Multimedia Musings

by Christopher J. Spurlock

Infographics Can Be (Nerdy) Fun

As with everything in journalism, I’m always worried that sooner or later infographics artists will begin to take themselves too seriously. Sure, analyzing data to find a story and then visualizing it in a way that the average consumer can understand is an important undertaking, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun once in awhile too, right?

This morning, a really clever graphic caught my eye. Not only does it tell a story (though perhaps not a very important one), but it makes people laugh. In my opinion, a healthy dose of humor can help brighten up a graphic that would otherwise be boring. Take a look:

I think my colleague at the Missourian, Pat Sweet, did a nice job spicing up what would be an otherwise boring graphic earlier this week. You can’t go wrong with giant-but-cute elephants, right?

In all seriousness, infographics are an important and essential part of news organizations and the way they tell stories. But, as with everything, you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.

A New Adventure

I spent a large part of my Thanksgiving break thinking about what I want to do post-graduation. You would think that after 3.5 years of college, I would have it figured out. Not the case. At any rate, I’ve been talking lately with Andrew Garcia Phillips of the Wall Street Journal. He runs a site called Chartball, which is devoted to tracking baseball and football statistics with infographics. It’s a really neat idea and something I enjoy a lot, so I asked Andrew how he got started. His advice to me was this:

For me, I always loved journalism and got into graphics and design mostly as a way to get on staff at my college paper. There was a waiting list for reporting/editing jobs, but they were desperate for design people. So I got in that way and then I realized I loved that side of the business, especially because it was a center of innovation at most news organizations. Writing can be rigid and formulaic. Infographics are inventing their own standards on the fly.

That’s especially true now, with the rise of mega-data sets and the need to find ways to visualize them into meaningful stories. That’s what inspires me now, learning the tools to grasp those data sets and tell those stories. … [T]hat’s what I would suggest to you: Find some projects that interest you and start learning the tools you need to make something cool. That’s why I have Chartball, it’s a way to try new technologies and teach myself new things.

After thinking about Andrew’s advice for a few days, I decided to try something new: Writing my own sports infographics blog. It’s called VarsityViz, and it’s my attempt to combine my passion for sports with my love of infographics. I’m excited about the possibilities!

Restoring Sanity

As you may or may not have heard, Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” has decided to put on a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He’s calling the event The Rally to Restore Sanity, and he’s said the rally is aimed at those “who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”

In recent months, there has been an outbreak of absurdly extreme dialog within the political discussion, and this rally is Stewart’s attempt to “take it down a notch, for America.” He’s trying to speak not to the 20 percent of the population on the extreme right and left, but to that middle 80 percent of Americans who “shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat.”

After hearing about this rally and really giving some thought to the idea that we need to take it down a notch, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Are we responsible? Have we, as the media, been encouraging this ridiculous name-calling and childish banter?”

I have my own answer to that question (which I’ll post later), but what about you? What do you think?

Go forth, and discuss!

The users are mad as hell…but are we listening to them yell?

Howard Beale is pissed! You should be, too!

Last night (while I should have been studying for a quiz) I came across a blog post that really piqued my attention. I think it was the post’s title, “The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation,” that really got me. (I’m not sure if it’s because I’m graduating soon, but lately I’ve been paying more attention to all of this “future of journalism” chatter.) Combined with my immediate desire to procrastinate, my curiosity was enough to get me to start reading.

The post’s author, Jay Rosen, is a journalism professor at NYU and one of the leading journalism scholars in the nation. Last week, he gave a speech to the incoming class of journalism students at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris, France; he then took the transcript of that speech and adapted it for his blog.

In the post, he begins by referencing the 1976 movie Network. Because I’m under the age of 50, I’ve never seen the film, but I watched the clip he embedded. What I watched was the (apparently) infamous scene in which TV anchor Howard Beale goes a bit nutty on air and tells his viewers to go to their windows, open them up, stick their heads out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Incredibly, the people did just that.

