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The Importance of Being Technologically Literate

All this talk about reporters learning to record audio on their cell phones or create multimedia in Flash sometimes gives the impression that most people in the journalism industry already have a grasp on standard computer literacy.

Unfortunately, they do not.

Thursday, nine media organizations gathered at a printer’s office to pick up more than 4,000 pages the prosecution had released in the murder case against DeeDee Moore (who has been charged with killing Lakeland lottery winner Abraham Shakespeare). Before the documents were released, the journalists (all of them were reporters — I was the only person present who was specifically an online media employee) discussed what would be the best way to copy the document. Some of the questions I overheard:

  • Would it fit on a Flash drive?
  • How many CDs did they need?
  • How long would it take to copy?
  • Did they need a CD+, a CD-, a CDRW, a DVD or a DVD-R?
  • Would they need to download anything to read the documents?
  • Would their readers need to download anything to read the document?

Once we were given the disc, one guy started to copy it. He put it on a fellow journalist’s Flash drive and then asked for the next person’s copying mechanism. I suggested that now that we had two copies, we could double our speed. Despite one person’s suggestions that this may lead to inferior copies (I explained that’s not how digital files — particularly PDFs — worked), the suggestion was well received and we, indeed, doubled and then quadrupled our efforts.

I also tried to explain that they likely wouldn’t need any new software to read the PDFs. Their readers probably wouldn’t, either.  One reporter chose to “check in” at his station to make sure the “tech people” could read it before picking up his partner to do the live shot, anyhow.

What did this mean for The Ledger? It meant that, despite my office being almost an hour away from the place we picked up the documents, The Ledger was THE first news organization to

  1. Put the documents online and
  2. Have editors and reporters start pouring over the 4,000 pages, so they could start to disseminate information.

How did we get it online so quickly? Simple. I went to the Starbucks five minutes from the pick-up point and uploaded the documents to Scribd. At the office, an editor was sitting in the Scribd account and picked up the embed code immediately and pasted it into our Content Management System. Then, a series of interns and reporters would start pouring through the documents and pulling out information that was important enough to highlight for readers.

By the time I got back to the office, we already had identified several specific chunks of the 4,000 pages that were most relevant to our readers. Plans were made to create three different interactive elements that would help readers understand the complex case against DeeDee Moore — particularly, her real estate and business transactions that showed she had a strong financial incentive to get rid of Abraham Shakespeare.

An editor, Lyle McBride, put our efforts this way:

Heidi, thanks for the great job of actually getting the documents and getting them uploaded. You helped us beat everybody else in getting them online. And that includes two major papers whose buildings sit nearly within sight of the courthouse in Tampa.

We shouldn’t have “won.” But we did, because we were technologically literate. Not experts or savants, but just literate with the best way to use the technology and manpower we had at hand.

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