m grateful for the time he spends with me.

But most of our time together has been spent teaching Scott how to use Facebook. He wanted to expand his audience, of course, and nearly everybody is on Facebook these days. So it seemed a natural to get Scott up and running, to set his blog up with a “fan” page and to show him the finer points of reaching out to and interacting with his blog readers and potential blog readers.

We hang out for a couple of hours in a McDonald’s in Orange, Calif.

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We were doing pretty well, there, for several weeks. Scott was slowly building an array of Facebook friends. His Beyond Injury fan page was up to 75 likes — a respectable start for such a niche topic. People were talking about his posts and sharing them with their own friends. Which is how it’s all supposed to work.

But then something weird happened. Our work was derailed. By Facebook itself.

The first sign something was amiss came a couple of weeks ago: Scott received a warning that he had been friending people who didn’t actually know him outside of Facebook.

Scott had difficulty understanding the complaint. And, in truth, I did, too. After all: Isn’t that the whole point of Facebook? Yes, to renew and maintain contact with old friends. But also to build a network of new friends?

Scott showed me his Facebook timeline. Down the right side of his page was a row of names and pictures, a brief description of how many friends they and Scott had in common and a plea from Facebook to send each of them a friend invitation. Facebook even provided a button for each, right there below each picture. Eager to make new friends, Scott had been dutifully hitting nearly every button.

So the first thing I had Scott do was to cancel as many of the friend invites as we could. I suggested he take it easy for a while and not invite any more friends to his Facebook account or to his blog’s fan page. Let people come to him for a while. Until, at least, Facebook got off his back.

But that never happened. A week or two later — despite the fact that Scott had complied with Facebook’s demand — Scott’s personal account suddenly disappeared from Facebook. It was almost as if he had never existed. Even messages Scott had sent me via Facebook disappeared from my in-basket.

The only thing that still exists — ironically — is his blog’s fan page. Which, of course, Scott can no longer access.

This weekend, I got together with him to try to see what I could do to help salvage the situation. The answer: Not very much.

Facebook sent Scott a message in which it accused Scott of not being a real person.

Scott was kind enough to send me a screencap of that message and some of the follow-up messages. Click for a larger view:

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When we hit “continue,” Facebook first gave Scott a Captcha image puzzle to solve. Which Scott couldn’t solve. Why not? Scott’s cancer had been located very near the optic center of his brain. In addition to memory issues, Scott has lingering vision issues.

Neither Captcha nor Facebook gives a user the option of switching to a “vision-impared” version, of course. So Scott was stuck. Until I was able to help him out by solving the puzzle for him.

Facebook then threw up the next hurdle for him to clear. And I was stunned by the sheer stupidity of it: Facebook gave him five sets of three pictures for him to identify: Pictures of his Facebook friends. In order to prove himself a real, live person, he’d have to correctly identify three of the five sets of pictures.

Good Lord. At the moment, I have 2,039 Facebook friends. If Facebook were to give me the same test, I’m quite certain I’d fail it myself. Only a few hundred of those people have I actually met in person. Quite a few of the friends I do know closely have photos posted of themselves that I’d never recognize. Also, quite a few of my friends are from my high school and college days. People can change quite a bit in 30 or 35 years.

Here’s another, even more troubling issue: Facebook has no idea who is actually in a photo. We’ve all had the experience of finding ourselves tagged in photographs that don’t actually include us. It happens to me several times a month, in fact. Because this is so common, Facebook is basically demanding Scott to identify people in photos. And the photos might not even match the name that’s tagged to them.

Whose dumbass idea was this test?

Yet, we waded in. The first set of photos, Scott was able to identify. One down, two to go.

The second set, however, was a problem. Because two of the three photos weren’t actual photos. They were ads that had been posted to that person’s Facebook timeline.

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That. Is. Asinine.

In fact, though, we had a clue: Paula. We suspected that the person’s name was Paula. But Scott couldn’t recall a Paula from among his friends. Nor could he identify any of the tiny little faces in that photograph.

Nor were we successful in zooming in on that photo. We could blow it up on Scott’s screen, but it only pixellated further, rendering it unviewable.

So we had to request a “pass” for that one. We had three more groups of photos to identify and we had to get two of them right.

