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I’d never given much thought on how to build an igloo. That is, until I saw my first episode of Gadling TV’s “Travel Talk,” where Stephen Greenwood, Aaron Murphy-Crews and Drew Mylrea demonstrated the ins and outs of making an igloo in the snowy Sierras of California.

This entertaining 18-minute episode, which also included trending international news and a few food-related segments, was funny, informative and easy to watch. Curious, I quickly watched a few more. Catalina Island, Orlando, Las Vegas, San Francisco…the list went on. And with each show containing an adventurous, “you-feel-like-you’re-there-with-them” vibe, I was hooked.

I discovered “Travel Talk” last year when I was introduced to Gadling.com, a widely read travel blog where you can find a great article on almost any travel-related topic. Being the travel geek that I am, I continued to poke around the website and that’s when I found “Travel Talk,” Gadling’s first TV travel show. In each of the episodes they “discuss hot travel news; share fun, useful tips for both traveling and bringing your travel experiences back home; spotlight exciting travel destinations; and much more.”

Aaron Murphy-Crews and Stephen Greenwood

I was lucky enough to speak with hosts Stephen Greenwood and Aaron Murphy-Crews about “Travel Talk” recently. After a few minutes of figuring out Skype phone call logistics, we began our conversation about “Travel Talk” and the growing world of online journalism.

The “Travel Talk” adventure began in early 2010, after Greenwood and Mylrea met up with one of Gadling’s senior editors during a Virgin America party in Fort Lauderdale.

“We hung out with him for the night and he was talking with us about how he would love some sort of video series,” said Greenwood. “So they were interested in having us shoot a pilot.”

Greenwood, Murphy-Crews and  Mylrea (a mutual friend of Greenwood and Murphy-Crews) worked together to create the first episode of “Travel Talk,” which included discussions of travel-related news, a  “Tasteful Destination” segment and a hilarious travel tip from special guest Bruce (“Don’t be a travel loser and buy drinks on the plane, bring them with you.”) After a successful pitch to the higher-ups at Weblogs, Inc., owned by AOL, they were given a budget and were off to start filming weekly episodes of “Travel Talk.”

The team members tend to film episodes near where they are based in Santa Cruz, given their small expense budget for the show. But they still keep it interesting. Some of my favorite moments were filmed right in San Francisco, in a segment called “24 hour turnaround,” and on Catalina Island.

“I think one of the cool things about ‘Travel Talk’ is that we are able to do so much on such a small budget,” said Greenwood. “I can’t think of another time where that kind of stuff has been done before.”

Murphy-Crews explained that they also try to “piggy-back” trips with different work they have in other cities. They are also able to secure more exotic trips, to Rome and Thailand for example, through courtesy of different organizations for promotions in the media.

And now, almost a year and a half later, “Travel Talk” has produced 30 episodes and a 12-part series in Thailand. I asked the hosts how their show changed and developed from how they first envisioned it.

“We ended up doing something much different than we set off to do in the beginning, just because of time frame and format, but I don’t think anybody thought we could do or accomplish as much as we did in that amount of time,” explained Greenwood. “But as far as format goes, we tried to change it up as much as possible to keep it interesting and attract new viewers.”

“The experience was incredible,” said Murphy-Crews, “I did wish there were times the viewership reflected the work we put into it and maybe that was something that I struggled with, but in terms of the experience of the show and making it, I had almost no expectations and had an incredible time.”

They film each episode week by week (except for their latest Thailand series), which allows for that exhilarating combination of fast-paced adventures followed by late night editing sessions.

Murphy-Crews described their usual week:

It was stay up all night, edit the show Tuesday night, release it Wednesday morning, grab a cocktail, take most of Wednesday off. Then Wednesday night or Thursday morning we’re in the office on the whiteboard saying, ‘OK, game time. What’s the show this week, where are we going, what are we doing, what are our segments, what do we have and what do we need to film and when are we doing it.’

What is intriguing to me about “Travel Talk” is that Greenwood, Murphy-Crews and Mylrea do all the planning, filming, editing and posting of their videos on their own. There’s not a huge corporate production team and crew behind it. I think it is a great example of where online video journalism is going. Their episodes are humorous and engaging, while still being journalistic and informative.

I am interested in how online journalism is becoming such a great platform for videos and series like “Travel Talk,” and near the end of the interview I asked the hosts their thoughts on the subject.

“I think it’s great because we get to see an infinite amount of perspective. People can basically shoot whatever they want and you might get something incredible that you might have never seen otherwise,” said Greenwood. “I think the disadvantage is that there is a lot of really bad video out there, especially in the travel sector.”

He also mentioned that without a company like AOL monitoring and doing some quality control, there is a lot of amateur video floating around. (He of course doesn’t mean the video I’m posting in this blog.)

But I have to agree. Online videos can range from something very professional and artistic to looking like a 2-year-old grabbed the camera and accidentally pressed the record button. There are many advantages to journalists and travel writers becoming “one-man bands,” but when the overall quality of online video starts to deteriorate, it’s something we need to be conscious of.

Click on image for slideshow!

