Five ways to innovate today

A colleague looking for a few new ways to integrate free Web services into his newsroom asked me to chip in with a list of five, so here they are. A note to student journalists: These are all free and easy ways to get something new and different online, and they probably serve a need you have right now in your newsroom.

Instant social networking for a niche in your community. Need a high school football site? A way to let readers weigh in on a controversial issue without allowing too much anonymity? A place for school clubs to run groups, slideshows, video, blogs and forums? Done. This thing is plug and play. Move around the modules as you please, and promote the crap out of it on your news site. For 5 bucks a month, use your own URL. For $20 a month, run your own ads.

Fun, inventive multimedia, with Zero Flash Knowledge required at the door. Heck, you don’t even need to know how to use an FTP program to get this to work. Play with images, audio, and video here, and embed the results on your own site. Check out this ScobleShow video of Richard Koci Hernandez from the San Jose Mercury News talking about using Vuvox.

One of many projects on the plate of the guy who pretty much invented RSS and blogging and podcasting as we know it. The basic premise is that you call a phone number and record a short message. A link to the resulting mp3 file gets posted to your Twitter stream. Keep in mind that your Twitter stream has an RSS feed, as well, which increases the number of games you can play on the tail end of this. Think of it as live audio reporting that gets fed straight to the Web.

The latest in a short line of live video streaming startups. Also consider If you’re reporting with a laptop in your backpack hooked up to a webcam (or a more expensive miniDV camera, whatever floats your A/V boat), this is a way to broadcast live via the Web, whether you hook into wifi at the coffee shop or an EVDO card to get online.

YouTube? What? How many different remixes of Soulja Boy can I watch involving Spongebob and/or kittens? Or, you could use your free video editing software (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker) to create video content (ahem), podcasts, or audio slideshows. No FTP access or Soundslides license? No problem: Edit your images and audio in iMovie and export it as a video file. Upload to YouTube, embed on your site, and voila, audio slideshow. Podcasting? Why not do the same trick with a few relevant photos over an audio track?

Take advantage of the free software and services that are out there: None of these will create compelling content for you or teach you how to be a better storyteller. What they will do is make it easy for you to deliver those stories to your audience in compelling and interactive ways.

Make me cry.

I’ve been repeating versions of this on recent training rounds when folks ask about learning Flash, so I thought I’d post it here for reference and credit purposes…

Richard Koci Hernandez, near the end of a great Starter Kit page at Multimedia Shooter:

“Soundslides or Flash? Put it this way, if you don’t know what Soundslides is, then there’s no need to even think about Flash. And if you haven’t mastered Soundslides (meaning, brought someone to tears with your two minute Soundslide) there there is no reason to be thinking about Flash.”

Download Soundslides here.