Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

Archive for April 2010

Video of tax rally approaching 400 views…

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– It didn’t receive an astronomical amount of views, but my video of last week’s tax rally got some attention from our viewers. I think it’s safe to say that video is becoming an increasingly popular medium for newspapers big and small because they do get a lot of attention. It’s no surprise that most editors who are hiring nowadays basically require aspiring journalists to have some sort of video knowledge. And YouTube is popular as it is, so why not jump on board.

– But just because newspapers are becoming more and more familiar with video, doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of video is increasing as well. Case in point: the National Press Photographers Association this year refused to give out a first, second or third place award in the News Video category because no entry met their standards. The judge’s comments are a startling wake up call for an industry clearly struggling to keep up with the times:

One of the judges stated that this was the Best of Photojournalism contest and unfortunately the work entered in this category did not hold up to the standards that we as an industry should be trying to achieve. It was clear from viewing this category that we all need to work harder in educating and training our staffs in both shooting and editing video for the web.

The judges did hand out an honorable mention to Colin Mulvany, a journalist at The Spokesman-Review who produced a video on a candlelight vigil. Mulvany has an excellent blog post, “Video at newspapers need to improve,” in response to the judge’s comments. Go ahead and read it all.

My favorite line comes at the end:

When I started this blog, I wrote a post called “What we can learn from TV news shooters.” The crux of that post : TV news shooters have done video storytelling decades longer than us newbie’s in the newspaper biz, and we can learn a lot from their successes. If you are lucky enough to go to a TV video workshop, you’ll get the fundamentals drilled into your head–Shoot wide, medium tight, super tight. Shoot action, then reaction. Get that camera on sticks! Use a wireless mic. Gather natural sound. What’s your opener? Closer? And, for Christ sake, white balance your video!

Exactly. I feel some journalists shoot video for the sake of shooting video, not realizing there are basic guidelines for newspaper videography. Mix shots, get good interviews, make sure shots aren’t shaky and audio is clear, and most importantly, make sure it tells a captivating story.

– Practice is also very important. And, quite frankly, most newspapers don’t have the money to hire a full-time videographer. This, I think, is my biggest fault because I just don’t get the opportunity to shoot video all that much. But journalists should try and get as many chances as they can. It doesn’t hurt to ask your editor if it’s alright to shoot video. Who knows, maybe they’ll say yes.

– Certainly, my videography skills aren’t all that great either. And I’m sure a lot of journalists are in the same situation. One site I always come back to for videography advice is this simple training video from BBC on the five shot rule. It’s worth a bookmark. It’s a great rundown on how to mix shots and sequence them together.

– That’s all for my rant. Hopefully some of this lights a fire under aspiring videographers. I know I want to shoot more video now…

“Raise our taxes!” “Raise our taxes!”

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Have you ever seen 15,000 people chat that? Yeah, neither have I…until today…

SPRINGFIELD — Thousands of teachers, social service providers and government workers surrounded the Illinois Statehouse Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to fix the out-of-whack state budget.

Link.

I shot a video of the event. Here’s a look:

So is all this rallying really going to push lawmakers to raise our taxes? The short answer is: Probably not.

“To say that is going to rally enough support for a tax increase, I don’t think so,” said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.

Link.

But that didn’t certainly stop them from coming. After the rally, many of the people participating in the rally visited one-on-one with their local lawmakers. We’ll see if that convinced any leery lawmakers to vote for a controversial tax increase in an election year. But if I were a betting man…well, you can see where I’m going with this.

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April 21, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Second story appears in the St. Louis Post Dispatch!

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Once in a blue moon the St. Louis Post Dispatch will run a story of ours in their newspaper. But it has to be something pretty unusual because the publication has it’s own bureau in the Statehouse. So far, only one of my story’s has appeared on their web site. Until last week….

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A lawsuit filed in federal court last week seeks to block the state from using public funds to help religious organizations expand their facilities.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, an attorney from Carbondale, is representing one of the state’s most outspoken atheists, Rob Sherman, in the case, which seeks to stop about $2.3 billion worth of funding for construction projects. The money is part of the Illinois’ $31 billion capital construction plan that was approved by the General Assembly last year.

Rock on!

And just because I love having pictures in my blog, I grabbed a screen shot…Wait for it…

Here’s my first story that appeared in the Dispatch.

That makes two more than I expected.

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April 14, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

State makes an emergency purchase of…bullets?