The next set came up. The good news: All three pictures in this set were obviously of the same person. The bad news: The person is apparently active in community theater. He’s wearing makeup in all three photos. And you can’t even see his face in one of the three pictures.

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Again, I was just stunned at the sheer stupidity of this test. This is a mighty crappy selection of pictures from which to force us to identify a Facebook friend. At this point, I found myself growing angry at Facebook.

Scott wasn’t really angry. He was merely disappointed. Mostly, because he had no clue at all who this person was. Maybe he knew this person. Maybe this person had friended Scott because he liked Scott’s blog. Either way, these pictures weren’t triggering a name.

So we had to use our last “pass.” We had two more sets of three pictures to view. And we had to get them both right. What we needed now was some luck — We needed Facebook to choose someone that my memory-challenged pal could actually remember. Or someone whose faces would show up large enough for him to recognize.

Here was our next set of pictures.

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Clearly, there is one woman identified in all three of those pictures. And the pictures weren’t very bad this time. I was hoping we’d get this one right.

But the challenge to Scott’s memory proved too great. Scott couldn’t pull a name out of his head.

So that was it for us: Game over. Facebook wouldn’t let us in and it wouldn’t let us request a different set of pictures. It also wouldn’t allow Scott to provide more personal information so a representative from Facebook might contact him and discover he’s a real, live human being and not some kind of spam robot.

Scott is still blogging, still trying to help people recover from brain injury and still advocating for people and families dealing with brain injury. And while he can no longer use Facebook to build his audience and to let his friends and fans know he’s posted something new, Scott’s taking it all in stride.

Which I find pretty amazing. Because I’m pretty goddamned upset. Facebook sent a series of vision and memory tests to someone who has vision and memory issues due to brain cancer. It’s not intentional discrimination. But the result is discriminatory, just the same.

He gave me permission to write about this today, but when I asked him how he feels about Facebook not believing he’s a real person, Scott just said:

If I were a robot, I would have a better memory.

That’s my friend, Mr. Positive. You just gotta love this guy. Even if Facebook doesn’t.

UPDATE – 9 a.m. PDT

Something very odd happened just now.

Less than an hour after I posted the blog article above, a friend from Nigeria sent me a Facebook message to ask how I was doing. This gentleman attended the sessions I taught in Abuja last March.

Naturally, I took a moment to compose a warm reply. But Facebook had other ideas: It blocked my reply and gave me this dire warning:

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“Please slow down”? I’m using the message function in Facebook “in a way it wasn’t meant to be used”? How so? I’m sending a reply to a message. From a Facebook friend.

I’m not, by nature, a conspiracy-oriented type of person. But I suddenly get a red flag from Facebook, less than an hour after I posted my article about my friend Scott.

I find that suspicious as hell.

UPDATE – 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, PDT

A Facebook representative contacted me last night to inform me they had read my post and unblocked Scott’s account. I’m grateful for that.

They didn’t do much to address how Scott’s account came to be blocked in the first place, though: As I said above, he didn’t do anything wrong at all. His worst sin was that he read all the little messages Facebook put in front of him and he took Facebook’s advice. I feel like Facebook creates a bit of a “honey trap” for him — and for all of us — by asking us to constantly search for new friends and to send out friend invites. But if a recipient of one of those invitations doesn’t appreciate hearing from us, we get spanked for that.

As Facebook becomes bigger part of our lives — many newspapers and web site require you to have a Facebook account before you can comment on their stories — this kind of behavior on the part of Facebook becomes even more critical. And good luck finding someone there to whom you can appeal.

Still, I’m grateful Facebook resolved the situation and got Scott back up and running.

Amy Huschka named assistant editor for social media at the Detroit Free Press

Longtime Detroit Free Press print designer Amy Huschka — who moved over to the digital side less than four months ago — has been promoted.

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Assistant managing editor for digital Stephanie Murray announced Friday:

We’re happy to announce that  Amy Huschka has been promoted to Assistant Editor/Social Media. In this new role, Amy will oversee social media for the Free Press, including the Free Press‘ brand accounts on the social web and the use of social media in our daily and long-term story coverage.

