Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Newsroom Cafe

It doesn't look too busy in this panorama photo (taken at closing time), but I watched plenty of people come and go from this Newsroom Cafe at the Register Journal in Torrington, CT for a couple of days. Great office.

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Friday, March 11, 2011


Sometimes something you think will be important...

View Montgomery County flood map in a larger map

turns out to be pretty insignificant compared to...

... something else.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tools of the trade

As part of my work for IdeaLab, I have been asked to learn and share my knowledge about some items on a long list of free online tools useful to journalists.

From the list, these are tools I have actually used in my daily work:

- Audacity: One of the most useful free programs ever. It can do everything from simple audio editing to complex audio editing to audio conversions. I just found how to make it record streaming web audio (from any source!)

- Aviary: A great suite of online tools for image, audio and video editing. Despite not having music lessons for the past 30 years or so, I managed to create some decent music for videos here.

- Foursquare (not): I know, it's the best app ever and I'm supposed to love it. I just can't get into it, however. I just don't care who is mayor of Starbucks.

- TweetDeck: This is my addiction. I could stare at it all day, and sometimes do.

- WidgetBox: I actually created an iPhone app with this in an hour. It's crazy easy to use, but you still have to pony up the Apple developers fee to actually see you app in the app store.

- Quora: A database of questions and answers. A great place to find some good advice.

- SurveyMonkey: Create embeddable online polls quickly

- UStream:
Free online live video streamer turns everybody into a TV network. Works with iPhone and Android, too. Or try out or the somewhat more professional Livestream.

Here's some accordian music recorded live at the Philly Folk Festival

- Google Voice: I use this for phone conferences, interviews, and calls to Mom. The sound is great, and it's free.

- Evernote: Good way to organize notes on your gadgets.

- Kaywa QR code: Use this to generate those zippy little bar codes for mobile phones.

- Zamzar: Convert files into something you can use. Stick it to Microsoft and their DocX's.

- Animoto: Creates effects-laden slide shows. Lots of fun, a bit gimmicky.

- PhotoSynth: I just started playing with this. It automatically stitches photos together to create a panorama. Does in seconds what used to take me hours to do.

Honorable mention (other freebies not on the list): GIMP photo editor, Google Maps-Fusion-Docs, Dropbox (the single-most useful app EVER), SynthFont (another great way to create music for free), CoverItLive. I'll think of more later.

And which ones do I want to learn more about? Aviary, Dipity, Google Fusion, WidgetBox, CrowdMap, Google everything, geocommons, fx.

I'll be posting examples of stuff I create as I explore some of these great online tools.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Face the music

The music on this video was obtained directly from the musician, a friend.

Recently my wife was doing some freelance marketing work for a music licensing business. Besides learning a bit about this HUGE market (which is changing rapidly, like most of the music business), I also started listening to the space behind the dialogue on TV shows and commercials.

Whether you realize it or not, it is often filled with music. Sometimes just generic 'elevator music' and other times popular songs you might even recognize. The music drives the visuals, sets the tone for the video, and can be the difference between a home video and something closer to professional (and watchable).

Videos posted on YouTube mashups featured so many popular songs that YouTube just cut deals with some music sites to easily license use of songs on the site.

But for journalists, using licensed music is not an option unless you have the budget to pay for it. Under Fair Use copyright laws, you can keep SOME background music in a video (like the music playing at a dance competition, for example) but only in very limited quantities (generally 20 seconds or less). In this example, the music would reflect what is happening on the screen - the dancers are actually dancing to the song on the sound track in real time.

Fair Use does not allow you to use that background music under an ENTIRE video highlight reel, for example, even if the song was playing at PART of the event depicted in the video. So, in our example, if you used a copyrighted song recorded at the competition as a continuous soundtrack under B-roll video of the dancers arriving, preparing, an interview with an organizer, and finally the dancing itself - that song would need to be licensed. If the music was only heard in short clips showing the dancers actually dancing to it, you would be covered under Fair Use.

And remember, even a local band covering popular songs is included in Fair Use laws. The performance may not be copyrighted, but the song is. And to confuse things further, an orchestra playing a public-domain song (music free of copyright restrictions because of its age) could still be considered restricted, since the PERFORMANCE might be copyrighted. Using sound from a local string quartet playing Mozart is only acceptable if the quartet has agreed to let you use their performance, even though permission isn't usually needed for the music itself.

I need to put in some legalese here - I am not a lawyer and don't play one on TV. Many attorneys make their living on copyright law, since it is complicated and full of exceptions. For a good summary of Fair Use laws, I suggest looking HERE. Another good discussion HERE. Much has been written about Fair Use, and the definitions are changing all the time. Do your research.

So if you want to use some music in your videos but don't want to get sued, what are your choices? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find local music and get permission to use it. Some local bands, composers, and students would be happy to provide music in return for a link to their web sites and/or a credit on the video. This can be an opportunity to build their reputation and use the publicity to seek paid gigs.
  • Use non-copyrighted material. A good example is a local band 'jamming' at a concert (assuming you have permission to use their performance). Another I have used extensively is high school marching bands warming up before a game. The drum lines and percussion often play beats for several minutes, providing a great backdrop for action footage of the game.

    Example of HS marching band drums used as a musical intro

  • Purchase a royalty-free disk. For a set amount (which varies based on the quality and quantity of music provided) you can purchase disks or downloads of music which can then be used without further compensation in your videos. Many web sites (such as Magnatune) also sell royalty-free music with the same purpose - pay one amount, use the music however you want. Be aware: Royalty-free is NOT copyright-free music - instead of licensing it for a specific project, you are buying the rights to use the music outright. Many web sites advertising 'free music' are actually selling royalty-free collections. You still have to pay.
  • Use Garage Band, MIDI or other music creation programs. New versions of Garage Band are so sophisticated that with even with just a little musical aptitude, you can knock out a driving loop for a sports video or a simple tune for a how-to video. Some of the 'samples' are virtually self-contained songs in themselves. Another music creation resource is Aviary - a web-based music tool (which also has some other interesting creative tools).

    Music on this video was created from a public domain score found on the Internet, then rendered on a free MIDI editor, SynthFont.

  • Use music from musicians that have posted copyright-free material (using a Creative Commons license). Read the rules of use carefully - some ask for a credit on the video, some ask for nothing. Here are a few such sites: One of the oldest and most widely-used freebie sites with a HUGE selection of background music You can search this site for free commercial use music.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Photos matter

Take a look at the photos in this Yahoo story about toxic cities (we're #1!).

Notice what three of the five of the photos have in common? They depict cities shrouded in haze.

Then read the story...Philadelphia and New York don't have an air pollution problem, they have a groundwater problem resulting from the dumping of industrial wastes.

So an editor in a hurry probably just typed in 'Philadelphia' and 'pollution' or 'haze' and threw in the ugliest photo that popped up. The photo doesn't outright lie -the city does have some hazy days - but it doesn't tell the story, either.

This is a pet peeve of mine - many web photos are generically chosen from stock or wire services and really don't have much to do with the stories they are attached to. Sometimes they exaggerate the content, sometimes they are just irrelevant. Either way, this is sloppy journalism. Images matter. I hope editors care more than this.