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The wind up:

SPRINGFIELD-The volume of Illinois’ unpaid bills will likely increase by $1 billion in the next three months, according to a new report.

By the end of June, the backlog of unpaid bills could exceed $5.5 billion “absent any other developments,” noted Comptroller Dan Hynes, in a quarterly report on the state’s finances. Now, the state’s 200,000 unpaid bills total $4.5 billion.

Ugh.

More:

Meanwhile, the comptroller’s report is not putting much faith in the ability of lawmakers to correct the problem before they adjourn in May.

“There appear to be limited options left for the remainder of this fiscal year to substantially mitigate these conditions,” noted the report. “And the outlook for fiscal year 2011 is even more ominous.”

Link.

That’s bad. Real bad. The state’s budget crisis is being felt across the state, high and wide. And I’m not sure how many different ways we can report on it…

…Unless unbelievable things like this continue to happen…

And the pitch:

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Corrections was forced to make an emergency purchase of ammunition last month because of the state’s inability to pay its bills.

The purchase happened after one of the state’s ammunition vendors, Shore Galleries Inc., refused to ship bullets unless the company was paid up front. The state owes the Lincolnwood firm $6,000.

The department was able to quickly find a new vendor in Indiana and ordered 761,000 rounds for nearly $200,000.

?

I have seen examples of vendors getting upset at the state because they are waiting months to be paid. But an ammunition vendor refusing to sell bullets to the state? That’s scare stuff.

Fortunately, the shortage would have only affected cadet training courses, meaning public safety was not in harms way. But imagine if the situation gets worse…which it seems is more and more likely as the session wears on…

Meanwhile, the unions were upset. AFSCME, in particular, has been calling for a tax increase for quite some time now. They say an increase would help vendors, like this ammunition dealer, get paid on time:

“This is just another example of the state’s broken budget coming home to roost,” said [Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union].

Stay tuned for bizarre happenings in the Capitol.

Image posted by Flickr user DeusXFlorida. It is used under a Creative Commons license.

Written by csessig

April 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Another 10 day lapse in blogging…

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Sorry…

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April 14, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

State makes first steps to privatize the lottery

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With the legislature off for two weeks, our bureau thought it was high time to put an in-depth series of stories. My bureau chief decided to look a very hot issue as of late: privatizing the Illinois lottery. Lawmakers have been contemplating the move for a few years, with interest peeking in 2007. But last year, the General Assembly made baby steps towards privatizing the lottery. As a result, we dived into the issue. All three of us in the bureau worked on the series. We had five stories in all:

  1. State looks for big payoff with privatized lottery (Herald & Review)
  2. Lottery a steady cash cow (The Southern Illinoisan)
  3. Government privatization grows in economic downturn (Quad-City Times)
  4. State wants Feds to OK online ticket sales (Pantagraph)
  5. Reputation dogs officials seeking proposals (Herald & Review)

I worked on the “Government privatization grows in economic downturn” story. Basically, I looked at other privatization efforts in the Midwest, and what they meant for customers. I also put together two graphs to help illustrate the economic impact of the Illinois Lottery:

—–

Link.

The graphs were easy to make using Google Documents. Google literally has an answer for anything.

The issue of lottery privatization will probably remain a hot story for the next few years because it is a very long and drawn out process. And, obviously, the state could choose not to privatize it. So it will be interesting to see where Illinois, and other governments, goes from here. Regardless, I would expect to hear more about privatization in the coming months and years as more entities face the harsh realities of an economic downturn.

Written by csessig

April 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm

State gears up for “ObamaCare”

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It’s not too often I get a story posted on the front page of any of our newspapers’ web sites. More often that’s because we don’t have compelling art (or any art, for that matter) to go with the story. Fortunately, a story I worked on today on the Dept. of Insurance had file art and it ran on the front page.

The story:

SPRINGFIELD — Michael McRaith knows he has a lot of work ahead of him.

As director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, his agency is responsible for implementing many of the key initiatives in the recently approved national health care reform legislation.

Some of the changes took effect immediately, but others will take years to carry out. Either way, much of implementation will fall on the shoulders of the state.

“At the state level, we will be developing, supervising and enforcing the regulatory changes that national reform has required,” McRaith said. “Many of those are completely new to the state of Illinois.”

Link.

I tried to make this feature-y, obviously. I thought maybe that would make it different than the bazillion other articles on health care reform. I think it worked.

Written by csessig

April 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm