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Funny stuff..


I discovered this the other day when I went to view the HTML code for our website.

This a screen grab of what the programmers put in the code, which you can view by clicking “view source” on a web browser.

That is funny to me. The programmers at the Sun are unreal, and this is just one funny way of showing it.

9-5 Job….Nope

I never expected this internship to be a 9-5 job. I never really wanted it to be, either. Part of the reason for that is because I hate waking up at 7:30 every morning. I would much rather work until one or two in the morning than be at work at 9 everyday.

Luckily I’m in the right spot. Also covering sports, I’ll be working a lot of nights anyways. I bring this up because yesterday was a day that sums up the 24 hour coverage journalists have to provide in this time.

For college football fanatics, yesterday was National Signing Day, and all the high school studs officially stated where they will go on to play college ball. Here in Vegas a number of kids signed to play some big time college football, and we wanted to capture the excitement of the day.

To do so, we blew up our coverage. We had several reporters on signing day assignments, and we covered it from the angle of local kids signing scholarships and also the players from across the country coming to play at UNLV.

Like a lot of the things done at the Sun, we blew up our coverage of signing day. We had an individual page for the event, which included all of the recruiting articles we have written. All of them. Not just the ones from yesterday, but the entire year.

We also had team pages, with school records and statistics. With the stats page you can compare the individual leaders around the area, and also break down team numbers. That’s some good background info.

Then I went out to three high schools yesterday for their signing day festivities. I put together three videos to compliment the articles and also a video to run on the TV show All-In. This made for a long day; one that started at 6:30 and ended around 1:30 when I finally finished the last video.

Even though the hours were long, the coverage was awesome. We have a great product to show, and people in Vegas are starting to realize the kind of coverage we are giving these high school athletes. It’s fun to have a part in that effort.

Bro, it’s the Internet…

Yesterday I covered the Super Bowl for the Sun. But like most of what we do, I covered it with a local twist. The Super Bowl is a HUGE weekend for Vegas, and we wanted to capture some of that interest.

Outside of actually being at the Super Bowl, Vegas is probably the next most popular city to watch the game. The reason for that is simple–money. In recent years about $90 million is bet on the Super Bowl and all of the ridiculous prop bets, so people have an invested interest in the game.

To cover the Super Bowl, I went to a local bar that is known as a place where Steelers fans watch games. Another reporter went to a sportsbook and the ESPN Zone with a photographer, and one of our bloggers and another videographer watched the game from the Hilton Sportsbook (the biggest sportsbook in town). That’s some good local coverage of a Super Bowl!

So I’m at this bar with a bunch of Steelers fans, and I had the privilege of being “that creepy guy with a video camera.” I would film people watching the game, getting reactions and trying to keep them from noticing me so that I wouldn’t lose the real emotion of the moments. After getting some video of them, I would explain I’m with the Las Vegas Sun.

After explaining to one guy that I worked with the Sun, I got the question of the day… maybe even the year. He looks at me and says, “Now I have to ask this stupid question. How do you take video for a newspaper?”

I looked at him, and just thought, “Bro, it’s called the Internet.”

A little later a man came up and asked me what network I’m filming for. Again, I explained I’m with the Sun and it’s for the Internet. As I was leaving he told me he was going to watch the news on TV to see the video. Ohh boy.

That’s part of the challenge for newspapers. Even though everyone knows the Internet is there, people don’t necessarily think of a newspaper doing video, or having interactive guides, or texting you with updates from the game. People still think of it as… the newspaper.

I think that is changing, but encounters like yesterday make me wonder.

How do you make people aware of all a website has to offer? I’m not sure I know the answer. But I’d sure that to figure that out :)

Shark Bytes

One of my favorite things to consistently read on www.lasvegassun.com is a blog written by somebody who never went to journalism school and probably won’t win a Pulitzer for his contribution to the media. But it’s entertaining and insightful.

I’m talking about the blog, Shark Bytes, written by legendary UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. As I’ve said before, Tark is a legend and fan favorite here in Vegas, and people care about what he has to say. He is also a controversial guy because of his dealings with the NCAA, which makes his posts even more intriguing.