Amy moved to the digital team last fall as a Social Media Web Editor after digital cross-training and after spending many successful years as a member of our design team. She quickly became a leader on the Hub and a go-to resource for staffers needing help with social media.

Background on Amy: She has been an award-winning designer at the Free Press since 2000 first starting out in news and then moving to features. A 1994 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., Amy spent time as a features editor for the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail and then a news designer for the Dayton Daily News before moving to Detroit. She and her husband, Robert, Assistant Managing Editor for Presentation and News Desks, wrote about their soccer travels during the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and 2010 for the Free Press and on @freepworldcup on Twitter.

Amy’s promotion is effective immediately. She’ll still report to Stefanie Murray, assistant managing editor/digital.

Find Amy’s Twitter feed here.

Here’s a handy little tool that’s easy to use

I’m not sure how long this tool has been around, but I’m just now finding out about a cool social media counter from the folks at Muck Rack.

It couldn’t be simpler to use. Here is the home screen.

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Simply paste the URL of the article into the space and click the blue button. The engine counts the number of shares that article got via Facebook and Twitter.

I gave it a test run just now with yesterday’s Super Bowl page roundup.

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According to Muck Rack‘s calculations, that blog post was shared five times via Twitter and 33 times via Facebook. Which sounds about right.

Not bad. Find it — and bookmark it — here.

Thanks to George LeClaire of the Arlington Heights, Ill., Daily Herald for posting this today via Facebook.

How to make sure your Facebook status goes viral

I think the Bakersfield Californian has found the secret to going viral on Facebook.

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On one hand, the Californian looks pretty silly, claiming that the Atlanta Falcons will play in the Super Bowl after they were defeated in the NFC Championship Game by the San Francisco 49ers.

On the other hand, this particular Facebook status update will get a lot more views than it would have otherwise.

Thanks to the former Californian staffer who pointed this out to me a few moments ago.

Social media needs more designers who care about making their sites functional for users

A while back, I was having a conversation with someone about the current greats of graphic design. Among those that came up for discussion: The guy who designed Facebook “timeline.”

I just had to laugh. You’re kidding me, right?

I wouldn’t say that Facebook “timeline” qualifies anyone to be regarded as a great designer. Hell, I’m not sure that Facebook timeline is even competent design.

“Timeline” is hard to read — it forces the reader to bounce back and forth across an artificial barrier. That barrier seems to be purely decorative.

On your old Facebook “wall,” you simply read from top to bottom. Nothing could be easier. Now, however, you bounce around. It’s quite possible — depending on how active your “timeline” is — that you’ll miss posts on your own page.

What’s more: “Timeline” is universally disliked — at least among my nearly 1,900 Facebook friends. I don’t think I’ve ever head someone say they like it. I, in fact, like the big picture across the top of the page. But that’s the only thing I like about it. The rest of the design bites.

So it was great interest today that I found this article — on a tech site called the Next Web — that reports Facebook is changing its format again. To something that looks a lot like our old “wall” did before “timeline” was forced on us.

Check it out:

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See? That artificial, purely decorative line running down the middle of the page is gone. You now have only one (wide) column for postings. No more bouncing back-and-forth. No more missing posts on your own “wall.”

Yet, you still have access to much older posts (see the little “timeline” control at the extreme upper right).

This is what “timeline” should have looked like from the start. Had the folks at Facebook done their job properly.

NextWeb reports this new design is already being tested in New Zealand. Jon Russell writes:

The new redesign also tidies Timeline headers. Boxes that link through to ‘Friends’, ‘Photos’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Likes’ have been removed, these items are now listed in a menu which, when clicked, brings them up separately. Interestingly, relationship information has been removed from the header, which could perhaps be a focus on keeping personal details more private.

He goes on to note the most glaring shortcoming of this new format: An entire column of “wasted space” down the far right side of the page.

I doubt that space will remain empty. It’ll fill up with ads, just like that column does now. Which seems fair enough.

The bottom line here: While the journalism business needs more copy editors, the world of social media needs more designers who care about making their sites functional for users.

Find the NextWeb story here. The Chicago Tribune also posted a story on this today.

For your consideration…

I understand these banner ads are sold in advance. I also understand it takes folks in digital news operations a while to get under the hood and remove an ad that creates a bad juxtaposition with horrifying news.