Initially, I wasn’t sure why he included the clip. What point was Rosen trying to make here? He explained by writing,

“In my reading of [the scene], the filmmakers are showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another… When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been ‘out there,’ watching television in atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Beale put into words.”

After reading that, and the rest of the post (which I highly recommend), I started thinking about the state of the media today. If I am to believe what I hear on an increasingly regular basis, the so-called “Big Media” Rosen references is dying rapidly. But, if the mass media we’ve been so accustomed to is fading fast, who will people “connect up” to? Rosen makes the argument that, with the advent of the Internet and social media, the public no longer has a need make that connection. Instead, he posits that people are “turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another.” They are making millions of lateral connections in lieu of the traditional vertical one.

I think Rosen is absolutely correct in his analysis of today’s public and how they connect to the world. He put into words (very eloquent and academic words) what I have been thinking for awhile now. But has journalism, as a profession, come to this realization yet? Does every journalist out there realize their newspaper, radio station, or TV network is no longer “the source” for news? Do they realize they no longer dictate and moderate the national and global conversation? I would argue that they don’t.

Spending this past summer as an intern at a TV station provided me with some great experiences, but it also showed me just how blind some journalists and news executives are to what their audiences are thinking and how they are interacting with one another. Some news organizations think they get it, but they really don’t. They’re trying to create “community-centric” news outlets that run on user-generated content, but they’re missing the point. They’re misunderstanding that most basic economic principle of supply and demand. If the public doesn’t demand that type of news, they’ll just ignore it when it’s supplied. The whole “if you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t apply here.

What Rosen argues is that we need to rethink the way in which we perceive the audience. He says we need to “replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term ‘users.'” When we imagine our audience as a group of users, we can more effectually interact with them. Instead of dictating “down” to them, we need to get on their level. We need to become the moderators of the new public conversation instead of ignoring it, we need to respect the power of the public to create their own content, and we need to embrace the new role the user is playing in the gathering and reporting of news.

What do you think? If you’re a journalist, are you worried? As a user, do you feel misunderstood? Your comments, criticisms and creative solutions are appreciated and encouraged.

Just when you start to get bored…

This week marked my second shift working a dot com shift at KOMU. While I performed many of the same basic tasks as I did last week, there was definitely a lot more excitement during this week’s shift. Nothing exciting or out-of-the-ordinary happened for the first hour, so I took that time to take care of some of the basic tasks (checking the AP wire stories, doing camera inventory, etc.). I also made sure to monitor the social networks as well, and it was there where I found the story of the day.

The Columbia Missourian sent out a tweet saying that the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office had officially filed sexual charges against Derrick Washington, starting running back for the Missouri football team. I spent the remainder of my shift manning the situation at the web, which involved updating the story on, sending the news out over our Twitter stream, and contacting the Boone County Sheriff’s Office to get them to e-mail Washington’s mug shot to the station.

Because of all the commotion, I unfortunately didn’t have any time to further discuss my project with Jen Reeves, but we’ve been in contact since then to discuss it. I’ll keep you all updated!

Until next time…

The Beginning of a Crazy Year…

This Monday marked my first day working dot com at KOMU, but more importantly (and frighteningly) it marked my last “first day of school.” As a senior, I have a lot to be afraid of (graduation, job searching, car and/or apartment buying, etc.) but I also have a lot to be excited about.

I’m really looking forward to convergence editing, because it will give me the opportunity to both explore familiar things and discover new ones. KOMU provides a familiar atmosphere for me, as I worked in the web department at a TV station all summer, so I’m excited to dive deeper into that realm. On the other hand, will give me the opportunity to explore something different and new.

On Monday, I got my first taste of that experience at KOMU, and I enjoyed it a lot. I was able to learn the content management system quickly and without much difficulty, and, because Monday afternoons are relatively slow at KOMU, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jen Reeves and discuss an independent project. Based on my conversation with her, I walked away with the impression that I can create any project I want, as long as it is something I will be proud of and the station will benefit from.

