Monday, April 25, 2016

How we built an online photo magazine from scratch using PS, Word

A rough draft of page designation on the white board during early stages of our planning.
   Sometimes you just have to work with the tools you’ve got, and make what’s old new again.
   That’s what my Introduction to Photojournalism students at Owens Community College did when we created a 24-page magazine from scratch.
   It was seriously daunting for all of us. I haven’t designed a publication since I was the editor of the 180th Fighter Wing’s newspaper, The Stinger, and I did that using Adobe Pagemaker. Who uses that anymore? InDesign would have been preferable, but it wasn’t available, and it’s too big of a learning curve to teach the students at the tail end of the semester, anyway. I was actually trained on InDesign by one of the best in the business, the great Jon Wile, the senior news designer for the Washington Post when I took his class at Kent State University. He was responsible for designing the A1 page.
   All we had in the classroom was Photoshop and Word. The students had limited Photoshop skills, and didn’t know a thing about magazine layout and design, but we needed a change, and they needed a challenge.
   Traditionally, this class used Soundslides to showcase their final team photo project, but the audio slideshow software is outdated. I wanted a modern publishing platform that would showcase a good body of work, and require critical thinking and teamwork.
    As the adviser to the Owens Outlook online student newspaper, the staff and I have been toying with the idea of creating an online magazine. So, why not make an assignment out of it?
   I have fond memories of my days when I was as a military newspaper editor of several publications, both tabloid and broadsheet. There is nothing more satisfying and thrilling than filling empty pages with content.  Since we would make the content, I figured we’d build the magazine as we went, considering a magazine has lots of pieces and parts.
   The students, mostly commercial photography majors, thought I was nuts. And maybe I was, but they needed a challenge that was completely different than what they were used to, which was primarily blogging and sharing their photography via social media. I wanted them to boldly showcase their work in a way that would make them feel accomplished, proud and shareable.
   I confess that I tried the online magazine format in the previous class three semesters ago, but I made a few tactical mistakes that prevented the publication from getting completed and published.
1.     Last time, we shot the community story on Bittersweet Farms too late. We didn’t have enough time to complete the magazine. It was about 95 percent done, then the semester ended. 
- This time, we shot the project a month before the semester was over.
2.     Last time, only one student was tasked to design the entire publication using InDesign on his personal computer. That meant the others were sitting around watching. I tried to emulate a real newsroom, but it didn’t work. This prevented the others from designing their own pages and being ultimately responsible for their own design.
- This time, they were all responsible for their own assigned pages.
   In this blog post I’m going to share how they successfully accomplished their 24-page creation.
STEP 1:  Choose a subject that would lend itself to magazine-type coverage.
In the past, this class has covered Bittersweet FarmsCherry Street MissionWood Lane School in Bowling Green, and even the problem of arson in urban Toledo.
   This semester we visited Sunshine Communities, a residential home and outreach center for people with developmental disabilities.
   We only spend 90 minutes there, but each of the six students had their jobs to do:
  •       Nate wrote the main story and a sidebar, and shot the art studio in Maumee, Ohio
  •     Caleb shot and produced the video
  •     Kyle covered the barn
  •     Chris shot the greenhouse, and Georgette’s in Downtown Maumee
  •     Courtney and Jackie documented the vocational services and art room                   
STEP 2:  Choose a magazine format.
I chose Issuu, a free electronic publishing platform. The key word here is publishing, meaning that the magazine has to first be designed and saved in PDF format before uploading it to Issuu.
   Then we had to select a design software. Since all we had was Photoshop and Word, that made the decision easy. We also had a video we wanted to embed in the publication, and Word allows you to do that.
   The problem using this platform is that we exceeded, by A LOT, the size of the issue. The free basic package only allows you 100MB. We were over 500! So, I have to find another way to get this magazine published. However, all 24 pages on now posted on this blog.    
STEP 3: Iron out the small details:
·      Size and page count of the publication
·      Front cover photo and flag
·      Font and font sizes for stories, captions and headlines
·      What’s on each page, and who has what pages
·      Page numbers
·      How to do double-trucks, since Issuu only accepts two-page spreads as a single PDF. Alas, we did it wrong. I'll update this post when I get it right...
STEP 4:  Get the final product into Issuu:
This was a little tricky, considering there aren’t quality instructional videos or guides for the entire process. We had to learn as we went. When we got to a roadblock, we Googled how to get over it.
   One of the big hurdles was how Issuu accepts the PDF files. We had to merge the PDF pages into one using Acrobat. At first I was a little concerned about the PDF conversion, but that made it easier when using more than one design software.
   Once the students were done with their pages, we saved them as PDFs, collected them into a single folder, merged them, and attempted to upload it to Issuu. But, as you now know, our file size was too big.
   We studied quite a few Issuu magazines to get ideas, and I think the overall design worked! 
   Yes, there are mistakes. Yes, there will be people who will point out those mistakes.  But a great benefit of this project is that students need to learn you don’t have to really know what you’re doing to try it. If you have an idea, take a risk and just do it! Fear shouldn't stop the learning process or the attempt! I hope this is one of the lessons learned.