He updates this blog a couple times a week and he simply posts what is on his mind. Sometimes he writes about the current UNLV team. Other times he talks about his relationship with current and former college basketball coaches. The blog is basically just what Tark thinks is important enough to write.

His recent post definitely caught my eye for his brute honesty. In this post Tark goes into detail about two coaches he never liked, and why he feels so strongly about his disdain for them.

That makes good reading material!

In a world where coaches–especially the big-names–shy away from controversy, I really appreciate this kind of writing. Tarkanian often writes about the coaches he like and respects, so some people asked if he has any coaches that he never really liked. Instead of just avoiding the topic, he jumped right into it with this post.

The reason I bring this up is because I think having this feature on a newspaper website is a great idea. It makes sense. People in Vegas are interested by what Tark has to say, and this gives UNLV fans who can’t get enough Rebels coverage a way to hear from a coaching legend every week.

Also, because all the stories on the site are comment-enabled, people post comments/questions on the blogs and sometimes Tark will respond directly to those questions in future posts. I’m not sure how many “newspapers” around the country are giving fans the chance to interact with a legendary coach like Tarkanian, but it seems to me like a good thing to try.

I’ll send you a link…

I’ll start off this post with a little background…

The Las Vegas Sun is in a unique situation, separate from most newspapers around the country. As I have mentioned before, the print version of the Sun comes as an insert inside the of the much-bigger Las Vegas Review-Journal. For this reason, many people naturally think of the Sun as the second newspaper in town.

That has nothing to do with the quality of the paper, but just the nature of how it’s delivered.

Also, until about a year ago, the website for the Sun was ancient. It basically only put up articles that had already run in the print edition. Rob, my boss, wrote in his blog about the old website for the Sun by saying, “Newspaper websites typically aren’t killer, and the Las Vegas Sun’s site was about 10 years behind the rest of the industry.”

The reason I bring all that up, is to explain what the Sun is up against in terms of attracting viewers to the website. For the past couple of years the people in Vegas who wanted to get news online didn’t really considered going to the Sun’s website. They developed a habit, and people are creatures of habit. We’re trying to change that.

How do you do that?

I can’t speak for what’s going on at the upper levels within Greenspun Media, but the obvious focus starts with providing content that is better than the competitor. It’s a simple idea: provide better stuff and more people will want to come to your site.

Within the last year and a half, the website operation at the Sun has changed tremendously…like in a reallly big way. Now the Sun has a ton of web-only content, and a lot of it is cool stuff that you could never get in a newspaper. Stuff like the history of Las Vegas, information about the water crisis and stories about construction workers who have died building all these billion dollar hotels.

All of this content comes in addition to the daily news operation, which includes breaking news stories, photo galleries, entertaining video, practical community guides, etc. It doesn’t take long to go on the Sun’s website and see that the content is top-notch, much better than many local newspapers around the country.

Now this brings me back to the original point… we’re attracting people to a website that is relatively “new.” The new site launched about a year ago, and since then the traffic numbers have gone way up. I have no idea of specific numbers, just that the audience to the site has grown significantly, and it’s still growing.

To keep that upward trend, we have to continue spreading the word about the site. This can be done in big and small ways. And as an intern, I think my efforts classify in the “small ways” category. This is something as simple as sending a source a link to a story I write about them.

I have been out on a couple of video shoots the past week and in both cases the people I talked with were super excited about being on camera and having a video on them. They wanted to see the video ASAP. So i give them a business card and then e-mail them the link when I post the story.

No, that’s not a revolutionary idea. But it’s simple. And smart.

That is a way to get people involved in the process. It gives people a means distribute the news that is important to them. One high school kid told me that he couldn’t wait for me to finish the video about his team so he could put it on his Myspace and Facebook page.

In most situations the best way for something like this to grow is by word of mouth, and the simple things like sending along the links to a story are an effective way to do that. As journalists we’re not really the people in the office out “selling”our product. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to get the word out about what we’re doing.