But really, Hartford Courant? This was reportedly still on the Courant‘s web site at 2:30 this afternoon. That would have been nearly four hours after news of the tragedy broke.

Thanks to the half-dozen or so folks who sent me that screen snapshot.

In addition, Facebook had a little issue with this today — at least on the timeline of reporter Tyler Francke of Newberg (Ore.) Graphic. Tyler tells me:

Of course, it was just a horrible coincidence with the timing; if I had signed on a few minutes earlier or later this juxtaposition probably would have never occurred.

But it made me wonder how often stuff like this happens on social media these days. It seems like it would be at least theoretically possible to code some sensitivity in to the ads for gun pages when stories about mass shootings start trending…

Agreed.

Detroit Free Press’ Amy Huschka moves to the digital side

Stefanie Murray — assistant managing editor for digital at the Detroit Free Press — announced Friday:

We’re thrilled to announce that veteran designer Amy Huschka will transfer to the digital team as a Web Editor, with an emphasis on social media.

Amy has spent the past several months cross-training on the digital desk and has already made a huge impact across our digital platforms. She’s quickly become a leader on the Hub and a go-to resource for staffers needing help with social media. In her new role, Amy will continue to be a leader on social media for the Free Press and will also work in the Hot Seat on the Hub, helping with content production during her shifts.

Amy has been an award-winning designer at the Free Press since 2000 first starting out in news and then moving to features. A 1994 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., Amy spent time as a features editor for the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail and then a news designer for the Dayton Daily News before moving to Detroit. She and her husband, Robert, Assistant Managing Editor for Presentation and News Desks, wrote about their soccer travels during the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and 2010 for the Free Press and on @freepworldcup on Twitter.

Amy’s move to the digital team is effective immediately.

Find Amy’s Twitter feed here.

My thoughts on that ‘purple’ map that’s going around Facebook

The map below is getting a bit of buzz today via Facebook. So I figured it’s past time I write my quadannual lecture about election maps.

Now, it’s not my intention to embarrass anyone. But the gentleman who created this map writes via Facebook today that:

I think it’s kinda important. Talking about red states versus blue states in a monolithic way is reductive and annoying.

And right there, I disagree. The concept of showing which states voted Republican and which voted Democratic is not reductive and annoying. It’s news and it’s accurate.

What’s reductive and annoying — not to mention at least a century-and-a-half outdated — is the existence of the Electoral College itself. As long as we have a system in this country that means a candidate can win a state — let’s take Florida, for example — by just 61,000 votes when a total of 8.3 million votes were cast in that state and then walk away with all 29 electoral votes, then the red state vs. blue state electoral map will always be the right way to tell this story.

Here is CNN’s online electoral map as it stands right now, with Florida still officially unwon:

Granted, such a map would be greatly assisted by a bar chart showing how close each candidate is to the 270 electoral votes he or she needs to clinch a victory. You can clearly see President Barack Obama‘s electoral victory on this chart that runs above that map on the CNN web site.

So I submit to you that the purple chart might be pleasing to look at. Comforting to some. But that’s more of a personal preference thing. It has no journalistic value. Think of it as an illustration. And not a particularly useful one, at that.

The idea of showing degrees of data is a noble idea, however. It just needs to be applied to the correct data set.

There are other ways to visualize state-by-state results of Tuesday’s electoral vote. University of Michigan physicist Mark Newman is known for picking apart election maps and posting alternatives after every election. He shows the standard red vs. blue map here, redrawn to reflect the actual number of electoral votes each state has.

This, I think, is quite a bit stronger as a journalistic tool than is the standard map. As you saw in the CNN map (here it is again on the left), the country looks two-thirds red. So then how did the blue guy win?

Because much of that red territory is sparsely populated and, therefore, wields fewer electoral votes. And that’s what a U.S. election is really all about: Electoral votes. Professor Newman’s map (right) corrects that.

For this reason, I’ve long advocated using similar “cartogram” maps when showing chloropleth electoral vote data. Here is my own version — the map that ran with my big Election Night preview graphic, colored in to show how the states eventually fell.

(Yes, I went ahead and colored in Florida here. Perhaps prematurely.)