I left KOMU and pondered a few ideas, and my conversation with Amy Simons on Thursday added more thoughts to my decision process. As of now, I’m thinking I want to find a way to use my passion for making infographics and work it into a project for KOMU. That way, I’ll have something to put in my portfolio, and I’ll enjoy the project as well. I’m looking forward to discussing this with Jen more when I go to KOMU for my shift on Monday. I’ll be sure to update the blog when I solidify my project idea!

Until next time…

Shaping Up and Slimming Down: My Fitness Journey

Four years ago, I looked like this:

I weighed 230 lbs. I was out of shape, unhealthy and unhappy. I knew I wasn’t looking and feeling my best, but the reality of it didn’t hit me until I went to the doctor for my yearly check-up and I was told I was considered borderline “obese.” (My body mass index, or BMI, was 29.5. The BMI categorization for an “obese” person is anything greater than 30.) This hurt even more because I hadn’t always been overweight. I had played baseball from the age of five until my junior year in high school, and my playing weight for those last few years had always been around 180 lbs. But, once I quit playing baseball and started working at a fast food restaurant, I began packing on the pounds. Between the winter of my junior year of high school and the summer after my senior year I gained between 45 and 50 lbs, and I lost a ton of self esteem.

After graduation, I set a goal to lose some weight. I decided that 200 lbs was a realistic goal, and I went for it. I quit drinking soda, started watching what I ate, and began exercising lightly. Slowly but surely the weight came off, and by the end of the first semester of my freshman year in college, I had lost about 55 lbs and was weighing in around 175 lbs.

For awhile, that was enough for me. I continued my healthy eating, exercised a bit more frequently, and just tried to stay in shape. But three months ago, I mad a new resolution: I decided to take the P90X challenge. I will admit, I was really skeptical at first. Any product sold in an infomercial generally seems like a gimmick to me. But, after talking to a few friends and doing some research, I decided to give P90X a shot. I didn’t want to pay the crazy insane price for something that didn’t work, so I found a copy of the DVDs on Craigslist and purchased them for $50. At the end of May, once my summer began, I stared the workouts on a daily basis. I stuck to the schedule pretty strictly, and only missed a few days during the whole summer.

Now, about 100 days later, I’m finally finished! I have more energy and less pain than I’ve ever had, and I’m in incredible shape. The workouts absolutely work. Because of P90X, today I look like this:

Currently, I way about 160 lbs. My BMI is a healthy 20.5 (the “normal weight” BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9), my muscle mass has increased significantly and my body fat percentage is way down. The P90X experience has been incredible for me, and because of the results I’ve seen and the way I feel today, I plan to start another round of P90X next week. Here’s to hoping that I look even better 90 days from now!

A Very Mobile Week

This week has been one of the longest of my (rather short) reporting career. I spent almost as many hours reporting as I spent sleeping, and when I turned in my story this week, I felt more relieved it was finished than proud of the result.

The story my team worked on was about mobile homes, or more specifically, a new bill in the legislature that will change how the homes are classified. We thought the story sounded interesting and multi-dimensional, but it turned out to be more confusing than anything else.

I’ll spare you the details here because a) I’m exhausted and b) you’ll find them in the text story and TV package below.

Happy reading/watching!

Lenders wary of issuing loans to mobile home owners


When mobile homes are attached to a permanent foundation on a piece of land, they’re virtually identical to stick-built houses in form and function. But they are still different in the eyes of a lender.

“Mobile home owners pretty much have to have better credit than regular home owners to get a loan,” said Bryan Crump, owner of the manufactured home dealership Cedar Creek Homes in Columbia.

This difference arises from the fact that most mobile homes are classified as personal property, similar to motor vehicles. When they’re attached to a permanent foundation, they become real estate, but there is not an established process for homeowners to register the change with the county assessor. 

A bill in the Missouri senate sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, would establish a procedure for the conversion, but until then, lenders are wary of issuing mortgages for homes that could be put on wheels and hauled away at any time.

