5 tips on managing insane amounts of e-mail

scary Outlook fangsYour inbox doesn’t have to be a scary place. These five tips can help you cope with hordes of e-mail.

You’ve probably felt that drowning feeling on a Monday morning when you open up Microsoft Outlook and the enormous pile of e-mail from last week is still there, killing your mojo and increasing your anxiety.

Instead, imagine opening up your inbox and seeing actual whitespace at the bottom of your screen. It’s a helluva way to start the week with a focus on going forward.

So, with a hat tip to David Allen’s life-changing  book “Getting Things Done,” here are a few tips I’ve used that will hopefully be of use to you too (NOTE: Most of the specifics focus on Microsoft Outlook):

1) Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list

Using your inbox as a to-do list is the cardinal sin of e-mail. It is the key factor in slowing you down. And it makes your inbox a scary place to be.

When you use your inbox as a to-do list, it means frivolous messages are mixed with critical, time-sensitive messages. You are unnecessarily looking at old messages, probably taking longer to respond and increasing the likelihood that an important message will get glossed over.

Instead, port your action items to an actual to-do list. There are an enormous amount of excellent task management methods out there. I personally keep my tasks in a color-coded Google Spreadsheet so that it’s accessible from work and home. For you, it may be as simple as paper and pencil, an iPhone app or something else.

If you consistently place your “to-do” e-mails into your “system,” it relieves the anxiety of having to scan your inbox repeatedly to make sure no balls get dropped.

If the e-mail has important details or attached documents, then file it in a personal folder for later reference (more on that later).

If a message requires some research, don’t leave it in your inbox until you have the chance to get to it. Add the research to your to-do list, file the e-mail away and shoot a quick note back to the requester saying you need to research the question.

The trick to making this work is to do it consistently. If you only do it half the time, you won’t trust your system. The extra time you spend adding items to your to-do list will make up for the amount of time you formerly spent scanning old inbox messages — but only if you don’t half-ass it.

2) Use automation rules to speed up prioritization

Being a newsroom denizen, I get a lot of unneeded e-mail from public information officers and public relations people. So I’ve got a huge rule that targets all their e-mail addresses and sends it to a folder. I don’t typically work breaking news these days, so I can choose to look through those messages later without much worry.

On the flipside, you may choose to redflag messages from certain people to make sure you spot it amidst the flurry of messages you get.

Creating smart routing rules can help clear chaff and highlight important messages.

3) Use personal folders, and archive e-mail by project

An e-mail archive on your hard drive or a shared drive gives you a place to store items you don’t need in your inbox. It also serves as documentation of conversations and helps you keep your inbox size limit manageable.

Personally, I create a new folder for each important project I’m working on and place most messages relating to it there. I do this because searching by who sent a message or when it was sent is easy. However, finding messages by project can be considerably difficult, so I archive my e-mail by project.

While I’m not meticulous about filing everything in its correct folder (there are things to be actually done, after all), I do take the extra half-second to place the important stuff in its correct folder instead of my general “E-Mail Vault.”

4) Use Google Desktop for Outlook

Because I archive a large amount of my e-mail, searching for it using Outlook’s slow search can be painful. Instead, I installed Google Desktop and enabled the Outlook toolbar, a tool I’ve been evangelizing to all my e-mail beleaguered colleagues at work. Google Desktop indexes your messages to make searching through a multi-gig archive a speedy endeavor.

5) Write shorter e-mails

This seems like a no-brainer, but shortening your e-mails will make you a faster e-mailer, a better writer and a more pleasurable person to correspond with.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of writing long e-mails sometimes (I’m working on it!). But I tend to agree with marketing guru Guy Kawasaki, who says five sentences is the optimal length of an e-mail.

Getting your e-mail length under control means people are more likely to actually read the thing. And it means more time spent on projects and less in your inbox.

***

I’d love to hear about the tricks you use to get your e-mail under control — and so would others. Drop your advice in the comments!

More E-mail Advice:

Guy Kawasaki’s “The Effective EMailer”
Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” series | Video here

Posted in tutorials | 18 Comments

Handouts for today’s FSNE multimedia workshops

Hey folks, just wanted to post the handouts I’ll be giving out at the two FSNE multimedia workshops I’ll be leading this afternoon in Tampa. One session is on blogging and the other is on new online media tools. Here are the handouts, as well as my slideshow for the blogging session.

Slideshow Presentation: How to Blog Like a Rock Star

Document: Online Media Toolkit

Document: Blogger Toolkit

Document: Chris Brogans’s 40 Ways to Deliver Killer Blog Content – (Orignal post here)

Posted in blogging, conferences, tutorials | 3 Comments

Google puts ads on Google News

To those of you who said “Google News isn’t a media  competitor! It’s just an aggregator:” I give you AdWords on Google News.