This map does the same work as Professor Newman’s map, but redraws the states in a way that makes the labels readable. I’ll feel a lot better when newspapers and TV networks around the country convert to this type of map for their election coverage. To do it any other way, I feel, is not accurate.

I once had an editor who told me he didn’t like this map. It showed my own bias, he said, because it’s weighted in favor of Democrats. I just had to laugh. No, it’s weighted in favor of showing how many electoral votes each state has. In this case, the Democratic candidate won, so you can see how the map appears just a bit more blue than red. A similar map for, say, the 1988 election — the last time Republicans won something more than a squeaker — might appear mostly red.

But to say this favors Democrats, I think, is along the same lines that you heard last week from right-wingers that the New York TimesNate Silver was favoring Democrats. This map doesn’t favor one party or the other. It favors numbers. Facts.

Needless to say, that editor doesn’t buy my graphic.

But back to the map that’s being passed along via Facebook. The creator took the margin of victory in each state, weighed it with mix of red and blue and then colored that state accordingly. Yes, you can see the west coast, New York, Illinois and New Mexico is more blue than red. You can also see how red Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma are, compared to the states around them.

But other than those basic facts, I’d argue there is little more of value we can glean from this map.

Instead, please consider this county-by-county map posted today by Professor Newman. Interesting patterns pop out as you begin to study it.

For example: You know Illinois went blue. But much of that state is, in fact, rural and conservative. So look at the huge number of red counties. Ditto for Florida — the vote in that state is still too close to call. But you see how the metro areas around Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando went blue and most of the rest of the state voted red.

Even in California, Oregon and Washngton, which nearly always vote Democratic: Mostly the oceanside counties voted for Obama. The rest of those states voted for Romney.

Check out Oklahoma. Obama didn’t carry a single county.

Amazing as that is, now check out what happens if you take the idea that Facebook poster had — showing areas in a shade of purple that reflects how strongly they voted for one candidate or the other — but then use it on county-by-county data. Which is what Professor Newman did here.

What this does is allow you to see, at a glance, the most polarized areas of the U.S. The deep blue counties voted overwhelmingly for Obama. The bright red areas went strongly for Romney.

Texas went red, as it nearly always does. But look at the deep blue territory along the Rio Grande. Look at California, where — as we just noted — many of the interior counties voted for Romney. Romney’s victories in those counties must have been close: Just look at all that purple.

So my verdict on the purple map thing on Facebook: Decent idea. But only if applied to the right set of data.

But to just color in states one color or the other, regardless of the number of electoral votes they carry? Not helpful. Despite that fact that nearly everyone does it.

What’s even worse: When news outlets color in counties of states during primary season. There are no electoral votes in play during primaries. So there’s no point at all in running maps during primaries — unless you have specific data to show. Yet, many outlets did just that.

For her offensive language, interactive designer wants to help Ann Coulter “climb Mount Retard”

Celebrity pundit Ann Coulter is at it again, referring to President Barack Obama as a “retard” and to his supporters as “retarded.”

And special-needs advocates are fighting back. Including former Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel artist Daniel Niblock, the parent of a Down Syndrome son. After he made an impassioned plea for her to knock it off with using that offensive term — and was given a platform by NBC News and the Today show — Coulter did it again during the debate Monday night. Twice.

Counter is “offended” that Obama makes what she says is a cancer reference. But she doesn’t mind making fun of special needs people.

So Dan is taking another swing at the problem, but from a new angle. He writes tonight in his blog:

I’m not going to fight that fight. In fact, I hereby withdraw my request for an apology, because I no longer want one from her. Instead, I’ve decided to link arms with dear Ann Coulter and help bring her the notoriety she craves.

Yes, the woman who has proudly left her footprints across mountains of people – people who don’t share her political or religious views, skin color, sexual orientation or financial means – has ascended a new peak. I’m honored to help plant her bright red flag on the summit of Mount Retard.

And Daniel — doing what he does best — adds this illustration:

Daniel continues:

I want Ann’s name to forever be linked to the taunting of special needs children. May all those who look upon her face be reminded of the bully at the bus stop. The dismissive cashier. The group of kids who point and laugh and stare. From this day forth, let the “Ann Coulter” brand be synonymous with the shameful and callous treatment of those whose voices are too often ignored.