“Companies who make loans, they want to make certain they have good collateral,” said Harry Gallagher, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Missouri. “Personal property tends to depreciate rather quickly, while improved real estate appreciates. It’s relatively safe to make a 20-year loan that’s considered real estate, less safe if it’s personal property.”

According to a study from the Journal of Business, few banks provide mobile home loans to consumers on a direct basis.  Instead, homeowners must make arrangements with mobile home dealers to get financing. 

“We’ve had a lot of individuals that have not been able to obtain a title for a home,” said Tom Hagar, executive director of the Missouri Manufactured Housing Association. “This went all the way to Washington…and has been something we’ve worked on for a long time.”

There are about 200,000 mobile homes in Missouri, about 10 percent of the homes in the state, according to the MU Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. 

Kenney Hubble, manager of RE/MAX Boone Realty, said he sees about a customer a month who has trouble buying or selling a mobile home because of its classification. He said it shouldn’t matter whether a home started out mobile if it is now attached to a permanent foundation on a piece of property.
“Someone’s not going to spend $10,000 to attach their mobile home to the ground and not want that to be permanent,” Hubble said. 

Cunningham’s bill passed both houses last year, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it because an unpopular amendment was attached. Proponents of the bill said they’re hoping to keep the bill “clean” this year and get it into law, as most other states already have a similar measure. 


New bill will make it easier for mobile home owners to get loans from Chris Spurlock on Vimeo.


P.S. I almost forgot, I spent all of last Friday afternoon working my first shift at the Missourian! While I was there, I put together an audio slideshow that you can watch here: SLIDESHOW

Going Cold Turkey or The Story of a Post-Twitter Existence

When I thought about all the things I could give up for Lent…well, nothing much came to mind (perhaps because I didn’t really think about it too hard). Maybe that makes me a bad Catholic, or maybe I’m just lazy. Regardless, I chose not to give up anything. However, I did decided to make a smaller sacrifice: I decided to give up Twitter. For a week.

Since I first joined Twitter on Feb. 26, 2009, I’ve sent over 2,000 tweets and read thousands (maybe millions) more. It is a huge part of my social existence, and plays a key role in my journalism life as well.

But, I wanted to take a break to reevaluate the way I use Twitter. So, I decided to take a week off to test myself and learn more about my Twitter habits.

It’s only been four days so far, and honestly it’s been incredibly difficult. Monday, the first day, was especially tough. I felt myself wanting to clink the little Twitter icon at the top of my bookmark bar out of habit alone. I needed to be connected, to be ‘plugged in’ to my social sphere. And when important news broke, my first impulse was also to go right to Twitter. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to give in.

So far I’ve learned a few important things from this experiment:

1. I don’t need to tweet everything I think. During these four days, there have been things I’ve wanted to tweet, and probably would have had I been able to access Twitter in the immediate way I typically can (I’m rarely without my laptop or iPhone). Instead, I was forced to ask myself, “Is that really important? Will that really contribute anything? Is it necessary, relevant, etc?” About half of the time, the answer was no.

2. I’m more productive and more engaged without Twitter. My girlfriend is always nagging me lovingly teasing me about being on Twitter all the time, and she has a point. Since I have an iPhone, I’m able to quickly access and update Twitter at any time, and I do. I also constantly have Twitter open on my laptop, which is a huge distraction. Since I’ve been on this cleanse, I’ve been more engaged in real life conversations, and I’ve gotten a lot more done.

3. I do actually need Twitter. Like I mentioned earlier, my first instinct when news breaks is to turn to Twitter. I get so many real-time updates from so many sources, it would be silly for a journalist not to use it, both for sharing and consuming news. Thus, I can’t give it up.

I’m not suggesting that everyone take a week from Twitter to learn, but I would recommend taking a step back to evaluate how you use it. It could really do you some good.

Mizzou Men’s Basketball v. Colorado

While I was working on my profile story for this week’s reporting assignment, I got to go to the Mizzou men’s basketball game. This was my second time shooting basketball, and while it went much better than the first time, it still wasn’t great.

Regardless, below are the 15 photos I liked best from Wednesday night.