And with episodes ranging from the streets of San Francisco to Sangkhlaburi, Thailand, “Travel Talk” continues to produce quality shows that are entertaining and intriguing for anyone who watches them. They were recently nominated for The Webby Awards in the Travel and Adventure category.

So whether it’s seeing Greenwood and Murphy-Crews sitting on their sofa in the middle of a field discussing travel news or being introduced to different scotches and beers in each episode, the quirky team keeps you watching as they take you on a new adventure each week. I can’t wait to see where they go next.

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For many of us, a cup of coffee is part of our daily routine. Sometimes several cups of coffee are part of our daily routine… So whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or someone who downs it for the morning jolt of caffeine, there are several ways you can “green” your experience. And some of these tips can help save money too!

But first off, organic coffee. What makes it different than the conventional stuff? Practically Green has a simple answer:

Conventional coffee is heavily treated with pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers. These are harmful to air, water, farm workers, wildlife, and, soil. It adds up; by some estimates coffee is the second most widely traded global commodity after oil. When we drink it, we sip residues. Certified organic coffee isn’t allowed to be sprayed with these chemicals, and organic plantations must rotate crops to prevent erosion and the depletion of soil nutrients.

With the large amount of coffee I drink, I’d prefer it not to be laden with pesticides and fertilizers!

Treehugger has 10 ideas for “greening” your coffee. Here are a few I thought were smart and simple.

1. Invest in a reusable mug. You can enjoy your (organic) coffee from a reusable mug and significantly reduce the amount of garbage you produce from all those disposable cups, plastic tops and drip sleeves.

2. Drink organic coffee. Organic coffee is grown and processed without toxic chemicals and is harvested in ways that protect sensitive ecosystems. Although organic coffee can sometimes be more expensive than conventional brands, if you drink a lot of it, this may be a worthwhile investment. Buying in bulk may reduce costs as well.

3. Reusable coffee filter. You can still make a great cup of coffee without using those paper filters. Just wash out the reusable filter and you’re good to go! This reduces the amount of waste associated with making a cup of coffee.

4. Compost. Used coffee grounds are a great addition to a compost pile because of their high nitrogen content. They make a good fertilizer too.

You can find organic coffee at most supermarkets and health food stores. Just be sure it has “USDA Certified Organic” on the package. Happy sipping!

Thanks to fellow Reinventing the News classmate Anna Westendorf, I was sent an interesting article the other day about the psychological effect of saying a food is “organic.” According to the article, “if people are told a food is ‘organic,’ they’re also biased to believe it’s more nutritious and better tasting.”

Graduate student at Cornell University, Jenny Wan-chen Lee, conducted the study.

“Lee’s study involved 144 people, recruited at a local mall for a taste test: Lee presented shoppers with chocolate sandwich cookies, plain yogurt and potato chips, each in two varieties — “conventional” or “organic.” In reality, there was no difference between the food pairs; everything was organic.”

Across the board, participants preferred the taste of the foods labeled “organic,” and believed them to be healthier and nutritious than their conventional alternatives. But cookies are cookies and chips are chips. Even if the ingredients are organic, the overall nutritional value of junk foods, or most foods for that matter, doesn’t increase. Sure, it’s healthier for you in the sense that you’re not eating super processed foods, filled with preservatives, chemicals, fillers and HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). But organic foods still need to be treated with the same consciousness and thoughtfulness as any kind of food you eat. Just know that you’re getting the added benefit of healthier, fresher, sometimes better tasting, food going into your body.

So the moral of the study: “The findings remind us not to let food labels fool us into overestimating a product’s real nutritional or caloric value.”

Picture from blah.burrp.com.

On Tuesday morning, Reinventing the News took a field trip to The Christian Science Monitor, which is conveniently located a couple minutes away from campus.

Once we were there, we were lucky enough to sit in on the morning budget meeting, which consisted of the editors and a couple interns. It was great to experience an actual budget meeting and observe how the editors interacted with each other and what topics they discussed.

After the budget meeting was over, we had the opportunity to ask questions about The Christian Science Monitor and their transition from a daily newspaper to an online news source with a weekly magazine supplement.

Senior Editor, John Yemma, said that 60 to 70 percent of their resources, reporters and overall effort goes into the web version of The Christian Science Monitor and the rest goes into their weekly magazine. This allows them to write and publish stories more quickly and easily. Over the past two years, their page views have gone from 4.5 million to 30 million per month. Yemma said being online makes them more attuned to what people are interested in.

Through the transition to an online newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor was able to trim costs of printing, but they also lost valuable ad revenue. According to Yemma, the entire process turned out to be “a wash.”

What makes The Christian Science Monitor unique to John Yemma, is their attention to international news, their attempt to explain news in a non-sensational manner and a more fair and understanding view of the world. He, as well as the other editors, emphasized The Monitor’s role in answering the “why” questions of a news story.

I enjoyed our time at The Christian Science Monitor because I really respect their values in covering the news. I appreciate their attempt to answer the “why” questions and report on international news in a fair and thought-provoking way.