Thank you, Ann Coulter, for lending your face to the cause. A more appropriate symbol for cruelty I can’t imagine.

Find Daniel’s blog post here.

Go here to find more coverage of this tonight from NBC.

See my earlier post about this here.

A 1996 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Dan spent eight years as a graphics reporter for the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before leaving newspapers to work for his Sun-Sentinel colleagues Don Wittekind and Scott Horner at Swarm Interactive of Chapel Hill, N.C., which produces medical-oriented illustrations, graphics and whatnot.

In addition, Daniel created a news site and an advocacy group for Down Syndrome. Find his portfolio site here and his poetry blog here.

I taught two sessions Friday to the United Methodist Communicators

Friday, I drove up to Arlington, Va. — just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. — to make two presentations to the United Methodist Association of Communicators. Essentially, these are the folks who work on newsletters, magazines and other church-run publications.

In many cases, folks who are asked to design pages actually have no design training. So I’m asked, from time to time, to teach design basics to such groups.

Almost always, they’re surprised to hear we have the same issue in the newspaper business. Many, many pages out there in newspaper land are designed by copy editors who might have but minimal design background. So this isn’t an issue most of us haven’t faced nearly every single day of our professional lives.

Naturally, I’m delighted to be of service. I’ve been working pretty late at times, however, and I needed to get off to an early, early start in order to get through all the traffic on time. So my daughter, Elizabeth, rode up with me with three tasks assigned to her:

  1. Take a few pictures while I’m teaching.
  2. Keep me from accidentally cursing. After all, I’m not used to speaking in front of a church group. And…
  3. Keep me from falling asleep while I’m driving the four hours each way between Virginia Beach and D.C.

The venue, not surprisingly, was gorgeous: We were in the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, not far from the Ronald Reagan Airport.

And what’s more: The place was packed. There were several other groups criss-crossing ours Friday, including a gigantic convention of salespeople. I later found out that my old friend Nimish Amin — former designer at the Charlotte Observer — was there on Friday.

Among the several topics I wanted to touch on: Mobile. But then I noticed that there was already one in the lobby.

My first presentation was on print newsletter design. I was asked to make this a basic course, so that’s what I aimed for. I had given a similar presentation to the National Association of Postmasters just up the street from here two-and-a-half years ago. My presentation Friday was an updated and lengthened version of that show.

I had about a dozen and a half folks in my morning class…

…including this gentleman, Ken Garfield.

Ken spent several years at the Charlotte Observer. Meanwhile, I worked as a sports stringer for the Observer during my college years and then I worked at a competing paper — the Rock Hill Herald — from 1988 to 1993. I’m not quite sure how, but for some reason, I never managed to meet him in all those years.

Ken is now director of communications of a large church in Charlotte and a prolific writer of articles for various publications. He elected to sit in on my morning session, despite the fact that there isn’t much I can teach a veteran journalist like him in a beginner’s class like this.

I covered the basics of typography — mostly, I tried to urge folks not to get crazy with the list of fonts in their palette. I covered the basics of photo use. I covered things like going for a dominant image and for reducing clutter. And I talked about ways that editors can get free or cheap art and photos.

Towards the end of the class, I did get fancy and showed fun, gimmicky things you can do to create buzz, like the paper football figures some papers have been running lately. I also urged them to create primers for their readers. That way, they break out of being just a newsletter with items of interest to fellow churchgoers and they become a really cool publication with stories that generate enormous interest and feedback.

And, yes, it can be done on a shoestring budget. It’s not about how many resources you have. It’s about how clever you are.

There’s only so much value in looking at my Powerpoint presentation without my running commentary. But if you’d like to see my morning slideshow, download it here.

After a quick break for lunch, we moved to a room downstairs for our afternoon session on why and how church newsletters should and can make better use of social media.

I ran through some of the more common social media — Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest — listing what I see as the pluses and minuses of each. The most popular of that list — Facebook — is now just a bit crazy because of Facebook‘s new policies regarding how it delivers news via your newsfeed.

Let’s say you’ve signed up for the Facebook “fan” page for my blog. In fact, 531 Facebook users have done just that. Of those 531, 362 are also Facebook friends with me.