I’ve previously written about how Google News was generating more than $100 million in revenue, according to a Google VP.

I’ve written about how Google’s Knol is becoming a competitor to media companies by becoming a content creator.

I’ve covered how Google News is trying to be a local aggregator of news (rather than your site being the aggregator).

I’ve pointed out how Google is circumventing news sites’ search features with their own searches.

And I haven’t even addressed how Google is gaining enormous control over the online advertising market, especially with Yahoo in the financial pits.

That 30+% of site traffic from search engines is nice, but are we really still arguing that Google isn’t a competitor to news and media sites?

Posted in search engines | 2 Comments

Tips for Optimizing Content for Google News

googlenewsThe Google News team today published a list of tips on its official blog for making sure publishers’ content is optimized for inclusion in Google News. Here’s a quickfire version of their list:

-Keep the article body clean
Avoid strange tags, ads, sidebars, etc.

-Make sure article URLs are permanent and unique
Google News needs a fresh URL for each item and at least three digits that aren’t a year. Or, use News Sitemaps.

-Take advantage of stock tickers in Sitemaps
Use stock ticker symbols in content to get it tagged to the company.

-Check your encoding
Having a conflict with different encoding types can cause issues.

-Make your article publication dates explicit
Having no article date or an incorrect one can mess up your content’s placement in Google News..

-Keep original content separate from press releases
Don’t mix the two on news sections. If you do, make sure your site uses rel=”nofollow” for the links.

-Format your images properly
Use JPGs and make sure to place them near the headline for a chance at getting the thumbnail spot.

[Google News Blog: Eight Ways to Help Google News Better Crawl Your Site]

Posted in search engines | 4 Comments

Not-to-Miss Florida Online Media, Technology Events

barcamp-orlandoA group of online technology enthusiasts listens in on a presentation at BarCamp Orlando in 2007. The event is now in its third year. [Photo by Josh Hallett ]

In the next few months, yours truly’s calendar is jam-packed with all sorts of great online media and technology events in Florida –events you should really think about attending!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 10 things online editors can do to save their jobs. Well, attending these kinds of events is Number 10 on the list. And best of all, most of these cost the princely sum of zero dollars.

If you know of any others, please drop me a comment. On to the list:

DrupalCamp Florida – Saturday, Feb. 7
Altamonte Springs, Fla. (just 10-15 minutes north of Orlando)
Cost: FREE
Central Florida is getting its first-ever DrupalCamp, a day-long series of presentations revolving around the free, open-source content management system that is changing the face of online media. Drupal is being used by major media sites such as The New York Observer, Morris Digital, the Miami Herald, as well as hundreds of thousands of small companies and hobbyists.

BarCamp Miami and WordCamp Miami – Sunday, Feb. 22
Coconut Grove, Fla. (near Miami, Fla.)
Cost: FREE
Happening in conjunction with FOWA, listed next
If there’s one thing journalists often lack, it’s an understanding and appreciation for Internet and tech culture. Well, you can get a big heap of it at BarCamp, a technology and online media “un-conference” distinguished by it having absolutely no schedule! The joy of BarCamp is that everyone is encouraged to make a presentation or lead a discussion. It’s totally open to everyone in the spirit of the day. The workshop schedule is set that very morning as participants sign up to lead discussions and give presentations. While BarCamp can get uber-geeky, it’s a great place to learn from other techies, meet innovators, share your knowledge with others and get some great ideas. BarCamp will also forever change your perspective on conferences.

BarCamp is partnering with WordCamp, a workshop similar in style to BarCamp but centering around WordPress, the insanely popular and powerful blogging platform that has become the tool of choice for many bloggers, including Journalistopia. Participants will sign up for presentations on everything from how to become a popular blogger to how to hack the code that powers WordPress

Future of Web Apps Conference – Monday, Feb. 23-24
Miami, Fla.
Cost: $395 (I know it’s pricey, but super early bird tickets were available for $100)
The Future of Web Apps Conference is THE premier web development event in the Southeast. FOWA will feature luminaries such as Winelibrary.TV’s Gary Vaynerchuk, 37Signals’ Jason Fried and many more. I attended last year, and it was worth every minute. This event is geared toward web developers, so it can be techy, but I truly learned a great deal about how the web is changing at this event.

Megacon – Friday, Feb. 27-March 1
Orlando, Fla.
Cost: $22/day or $52 for 3 days. Plus $10 parking/day
Er, this is a comic book convention. But who cares if it’s not about online journalism! I’ll be there! Onward…

Florida Society of Newspaper Editors Multimedia Workshop – Saturday, March 21
Tampa, Fla.
Cost: TBA
FSNE is planning a low-cost multimedia workshop for the Tampa Bay area similar to the one they recently planned in Miami. The workshop is a great opportunity to learn about blogging, online ethics, data projects, Flash and much more. I’ll be there reprising the workshop I led in Miami on new online media tools. Mark your calendar!

BarCamp Orlando – Saturday, April 18
Orlando, Fla.
Cost: Free
Now in its third year, BarCamp Orlando is the Central Florida flavor of BarCamp, explained above under BarCamp Miami. The last two years were a great success, so I’ll hopefully see you there this year!

***

Now I’m wondering when I’ll get to spend time with my lovely wife. At least she got in some great crossword puzzle time the last time I dragged her to BarCamp. (Such a good sport. Love you, dear!)

See you in Miami, Orlando or Tampa!

Posted in blogging, citizen journalism, communities, conferences, data, Flash, social media, web 2.0, web design, web development | 1 Comment

One Key Piece of Advice for All Journalists

David Cohn has posted a great series of interviews with several media innovators over at his blog.  But there is one particular piece of advice from Cohn’s interview with Adrian Holovaty (4:15 in) that I think needs to be heard by both aspiring journalists and seasoned professionals, no matter what their level of multimedia skill:

“Do a side project. Pick something that you’re passionate about and make a web site about it. [...]  And make it something you actually care about so that you’ll have the incentive to do a good job.”

Video interview is here:


[Video by David Cohn]

For Holovaty, a passion project like ChicagoCrime.org led to international recognition. For me, building a simple six-page web site  in college for the Hispanic Student Association (a Python guru, I am not) led to the beginning of my online media career, as well as meeting some of my favorite Latin recording artists, many new friends and –last but most assuredly not least– my lovely wife. See? Passion projects can even lead to finding true love.

In the end, the knowledge you gain from creating your own site around your passion is something that cannot be acquired by working at a large media site or sitting in a journalism classroom.

So what’s your project? Or what’s it going to be?

Posted in blogging, random stuff, web development | 6 Comments

On Tinkering

Some day, I’ll tell you folks the story of how I accidentally launched my online journalism career by building a seat-of-the-pants web site for the Hispanic Student Association in college using Adobe GoLive 6.0 (don’t make fun of me, dammit!).

In the meantime, XKCD says it best:

11th_grade

(BTW, Perl is a programming language sometimes used for web application development.)

[XKCD: 11th Grade]

Posted in random stuff, web development | 4 Comments

100+ Screenshots of Inauguration Day News Coverage

Want to see how more than 100 major national and international news sites covered the inauguration of Barack Obama? Visit the Flickr photo gallery I put together to see screenshots of news sites’ home pages immediately after Obama was sworn in.  (UPDATE: I sucked it up and bought a Flickr Pro account, so I’ve uploaded many more regional U.S. news sites.)

[Photo Gallery: Inauguration Day coverage by 100+ U.S. and international news sites]

Here’s the  slideshow version:

And special thanks to the Pearl Crescent Page Saver plugin for Firefox!

Posted in Flash, newspaper design, newspapers, web design | Comments Off

10 Things Online Editors can do to Save Their Jobs

nailing the roofLearning the skills to “do it yourself” can help you keep your online media job in these tough times and possibly get you an even better gig. [Photo by Tommy Huynh]

If you’re a web worker at a news site, you may recall a day when a newsroom Luddite came over and was astonished at how you waved your computer mouse and out came news stories published to the web site. You’d get looks of amazement and receive the occasional “man, you guys are the future.” It felt pretty good to feel ahead of the curve, right?

But they are coming. The former Luddites, that is.

Major news organizations are beginning to merge their print and online operations, which means print-edition journalists will increasingly double up on their duties and transition over to the web site, becoming full-fledged online producers with many of the basic skills to match. For instance, the LA Times has created an ambitious 40-class curriculum to train newsroom staff on how to produce for the web.

So where does that leave the steadfast web producer, whose exclusive keys to the online house are being duplicated like a $2 locksmith stand at a Home Depot on Saturday?

Back in 2006, I wrote about the dangers of simply being a “cut-and-paste expert” who doesn’t learn to use new digital media tools. That warning is now doubly true. So if you draw your paycheck from an online news site, it’s time to ask yourself a few hard questions:

1- Do I know how to register a domain name, create a basic web site (such as a blog) and post content to it by myself?

2- Have I tinkered with a new online media tool I wasn’t familiar with in the last four months?

3- Have I attended a class, workshop or explored another educational opportunity related to online media in the last year?