Organic Wine

Sometimes there’s nothing better than sitting down to a home-cooked dinner and a glass of wine after a long day. Yes, I am one of those people. The I-want-to-feel-like-a-classy-European-so-I’ll-sip-some-wine kind of person, who moseyed through Trader Joe’s wine section, not the nearest liquor store, when I turned 21.

As I sipped a glass of my Riesling last night I though about Practically Green‘s “Drink eco-friendly wine” action that I researched while I was there. This is what I found out:

“For a wine to be certified organic, it must have a USDA Organic seal, be made from organically grown grapes, and not have any added sulfites (which means no sulfur was used in the production process). Because many winemakers feel sulfites are critical to winemaking, it is much more common to find a wine with certified organic grapes, which means the wine can include added sulfites. Some winemakers follow organic or biodynamic practices but are not certified due to cost or other complexities. By getting to know your winemaker, either by visiting the winery or talking to your wine-store staff, you may find many uncertified wines that are grown without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”

Planet Green also goes deeper into the topic by discussing other aspects of green winemaking, such as finding local or vegan wines, explaining sulfites and how to read the “organic” label. There is definitely more to this process than using organic grapes!

Here’s a link to find wineries in your area. If you go into your local wine shop, the people working there are usually able to tell you how the vineyards are farmed and how the wine is made. Enjoy!

There are many benefits to buying organic foods: it’s healthier for you, it supports sustainable agriculture and it means less pesticides going into our environment. But sometimes looking at those sky-high prices make your eyes bug out, especially if you are on a strict budget.

When I started my internship at Practically Green I began to make an effort to buy local or organic foods when I could. I budget out a certain amount of money each week for groceries, so I couldn’t be grabbing at every organic food item in the grocery store. Here are some simple tricks that have allowed me to buy organic, but also stay within my budget!

The Daily Green has “Five Ways to Save on Organic Food”:

1. Coupons! The organic sector is showing the largest amount of growth in the food industry right now, so coupons are becoming more common. Check online for coupons to your favorite grocery stores or organic food makers. Your Green Helper offers coupons and deals for organic foods and product.

2. Buy whole, unprocessed foods. The more processed or refined food is, the less nutritional value and fiber it will have. I’ve also found that buying organic foods in bulk form can sometimes be cheaper. Take granola for example. It’s cheaper at Whole Foods to buy loose organic granola (where you pour it out of the big container into the plastic bag yourself), rather than pre-packaged organic granola. It’s more expensive, a smaller quantity and more packaging.

3. Buy store brand foods. As The Daily Green so eloquently writes: “They’re cheaper and taste just as good if not better than those products that have been marketed and packaged up the wazoo.” This is true for places like Whole Foods, where their 365 Everyday Value organic products can be less expensive than a big-name organic company. They will still be the same organic, whole-grain crackers, just less expensive.

4. Learn the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. The Dirty Dozen are the most highly contaminated foods with pesticides and chemicals- even after washing. Try to buy these foods organic when you can.

5. Don’t shop alone. Shopping with a friend allows for the possibility of sharing costs on bigger, bulk organic items.

Another shopping technique the New York Times suggests is to buy organic versions of just a few foods that you eat the most. This will allow organic foods into a large part of your diet, without making huge changes in your shopping and spending.

Make sure that your organic product has the USDA Certified Organic label on it. Be aware that words like all-natural, local, no hormones added, etc. are unregulated, meaning it’s most likely a clever marketing technique, not truly natural, healthy foods. Be a conscious consumer, even if something does say “organic,” if it doesn’t have the USDA label on it, look for another brand that does. Here’s a great definition of organic (fifth paragraph down).

Last week, Reinventing the News was introduced to NewsTrust, a website that helps you navigate through the world of online journalism to find media outlets and articles that are credible and relevant. You can become a member on NewsTrust by signing up on their website (it’s free!) and you look through thousands of articles from different media sources. Members can review articles in short or full form, where they rate the article on factuality, fairness, quality, etc.

This site is another great example of how the audience is becoming more involved in journalism. They not only reads the articles, but are able to publicly critique and rate the quality of the journalism for others.

Although I believe NewsTrust is a great concept, I’m not sure how easy it will be for them to grow. I think that there is some apathy among people when it comes to reading the news and staying up-to-date on current events. With that said, it would be even harder to have those readers take the time to review the article they just read, even if it’s 3 short questions. In our “to-go” society we want the news and we want it now…and then we’re off to go check our email. It would be great if people could start using NewsTrust like most other third party sources for news gathering (Twitter, Facebook and blogs for example). For now, I think that NewsTrust will remain popular and helpful with an audience that is interested and invested in the journalism world.

I enjoyed reviewing the articles I read and submitted. I feel like I gained more insight into what makes up a credible and well-rounded story as I went through the rating system. I usually judge an article’s quality by how long it takes me before I hit the “back” button. Embarrassing as a student of journalism, but true. I may be swayed to read, or not read, an article based on others’ reviews, but I tend to use my own judgement and stick with the sources that I know to be credible. Going through the NewsTrust review made me read the story more carefully and really reflect on what I just read, but I don’t think I would take the time to review them every time.

Photo from Flickr by johnthurm.