We want people to read and watch our stuff, and we should make it easy for them to do. But like I said before, all of this starts with putting out a good product, and if you don’t have quality content then nobody will read or watch your stuff no matter how many people you send links.

Know your community

As journalists we’re expected to know the communities where we live and work. We’re supposed to find the good stories, keep people in power accountable for their actions and give people information that pertains to their lives.

Sometimes that information is movie times. Sometimes it is score updates to your local college/professional/high school team. Sometimes it is a story about a politician abusing power or a series of crimes in a certain neighborhood. There’s no secret formula on what classifies a story as a good one, but I think it starts with the basic idea of knowing your community and what’s important to it.

Here in Vegas one of the people adored by the community is former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. The “Shark” led UNLV to four Final Four appearances and one national title and he was, and still is a legend in Vegas. Tark writes a blog for our website, and it’s good stuff. (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)

Any kind of news about Tark gets people’s attention. It’s not much different than a story about Jim Tressel in Columbus. People read that stuff. One of the Home News (suburban arm of the Las Vegas Sun) reporters found a story about Tarkanian’s grandaughter, Dannielle Diamant, who is one of the top girl’s basketball players in Vegas. She’s on one of the best teams and is headed to Northwestern to play basketball next year. That’s an interesting story!

The reporter wrote a good article on Dannielle, a photographer put together a photo gallery and I produced a video with game/practice footage plus interviews from her and her coach. All of this stuff is viewable from the article page. It’s the total package for a high school sports story. I’m not sure how many newspapers in the country are giving a high school girl’s basketball story that type of coverage.

This story went online Thursday evening and ran in the paper Friday. On Saturday it was one of the top ten most read stories on the Las Vegas Sun. I think the headline, Jerry Tarkanian’s granddaughter continues hoops legacy, helped with that. Like I said, people in the community love to read and watch stuff about Tark, and this story grabbed some of that audience.

This story was ultimately hatched from the idea that it is imperative to know your community as a journalist. When you have someone like Tarkanian in the community who is an absolute icon, it’s critical for a news agency to capture that and make sure
they jump at the chance to share that kind of story in the best possible way.

Super Bowl

The game of all games. Every year the Super Bowl brings in the biggest TV audiences, highest ticket prices and generates the most talk around the office. It’s the one game of the year that everybody watches, regardless of whether they even care about football.

The Super Bowl is less of a game and more of an event. It seems like more people watch for the commercials and the extravagant halftime show rather than the game itself.

With the game two weeks away, people in Vegas have another reason to watch: money. People in Vegas love to bet, and Super Bowl wagers bring in more money to sports books than any single sporting event. (The NCAA tourney is bigger overall…but for single games the Super Bowl is king).

People come to Vegas specifically for Super Bowl weekend, and these bettors put down big money on the game. But just like people don’t watch the Super Bowl for the game itself, they don’t gamble only on the game either. Sportsbooks in Vegas give people all kinds of bets to wager.

Some of these prop bets are closely tied to the game, like will a team score in the final two minutes of the first half. The gambling columnist of the Las Vegas Sun recently wrote a column about some of these prop bets.

Other bets have little to do with the game and more to do with the event. For example, some sportsbooks take bets on the coin flip, or the over/under on the length of the national anthem. This stuff is interesting. It makes people laugh.

To capture this excitement surrounding the Super Bowl, I went to a number of local sportsbooks on the strip to see what kind of prop bets they are offering. The Hilton is is the book that is known for its prop bets, and they put out a 22-page listing of over 400 props for the game. I then put these bets together in a blog for our site.

Is this good journalism? I think so. It may not be gritty investigative reporting or uncovering some grave problem in society, but it’s interesting and it gets people talking. Also, this kind of story is local, timely and relevant. The story tells readers about some of the bets they can make, which is very practical.

Las Vegas is a gambling town, and people love to talk about betting. I found out how true this is when a blog I posted about some odd-ball bets being taken on the Presidential Inauguration through online gambling sites. This blog went up Monday night, and Wednesday it was one of the top-10 most read stories on the site.