4- Have I created or co-created an original piece of content in the last six months that I would proudly put in my digital media portfolio?

5- Do I understand the information we have about our readers? Do I understand the breakdown of how visitors get to the site? Do I know the sites that send the most readers? Do I know some things about the demographics of who visits the site? Do I know what kinds of content draw the most views on our site? Do I know what kinds of readers are the most valuable to our advertisers?

If your answer to any of these is “no,” then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work before it’s too late. The newsroom editors are learning the basics, so it’s time to take your own skills to the next level.

Here are ten things you can try in the next six months to boost your professional value, whether you’re a newly hired producer or a seasoned manager with years of online experience:

1- Become versed in social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and others. Build a profile, and become a power user on some social bookmarking sites. Here’s a great how-to for Digg.

2- Learn more about search engine optimization and how you can use it to promote news content. Get yourself a copy of Peter Kent’s Search Engine Optimization for Dummies. It’s not only my favorite SEO book, but it’s also one of my favorite tech books, period.

3- Experiment with some of the 25+ tools on this list and try using a few for an upcoming project.

4- Create your own web site around something about which you’re passionate. You get even more out of the experience if you buy a domain name and build your site from scratch. You can likely install your own content management system, such as the free WordPress or Joomla, using the handy tools that web hosts such as GoDaddy and Dreamhost offer. The site can be a blog, a forum or something else. If you need help, use the excellent resources at J-Learning. And if you want to really learn HTML, I highly recommend the book Spring into HTML & CSS by Molly Holzschlag, which I personally used to re-learn all the basics.

5- Spend a few days exploring your site’s metrics tools in detail. Run heat maps on your site to see where users click. Punch up the list of top referring domain names. Look at what the top content was on various days. Look at the keywords people use to find your site. Find out how they get to the site.

6- Brush up your skills by taking some online media classes. You can find great (and free or cheap) classes on everything from beginner Photoshop to computer programming at local libraries, technical schools and community colleges. Techniques change so rapidly in online media that this is essential.

7- Knock on the marketing department’s door and ask them for a copy of any studies done on your site’s readers. Look for anything related to demographics, usability studies and market research. Read it, and make a summary of it for your own notes.

8- Knock on the advertising department’s door and find out what big sales they’ve made recently. Ask them what sorts of content has sold well and what kinds of readers are most lucrative to advertisers.

9- Start following a few blogs that interest you, and study their habits. Also, consider following a few online journalism blogs that keep track of industry happenings. To get started, check out Journalistopia’s blogroll (the list of links on the right side of this blog) or visit Alltop.com’s journalism category.

10- Network with online media professionals (and not just online NEWS professionals). Check for local meetups at sites such as Meetup.com and Upcoming. Consider attending local conferences, such as BarCamps and university-sponsored workshops, where people present new technologies and ideas. Contact an editor at another news site if you love an idea their staff has accomplished.

It’s a tumultuous time in our industry, and few things are certain. However, it’s a good bet that boosting your online media skills will increase your likelihood of keeping your job or getting an even better one.

So get started, and don’t waste another day!

Have ideas on how you or others can increase your professional value? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Posted in blogging, newspapers, social media, tutorials, video, web 2.0, web design, web development, writing and editing | 10 Comments

How to Save Your Online Clips

burning newspaperCount on the fact that some of the journalism work living on your news site will go up in smoke. To protect yourself, make sure you’re keeping digital copies of your portfolio. [Photo by Mr. Peebles]

Journo/developer Joe Murphy has a terrific post today with tips on how to save your online clips from disappearing into the ether. News sites often have arbitrary policies and systems regarding what gets kept and what gets thrown out, so make sure you CYA. And if your news org switches content management systems, well, heaven help your old clips.

Head over to Joe’s post for his complete tips, but here’s a shortlist of tips with some of my own thrown in:

-Firstly, you SHOULD be saving your stuff! Trust someone who knows: You absolutely cannot rely on your organization to keep your stuff around. And, if you suddenly get laid off, you can forget about having free access to the text archive.

-Save the text of your article in document files. Make sure your file names are descriptive and contain the date the work published.

-Know that database-backed applications, such as the tools on many site’s “data pages,” cannot be easily saved. For these apps, take various screenshots that demonstrate the tool’s functionality, such as shots of the search interface, individual records, comments features and how it was promoted on the site.

-Keep notes on how a project you worked on contributed to the site in terms of page views and unique visitors (i.e. “The New Jersey dog names database resulted in 1.2 million page views and 350,000 unique visitors over a one-month period.”)

