Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur

Emily Grasile produces The Brain Scoop, short educational videos, for The Field Museum. She has an abundance of personality, and it is clear that is a key to her success in her niche — along with being a very clear speaker.

“I’m very hopeful about the future of online video, and that’s why I believe in what I’m doing.”

Shares these guidelines for short videos:

  1. Good host
  2. Good editing
  3. Good script (fun, quick pace, targeted audience)

If there is one lesson from this, it appears that the people behind the video are more important than the goal of creating video. Emily is passionate about her topics and the educational mission, which fuels her energy and personality, which makes her video entertaining and relatable.

Perhaps that is not a major epiphany, but it is an important reminder to a manager looking to spur video creation.


Make something they’ll watch

The Web Video session Thursday was interesting but not very directly suited to local newsrooms — all of the examples required some substantial (from my perspective) resources.

I’ll need to go back into this later to add links for the examples

Bill Smee @billsmee working at nbc news on new breed of digital video.
1. “30 seconds to Know” example about super moon. Timer gimmick and text on screen and clean look. “We take the view that it’s kind of experimental theater.”
2. “Show me.” Animated explainer series.
3. Also emphasis on archives with “Flashback” series. Tienammen square example.

“Given all the technology… It’s astonishing to me what we can do for a relatively modest price point”

Drake Martinet VICE News @withdrake (cofounder of now this news)
Vice news launched 7 months ago and is fastest growing thing that company has ever done
1. Opening example is not a real example, it is a resume reel. Accent on international documentary film makers. A lot of production value.
2. #vicenews explainer commercial
Says there is a “maniacal focus on the story at vice news”
Length is dictated by the story
“We can publish at any length we want. The format fits the story, not the other way around”

Both Bill and Drake have discussed departing from TV graphics. Saying lower thirds, for example, may need to change to suit the screens.

Latoya Peterson, al jazera, @latoyapeterson
1. Plays “shit girls say” example
2. Smutty dance example
Says we are also now in age of “micro video” like Vine (or 5second film)
Suggests: spend a lot of time figuring out what people are doing
Steal this from TV: script to your visuals
Steal this from the web: everything will break by next year


What is on the other side of the curiosity gap? (Standout)

That’s my best attempt at an ironic “curiosity gap” title, one of the strategies mentioned during the ona session about virality. It may or may not also be an attempt at clickbait.

The gap was one of the many strategies presented for titles, followed by “the one thing…” Or “kids” or “numbers (of magnitude)” or “relatability (things everyone likes, like pizza)”

Pitched as a session where the panelists give feedback to attendees, this turned out to be more of a news manager’s perspective on fine tuning content to make it viral.

“When you’re looking for a viral story, you’ve got to keep in mind your audience,” one said.

Another suggested that the old journalistic saying, “You’re not writing for the people in the room,” may be wrong. Niche readership can push the tipping point and make things go viral.

“There’s and audience for every time of content online”


Game on (useful links)

This entry contains links that I will try to evaluate very soon. They promise easy adoptions for uninitiated users.

To start the session we were asked to play a Guesstimator game which is based on the Census reporter api. And the code is free on github for us to use and change for other cities.


  • Gender balance neutral
  • 80% of App Store revenue is games
  • 1/2 of app downloads are games.
  • “Games right now are like early photographs” ~RSM.

Ever since my News21 experience, I’ve been interested in gamification of news. In 2009 I recall proposing our whole fellowship could center on that — it is good for storytelling and for business. In this ona14 session, the premise seems to be that gamification has a bad connotation in our circles but shouldn’t.

“Games create an engagement environment on site” ~Sisi

This panel argues: Popular quizzes, a la Buzzfeed or even our national team’s own experiments can be extremely popular examples of gamification that works for both the audience and the organization. Games are non-traditional presentations, but isn’t that what we’re looking for after all?

The panel suggested other terms that might avoid the ugliness of the word “gamification,” like Serious game” or “topical game.”

Examples (I’ll have to find the links for these later)

RSM “A lot of these games they feed you information that relates to the real world”

When developing a game, be willing to throw out the ideas that turn out to be bad. “Stop brainstorming and start prototyping,”they say.

Suggests “paper prototyping” to get people to play a rudimentary version and see what works. The iterative process. “Every time you change one rule, test it again”

Session Cheat sheet includes info on Twine, recommended starting platform.


Quotes from opening keynote of ONA 14

From the welcome speeches:

Meredith Artley, CNN on net neutrality: “there are some issues that make the difference between being silenced and being heard”
“If you’re not a digital journalist, now, you’re in the minority”

From panel discussion on Ferguson, Mo:

Wesley Lowry WaPo, detained in ferguson, “I don’t ever go to my job and expect to get my rights violated”
“the story isn’t even about Michael brown any more, this is a deeper story”
“The whole arc of ferguson, the power of it, is about video” WL says that is one of the reasons the story went national.
“To this day the police have not out forth a narrative of what actually happened”
“Our broad goal should be to shine the light in dark places”

Trymaine Lee, MSNBC, “There’s a clear difference in the way black or brown people die in America”
“He was armed with his blackness”
“if everything keeps calm on the streets, interest dwindles” expresses “fear that we are going to miss the heart of the story”

Claire Ward, VICE News
“If everyone is chasing the one guy getting arrested, turn around and see what’s behind you.”
on feedback from local viewers “I was struck with a sense of responsibility and urgency to do my job well”
“we’re and ecosystem of media here… As someone who covers stories around the world, I’m still listening”
“editing is manipulation, everybody does it”


Before the conference, How to guides

Can’t attend ONA14? Stream these events

Colleagues, here are links to a few of the ONA14 events you might want to consider streaming:




This is not a list of every session that will have streaming audio or video, but a list of the ones that I think will have the most utility for our Scripps teams.

Before the conference

Prediction: Data viz and video will be the lesson of ONA14

When I go out to an ONA conference, I enjoy some of the speculative discussions and industry review but I judge my experience on the lessons I can take back and work with.

Last year, after I left the Online News Association’s conference in Atlanta, I realized that maps were a primary lesson from the conference. My notes from those three days are full of tutorials and tips about mapping.

This year, the schedule shows significantly fewer lessons about mapping — but there are a dominant number of sessions about data visualizations. Some of those lessons are taking place on the midway, which seems to involve more scheduled events than last year. Many others take place in the ballrooms-turned-classrooms.

Ironically, big data was the subject of last year’s keynote by Nate Silver (of FiveThirtyEight fame).

While I know that we’re probably behind the cutting-edge on our ability to use and present data, I must wonder if it is as valuable to the business as it is interesting to the reporter.

Video-related sessions are also frequent, which is great because video has become a clear focus in our digital news strategies. I’m certain that these are valuable to the consumer and the business, and I wish there were more sessions on the topic.

By my quick (and totally unofficial) count, the schedule includes at least 20 scheduled events related to working with data – either about gathering or presenting with various tools. I also count at least eight scheduled events related to video.

As soon as the conference begins on Sept. 25, I’ll start posting notes here — and I hope to get a few of my Scripps co-workers to post their notes too!

~Phil Tenser