So when I sent out a message via my blog’s fan page, I expect 531 folks to see that in their newsfeeds. Unless they’ve tweaked their settings to not see messages from my blog page. Which, of course, they can do.

But here is a screencap of my blog’s fan page from last week.

If you look closely, you’ll see something Facebook has added just recently: It now tells me how many folks have actually seen each item I’ve posted.

So, wait a minute. 531 Facebook users have signed up to get my posts in their newsfeed. But only 24 saw my post about last Sunday’s playoff pages? Only 16 of them saw my post about Amy Webb?

That’s right.

That defeats the purpose of even having fan pages! Why would Facebook do such a thing?

Because rather than deliver my messages — to the people who signed up for them for free — Facebook would rather charge me money to do that. And they have a cute little fee structure all set up.

Yep: In order to put my Facebook post out there in front of 2,000 to 5,000 people, Facebook wants to charge me $10. If I’m willing to shell out $15, Facebook says as many as 7,000 users might see it.

Might.

In addition, note the buttons at the top, labeled “audience.” When I make my purchase, I can specify whether I want my message to be seen by all the folks who have “liked” my page. Of if I’d like to blast my message to all those folks plus all their friends.

How does that make you feel? I know how it makes me feel: Angry. I’ve been counting on Facebook to help me get the message out whenever I post a new item in my blog. Not only is Facebook no longer reliable for this, but also they’re getting greedy about it.

In my case, this is a minor annoyance. But if I were a pastor or a church activity committee, I’d be horrified. It’s no longer enough to have a “fan” page set up for my church or youth program or whatever. I now have to convince folks to visit often, in order to see whatever it is we’ve posted. Because they won’t necessarily see it in their newsfeeds.

If I’m going to do that, I might as well have a blog. In a blog, my church would have total control over the content. I could then post whenever I wanted. And I could still have a “fan” page on Facebook and simply post a link whenever I put up a new blog post.

And that was just Facebook. I also addressed the good and bad sides of Twitter. After watching the masterful way my friends tweeted the Society for News Design conference last weekend in Cleveland, I asked my audience Friday: What happens if we tweet our regular Sunday sermons like that?

I asked two pastors about using Twitter.

Carolyn Moore of Mosiac United Methodist Church in Augusta, Ga. — and, I might add, my dad’s pastor — tells me:

On more than one occasion, I’ve asked folks to tweet one line they hear during the message. Sometimes, I’ll tell them, “That line is worth tweeting.”

We don’t have a ton of tweeters in our congregation… but those who do usually respond. They will more likely Facebook it than tweet it, though.

Here is Mosiac’s Facebook page.

I also asked Gage Church, my old boss at the Des Moines Register and currently pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Ogden, Utah. Gage replies:

We have not effectively used Twitter, although we are working at it. Many churches DO have folks tweeting during the service, both to get the message out as well as to ask direct questions of the pastor as he is delivering the sermon/message.

My church uses Facebook a lot, but other than tweeting alerts when something new is added to our website, we are not yet effectively using Twitter.

This started a whole line of discussion. Among the feedback I received from the folks attending my session:

I took a few minutes to search for it, but I couldn’t find the Twitter feed for Impact Church. Their web page is fascinating, however.

And I also touched just a bit on blogging. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past nine years as a blogger, so obviously, I think highly of that medium.

I did manage to point folks toward my tips for beginning bloggers, but I didn’t really cover search engine optimization — mostly, because I doubt SEO is very important to individual church congregations. However, if anyone out there wants to read my SEO screed — along with my SEO horror story — here it is.

Also my old colleague Steve Buttry wrote an interesting piece last week comparing and contrasting blogging to writing a column. That’s a bit advanced for the crowd I addressed Friday, I think. But it’s a great item to read if you’re getting deeper into blogging.

Find my social media slideshow here.

Eventually, of course, I came to the end of my time with the folks of UMAC. I hope I was able to teach a few lessons. I definitely made a few new friends.

And, you’ll be glad to note, that Elizabeth managed to keep me awake all the way home. The trick turned out to be early-era Beatles, wide-open on the stereo. And the sun roof open.

Mental note: One of these days I need to blog about the bass playing of Paul McCartney