Just like the blog about Inaugural bets, the story on the prop bets of the Super Bowl is interesting. It’s local and national, and it gets people talking. To me, that is journalism!

Obama everywhere

With the Inauguration tomorrow it seems like Obama is all people are talking about these days. And rightfully so. We really are watching history in the making.

It’s not often that we can recognize that what is unfolding right in front of us is going to end up in history books somedays. Most of the time we simply look at events with a day-to-day microscope, sometimes missing the big-picture. But with all of the news coverage surrounding the election of Barack Obama, I’ve realized that we’re witnessing something special, something historic. When you think about it in those terms, it’s pretty cool.

I can’t tell you I remember watching any other Presidential Inauguration in my life, even though I’m sure I have. But I know I’m going to watch the Inauguration tomorrow because I recognize what it means as a whole, regardless of people’s political leanings.

Usually it takes years for us to look back on a time and realize that what was happening had historic value. I’m not sure if the people who watched and listened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” in 1963 realized the place that speech would have in history. Maybe some of them did, but I would guess that not many people could have known right then, that King’s speech would stand the test of time and go down as some of the greatest words even spoken.

Similarly, I’m not sure what place in history Obama’s election and Inauguration will hold. Who knows if his speech tomorrow will be the kind of thing that ends up etched in the walls of a monument? But I do understand that tomorrow could likely be a day people will be talking about and reading about long down the road.

With all of that said, the documentation of this election and Inauguration has to be greater than any Presidential race before. I’m not sure exactly how to quantify that statement, but it seems like it just has to be true. The amount of 24-hour in-depth coverage has given people an information overload, but the coverage also creates a valuable archive for the writers of history books to use 100-years down the road.

Some of the news coverage has blown my mind. One of the coolest things I’ve seen is what CNN is doing in terms of user-generated content. CNN wants to get people involved and give them “ownership” of the coverage, so they are having people send in photos they take during the Inauguration. The photos can be of any angle of the Inauguration ceremony tomorrow from D.C.

Once people send in these photos, then CNN compiles these crazy graphics of hundreds of images to give a panorama type view of the Inauguration scene, and it is all generated from images submitted by viewers. I saw a demonstration of this yesterday on CNN during the coverage of the “We Are One” event. Very cool.

Also, ireport.com is allowing people to share their stories of the Inauguration on the user-generated, unfiltered news site.

Even though the coverage CNN is doing has nothing to do with me and this internship, I thought it was worth mentioning because of the national interest appeal.

As far as how the Las Vegas Sun is covering the Inauguration… The Sun has a blog that has been updated several times a day starting over the weekend. Most of the posts have been done by a reporter who is in D.C. covering the event.

She has provided some unique story angles about the atmosphere around D.C., to the Inauguration party scene and old Harvard classmates talking about Obama.

I contributed to this blog today with an interesting post about people betting on the Inauguration. Some websites are taking bets on everything from how long Obama’s speech will last, to what color tie he will wear. (A pink is bringing in 25-1 odds).
It’s Vegas, so of course people love to talk about gambling, which made this an interesting and pertinent topic.

In addition to this blog from D.C., we’re also covering the event and the reactions taking place here in Vegas. How are people going to watch the event on the strip? What are they saying about it?

One of my favorite videos is one of people at a local barber shop talking about the election of Obama. To me, that is local journalism.

Well that’s it for now. I’ll be watching tomorrow, as I get to see history in the making!

The Video World

Since starting as an intern at the Las Vegas Sun one of my main jobs has been to provide video content for the website. I love shooting and editing video, so this job is right up my alley.

Web-based video is not a new idea and many newspapers around the country have some form of video on their websites. Each newspaper has a different goal with their online video content, and an approach that works for a company in one market may not translate to newspapers around the country.

Before starting this internship, I was well aware that the Sun had made a commitment to producing high quality video. One look through the multimedia section of the site tells you that. But what I didn’t completely realize was the scope of the video operation at Greenspun Interactive.

