Another in our “Notes From…” series - short notes by volunteers summarizing various events around the school, to help those of us who didn’t/couldn’t attend. Watch for several other “Notes From…” throughout the year (if you have one, send it in - or let us know in advance that you’d like to do one).
Below, tips from a technology discussion with Andrew Lih, former J-school professor, visiting from China. Many thanks to volunteer notes-taker Adam Edelman, J2007. Feel free to drop him a note or post a comment below (free, one-time registration required).
Notes From… Tech Jam Session with Andrew Lih
By Adam Edelman, J2007
ROOM 601B, Aug. 21, 2006–Andrew Lih, a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor from 1995 to 2002, returned to the school Monday afternoon to participate in a technology discussion.
Lih, who currently works out of Beijing, led journalism students through a network (no pun intended) of explanations of different programs and websites including wikis, Skype, Flickr.com and Writely.com. Lih also talked about press and technology freedoms in China. It was all part of a lunch-time Tech Jam Session organized by the Dean of Students Office.
Lih (and his teaching partner during those Columbia years, Dean Sree Sreenivasan) examined the benefits of using a wide range new technologies, while cautioning students to be aware of the dangers of blindly following every new service or gizmo.
Students in attendance learned about Skype, a free internet telephone service. Like many other services, Skype offers free computer-to-computer calling (including video conferencing) anywhere in the world, but with much better sound quality. Skype also offers free computer-to-land/cellphones in the US or Canada till the end of 2006, as well as some of the cheapest international calling rates.
Skype, said Lih, is particularly useful to journalists because it is a free alternative to cell and land phones and can be used for interviews. Skype also offers reasonably priced services such as voicemail and call recording, a function that would serve as a digital call recorder in itself for reporters. Sreenivasan highlighted another useful feature: conference calls, which allow you to connect up to 10 Skype or regular phone calls. One way to use this is when you have to talk to a source who doesn’t speak your language. You can conference in a friend who can translate for you.
Some out-of-town students have been wondering what to do with their out-of-town cellphone numbers. All their friends and family outside Columbia already have their out-of-town numbers, so getting a NYC number is not always practical. With so many people using cellphones and national calling plans, having an out-of-town number isn’t usually a problem. But for some of the kind of people you might encounter on your beat - nonprofits organizations, small-business owners, etc - calling a long-distance number will not be attractive and yet another barrier in getting callbacks. You can, of course, get a landline, and let people call you there. Another alternative is to get what’s called a SkpeIn number. You get a local number (usually 718) and use the free call forwarding feature to have calls go to your out-of-town cell. The cost of a SkypeIn number is about $40 a year. More information about Skype is available at Skype.com.
However, after researching the topic and receiving the same piece of advice from several professors, this reporter did decide to switch his Milwaukee-area cell phone number to a New York City number. It was free and easy and the new number will provide easier telephone
access to sources who refuse to or cannot call long distance. While the Skype alternative is as attractive, switching your cell phone number does not require any computer know-how and some Apple users have reported that the free Skype call-forwarding service has given
them problems. Several service carriers, including Sprint and Nextel, will switch your number for free. Notifying friends, family, and past contacts of your new number can be as easy as
sending out a brief mass email or text message.
Lih also encouraged students to use wikis, websites that allow users to edit subject matter collaboratively (Wikipedia, is essentially, a giant wiki that allows millions of users to collaborate). There are several wiki sites, including Writely.com, a website that allows users to view and edit one other’s documents securely (it requires a free invitation from a current user; Sreenivasan can give you one - just ask) and JotSpot.com.
There are plans for a master document that will provide names and contacts of students across all RWIs covering each of the neighborhoods in the city, ensuring better coordination and sharing of sources. It is likely to be wiki based.
Lih also touched upon the usefulness of Flickr.com as a way to share photographs. Watch for information about a J-school “Flickr pool” (a way for you to send in photos you take with your cameras and cellphones).
Throughout the session, students peppered Lih with questions about press freedoms in China. Lih touched upon the changing state of media censorship in China, explaining that dissent is beginning to increasingly appear online in the form of digital photos and movies. Internet filters, he explained, are effective against text, but are not very effective against these media. Lih predicted that, because of these creative forms of circumvention, censorship of the press in the long run will be less effective in China.
Lih is currently working on a book about Wikipedia. His blog can be
viewed at http://www.andrewlih.com and he can be reached at andrew[at]andrewlih.com. He will be happy to answer questions about any of the topics above and more.
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Feedback to Writely:
- I signed up for Writely after the technology session on Monday (it didn’t require an invitation after all) and have used it every day since. It’s great! Thanks for the tip.