-Make screenshots of your online work using the free Pearl Crescent Page Saver plugin for Firefox. This is an incredible little tool. Or, you can use Scrapbook, which saves a copy of the entire Web page with its images intact (hat tip to Ryan Sholin).

-Become pals with the page design crew to get PDFs of your work that was published in the newspaper (Ryan again). Better yet, get them to tell you where and how to access the PDF archive. If this is unfeasible, invest in an inexpensive flatbed scanner to digitize the pages.

-Keep a backup of your portfolio. Like any important file, you might back it up to an extra hard drive and/or store it on a web server somewhere. I do both.

-Aside from your clips, career experts frequently recommend maintaining a list of key accomplishments. Sometimes, achievements in the newsroom don’t take the tangible form of a “clip.” Keeping a list up to date makes sure you remember what you’ve done and keeps the list fresh in your mind should an opportunity spontaneously present itself. You might have to suddenly answer the question: “So what interesting things have you done during your time at the Poughkeepsie Herald-Tribune-Picayune?”

Posted in blogging, data, Flash, maps, newspaper design, newspapers, photography, random stuff, video, web design, web development, writing and editing | 2 Comments

GateHouse Lawsuit vs. New York Times Co. has Dire Implications

GateHouse Media filed a lawsuit Monday against the New York Times Co. alleging copyright infringement after the NYT-owned Boston Globe frequently posted links containing headlines and the first sentences from articles on GateHouse’s community news sites.

-View the Document: The 25-page lawsuit [PDF]
-View the Document:  Request for an injunction [PDF]
to stop the Globe from posting GateHouse links. [UPDATE 12/23, 10:02 p.m.: A judge denied the temporary injunction]
-View the Document: 35-page support document for the injunction [PDF]
-View the Document: Affidavit by GateHouse Media Metro Editor-in-Chief Gregory Reibman [PDF]
-Your Town Newton, one of the Boston Globe’s community sites that sparked the lawsuit. See the news links in the center content gutter.

The lawsuit, if successful, could create a monumental chilling effect for bloggers, news sites, search engines, social media sites and aggregators such as Topix and Techmeme, which link to articles, display headlines and use snippets of copyrighted text from other sites. Initiatives such as the NYTimes.com Times Extra, which displays links to related articles from other sites, could be shut down for fear of copyright lawsuits. It could lead to a repudiation of one of the fundamental principles on which the Internet was built: the discovery and sharing of information.

In its complaint, GateHouse called the article links “deep links” because they do not link to the home page of the site. The “deep link” language in the complaint is meant to invoke cases such as the Supercrosslive.com case, wherein a motorcross news site was successfully prohibited from deep linking to a competing site’s streaming video file, which bypassed the site’s advertising.

From a technological standpoint, Your Town Newton’s article links would likely be considered deep links. However, that does not necessarily mean the links are a violation of fair use principles. The links to the articles, which contain as many as six advertisement positions, are rather different in nature from the links to streaming audio and media files in the Supercrosslive.com case, which were unable to contain advertising.

GateHouse’s assertion is that the Boston Globe community site’s use of the headlines cannibalizes GateHouse’s content and causes it financial harm because readers gather news from the links and snippets on the Globe’s site rather than visit GateHouse’s sites. Although not explicitly stated in the complaint, this means GateHouse likely believes the loss of readers from possible increased use of the Globe’s site will not be offset by the readers brought in by its competitor’s links.

If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.

In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.

[UPDATE 12/23]: Here’s some commentary on the lawsuit from other media bloggers:

-How the GateHouse suit looks from both sides – Media Nation
-GateHouseGate – Mark Potts
-A danger to journalism – Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine
-Gatehouse sues NYTCo over aggregation: But do they have a point? – Tish Grier
-Aggregation aggravation – PaidContent
-Dying Newspapers Suing Each Other For Content Theft – Silicon Valley Insider

Posted in blogging, citizen journalism, communities, ethics, media law, newspapers, search engines, social media, web 2.0 | 9 Comments

Study: Newspaper Sites Embrace User Content, Comments in 2008

A 2008 study released by The Bivings Group showed that newspaper web sites  increasingly embraced user content and comments, launched reporter-written blogs and shied away from requiring registration to read articles.

The Bivings report, titled The Use of the Internet by America’s Newspapers [PDF], attempts to quantify how the 100  largest newspaper sites have embraced new media tools, such as blogs, RSS, comments and so on. The study does not include TV,  radio or other non-newspaper sites.

Among the key findings:

-Fifty eight percent of newspapers allowed for user generated photos, while 18 percent accepted video and 15 percent articles.  Overall, 58 percent of newspapers offered some form of user generated content in 2008 compared to 24 percent in 2007.