This is some advanced stuff. You hear “web video for a newspaper site” and the first thing that comes to mind is watching a 30-second clip on a tiny screen. Not the most appealing thing in the world. Here it’s a different story.

The video team at Greenspun Interactive uses high definition cameras and FInal Cut Pro editing software to produce videos with tremendous quality. You can blow up these videos to view on a full screen and the quality still looks good.

Also, Greenspun Interactive has the manpower in place to produce these top-notch videos. GMG has a team of about ten people who work specifically on the video side of things. I have only spent time in about a half dozen newsrooms in my young career, but it seems like having this many people dedicated to video content is a much larger commitment than most “newspapers” have made.

The staff of video producers are great with cameras and know Final Cut top to bottom. The attention to detail blows my mind. I feel like I better be on my A-game just to make sure I keep up.

This commitment to web video is no accident, and my boss, Rob Curley, wrote a very detailed blog about the approach Greenspun Interactive takes when providing online video.

Many of these videos could go on local television and be on par with the quality of local news. In fact, some of the video does go on television. Much of the sports video ends up on the local sports show, All In, which airs weekly on the station VegasTV.

Many of our videos can stand alone, without people needing to read an article to understand the video. Some of the videos are used to supplement articles, and it’s not unusual to find articles on LasVegasSun.com with two or three videos linked to it.

The videos I’m working on are going to be supplements to some of the high school print stories our staff is working on. These stories could easily run without a video piece, but like I’ve said before, there’s something valuable in providing a complete package. I have no idea about the traffic these videos generate, but I naturally think the videos draw people to the website because viewers get something more than they can in the newspaper.

When people know they can watch themselves in a video, they want to. Everybody likes to watch themselves. So they jump online and watch the video attached to the story. Then mom and dad e-mail the link to friends, aunts, uncles, etc. Suddenly everybody gets to see Johnny getting interviewed.

It seems like news websites are still trying to figure out how to use online video, and there is a debate about the value it has. But the one thing everybody can agree on is that these visual elements have an appeal.

For now, I’ll just focus on putting out some good videos and hope I can keep up with the talent around me.

Newspapers and Porn Conventions?

So in the first week of my internship with Greenspun Interactive, I quickly discovered that what classifies as news in Vegas might be something I would have never considered as newsworthy in Columbus or Athens.

For example, two big time conventions made their way to Vegas this week….the AVN and AEE. These “adult-film” conventions are hot topic around town and have sparked some very interesting conversations around the office–conversations I can easily say I’ve never heard in another newsroom.

With these events in town, several members of the Greenspun team headed to conventions to provide all encompassing coverage–articles, videos, photos and live blogging. All of this for a porn convention. Welcome to Vegas!

Las Vegas Weekly, the magazine owned by the Greenspuns, handled the majority of the coverage because it has an adult audience and publishes more risque stuff. LasVegasSun.com mentioned the porn conventions, but did not go to the lengths the Weekly did.

LasVegasWeekly.com even had a full page on the website dedicated to the porn convention. This page included stories and videos that I never expected to find their way onto news website.

But again, I’m learning that Vegas has a different set of rules–in many ways. (Quick sidenote… I walked into the CVS by my house the other day and found that they have slot machines and a 24-hour liquor store. I don’t think you’ll find either of those in the CVS on Court St.)

I was not one of the reporters sent to cover the porn conventions this week, but believe it or not, there was plenty of other stuff going on in Vegas to keep me busy.

Last night I covered a boxing match, which was my first time attending a live boxing event. I had to learn on the fly, and couldn’t help laughing at some of the wild characters you find at a boxing fight.

As a reporter for this fight, which was a relatively minor event, I wrote the article and took photos for the web. The story and corresponding photo gallery were on the web by midnight.

One of the things I love about the Sun is that we’re expected to produce the complete package when we cover an event. A print story is really not enough, and if I wanted photos to accompany the story, then it was up to me to take them.

And while I recognize I’m no expert in the world of photo journalism, I’m glad I get the chance to develop that skill. I hope someday it makes me more marketable.