Friday, April 15, 2016

NPR's Ira Glass: Good, creative work takes good taste and many years...

   This video offers great words of inspiration and wisdom for every journalism student out there who is struggling to find their place in this crazy world of storytelling.
    This is a stressful time for students, who are working hard to make creative work, earn good final grades, find jobs and internships, and discover their voices. So, when I first saw this video, posted on Facebook by Owens Community College photography professor Ruth Foote, I thought that this would be a perfect time to share it, as well. Yes, I used the word 'perfect,' which I've pretty much banned from my classroom, but in this case it's fitting, because students need this kind of inspiration to keep them going.
   Like Glass admitted, it took him a long time to find his place. Can you imagine if he gave up when things got tough? We wouldn't have This American Life! And that would be a damn shame.
   So, students, watch this video, and never give up!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Three classes prepare for the end, and the building tension is all around us

Screen grab from blog of WSU Digital PJ student Brice Bossavie. Feature assignment.
Photo by Intro to PJ student Kyle Brown. Sports assignment.
    The end is near.
  This means less laughs and more stress. A few students dropped out, while others are stepping up. Final projects and exams loom. Deadlines are finite. It is a tense time for the students, and for us instructors, as well.
   But it’s also an exciting time because the end produces results. Most of the students began the semester with a blank social media slate, but will leave with active blogs, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Their blogs will showcase everything they have learned for the past three months.
   In this blog post I’ll recap how the semester went:
Intro to Photojournalism | Owens Community College
     This is a small but mighty class.
  Not only are they doing their regular homework assignments, they are also student staffers on the Owens Outlook online student newspaper.
   All of them are required to provide photos with captions for the newspaper. And, for the first time since I’ve been teaching this course, they are also tasked with shooting video for the weekly Campus Pulse.  A few of the students even write stories.
   But it’s the final project that will test their mettle. We, as a team, are collectively producing a 32-page magazine on a single issue: a photo story on the residents and staff of Sunshine Communities in Maumee, Ohio. Because most of the students are mostly commercial photography majors, shooting the project was the easy part.
   The hard part will be designing the magazine in the next three weeks, and it’s daunting. They will design the pages using Photoshop, and upload the PDF files to Issuu. Each student has three pages to fill.
   Considering this is the first time to try this, we have to start from scratch. No templates. But I’ve always loved a challenge!
   Here a few of the issues we are tackling:
·      Choose a front page photo, and design the flag
·      Choose font types, sizes and colors
·      Design the index and masthead page
·   Determine who has what pages. Each student is responsible for designing their own pages, which will include an essay on their experience. 
   We’ll publish the inaugural issue on their blogs in three weeks, so stay tuned.
   Now is a good time to reveal that this is the last Intro to Photojournalism class. Beginning in the fall, the class will be called Visual Storytelling, and it’ll run every spring and fall, instead of just once a year. It’ll be a required course for the new broadcast technology major.
   The premise will remain the same, with journalism as a primary component, but I’ll add podcasting and video storytelling to the curriculum.
Digital Photojournalism | Wayne State University
Photo by WSU Digital PJ student Rob Streit. Features assignment.
   This class is triple the size of Owens, so it’s not realistic to do a team final photo project like Owens did.
    Instead, they are responsible for shooting their own photo story. The students are also required to record an interview and capture live ambient sound as an added storytelling element.
   They are currently learning Audacity to edit their audio, and will produce their final project in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014.  The projects will be uploaded onto the course’s YouTube account, and on their individual blogs.
   Most of the students are print journalism and broadcast majors, so this is a course that could, and probably will, be beneficial to them someday. These days it’s not a matter of if, but when, they will be taking their own images.
Teaching Multimedia | Kent State University
   This is a distance-learning course for high school journalism teachers and advisers from around the country. Most of the students are English teachers with no background or experience in journalism.
   Can you imagine? One day they’re teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, and then all of a sudden they are advisers to the yearbook, the student newspaper, and teaching journalism courses. It happens all the time, and as long as schools do not commit to journalism programs, it'll continue happening.
   Fortunately, these grad students have the Journalism Education program at Kent State (which I’m a graduate of), and are simultaneously learning about the journalism field, as well as how to teach it.
   In this course they are learning about multimedia, which includes photography, infographics (maps, surveys, polls and timelines) and video storytelling.
   And this semester I’ve added two new lessons: podcasting and creating a Camtasia Studio tutorial. Judging from their essays, I'm confident they liked podcasting, especially if they regularly listen to NPR.
   As far as the Camtasia Studio tutorial goes, I'm also confident they'll value that, too. In fact, I plan on spending many summer mornings creating Camtasia Studio tutorials on moderately difficult tasks, like Audacity and Premiere. It'll save time in the classroom, in the end, and who doesn't value that?

Screen grab of podcast produced by Teaching MM student Mark Davidson. Interview podcast assignment.
   So, this sums up the spring 2016 semester, so far. I told every student on Day One that my classes are designed to prepare them for ‘the real world,’ and to have a tangible portfolio of work in the end. Mission almost accomplished.
(To view the blogs of students in any of the three classes, go to the designated blog list pages at the top of this blog.)