All posts by Katie-Leigh Corder

Benefits of nature for health and creativity.

Why You Need More Nature in Your Life

Benefits of nature and enjoying the great outdoors can help your mental health among other factors.
Image from Fix.com. Click to open full image; expand for better legibility.

The idea that spending time in nature and taking a break from technology increases your well-being shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The benefits of nature are not only great for your health, but allow you to build a different perspective of the world, as well.

A 2014 study at the University of Michigan found that nature walks were associated with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental well-being.

Research is being conducted in Japan on the physiological effects of shinrin-yoku—also known as “forest bathing,” which means to take a walk in the woods.

According to this 2011 study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, the benefits of nature “may lower blood pressure by reducing sympathetic nerve activity (reducing urinary noradrenaline levels) and increasing parasympathetic nerve activity. In addition, habitual walking in forest environments may have beneficial effects on blood adiponectin and DHEA-S levels, and habitual walking exercise may have beneficial effects on blood NT-proBNP levels.”

Whenever I have the luxury of being outside, I take in all of the natural colors, types of plant and animal life, and sites that nature has to offer. Living in Colorado, it’s almost second-nature for everyone to be passionate in hiking, camping, etc.

Great Sand Dunes view from backcountry campsite.
The Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, CO, where I backcountry camped and hiked in 2016.

The sand dunes were an amazing place to explore. The colors changed according to the sun’s position—as shown in the above image where the sun was starting to set. This place was captivating where it was so quiet during evening and nighttime that you could perfectly hear your own heartbeat due to the lack of ambient sound as well as a jaw-dropping view of the stars. Not being bombarded with city sounds and getting the chance to see every spec of the Milky Way visible to the human eye are definitely some benefits of nature that I experienced those two nights in the Dunes.

Sunflower center shows the logarithmic spiral occurring natural in nature.
From Jim Wilson at the University of Georgia.

More benefits of nature include seeing how everything comes together in the details. How do colors interact when leaves are changing due to the changing seasons? What shapes form when the wind relentlessly pounds against a rock? When it snows, what shapes are formed by individual snowflakes?

You can find the answer to such questions by taking the time to explore the intricate details of the outdoors and not just the big picture. Time and time again I strive to examine as many things as possible while hiking. Because of this, I observed how balance plays itself out in both symmetrical and asymmetrical ways—similar to best practices and techniques in the design world. After seeing such wonders, I was able to observe the outside world in a completely different point-of-view—along with a newfound respect for nature.

According to this American Scientist article, “Twisted Math and Beautiful Geometry,” mathematical and geometric concepts occur naturally in nature and influence how we see and experience the world around us.

“Of the numerous mathematical curves we encounter in art, geometry, and nature, perhaps none can match the exquisite elegance of the logarithmic spiral. This famous curve appears, with remarkable precision, in the shape of a nautilus shell, in the horns of an antelope, and in the seed arrangements of a sunflower.”

We all need a break from reality once in awhile, so take to the trail, or even your backyard, to discover the benefits of nature for—not only your well-being—but your creativity, as well!

Freedom of Press and History of Journalism in America

Freedom of press has been tested time and time again throughout the history of journalism in America.In recent months, the American political system experienced an upheaval of unprecedented events involving the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Also in recent months, the trust in news and media organizations has plummeted among Americans where only 32 percent have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is “the lowest level in Gallup polling history and is down eight percentage points from 2015.

Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media from Gallup polling.
Image from Gallup.

Needless to say, it only takes moments on social media or listening to leaders to reveal that the media is NOT portrayed in a golden light. The importance of keeping the press free so journalists can be ‘watchdogs’ and ‘gatekeepers’ is extremely high … so high that the overall structure of press freedom may be at risk … again.

Again? Take a step back before allowing clickbait headlines and dismal topics burn you out. Let’s analyze the origins and tests of press freedom throughout our history. Where and when did these freedoms start? In other words, what’s the history of American journalism, and how did it transform to what we are seeing today?

The Notion of Freedom of Press

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved,” wrote Founding Father Benjamin Franklin in The Pennsylvania Gazette.

The founders saw the federal government as a powerful entity; therefore, they developed a system of checks and balances for all branches. The press was considered an outlet to inform the people about what was happening within each branch. The press’ job was to present the facts to the public so that citizens would be aware of issues as well as be involved in politics.

After the Revolutionary War, the Founders debated various interpretations of freedom of speech and of press. James Madison revealed the original form of these freedoms by writing “the people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty shall be inviolable.”

As the idea of freedom of speech and press was constructed, both Madison and Jefferson argued that stating or printing one’s opinions—whether they are true or false—did not fall into the federal government’s jurisdiction, and such regulation was not a function the government should perform.

(Source: digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu)

Sedition Act of 1798

England and France were in the midst of a heated war during the late 1790s, and Adams and the Federalists were in power. Because they believed war was imminent, they pushed for the Sedition Act of 1798, which was a test of governmental power over the freedom of press.

Political cartoon of the Sedition Act of 1798 by Adams that limited freedom of press.
Image from “The alien and sedition acts” by Philip Kabranov & Patrick Embert.

Because newspapers tended to be partisan during this time, the Federalists used this Act to attack opposition, which included those newspapers aligned against them:

“Newspapers were highly partisan, and often existed principally to advance the interests of a particular political party. The government prosecuted the editors of the leading Republican newspapers, and succeeded in jailing many Republican editors and closing, at least temporarily, many Republican newspapers.”

(Source: chicagounbound.uchicago.edu)

How Times of War Influenced the Press

Civil War

Abraham Lincoln used his wartime powers to control the freedom of press during the Civil War.
Photo from The History Rat.

As the Civil War began, “it was early recognized by the [Lincoln] Administration that the newspapers might be an effective agent in giving information to the South, as well as in encouraging their resistance. Therefore early in the war, measures were adopted which were intended to curb their activities. These measures may be classified as follows: Control of reporters, Censorship of the Telegraph System, Exclusion from the Mails, Closing of Newspaper Offices and the Arrest of Editors by Military Force.”

In what would be seen as shocking today, the Civil War period saw “more than 300 opposition newspapers in the North shut down” as well as the arrest of “many editors for publishing ‘disloyal’ speech.”

The Union held vast powers during the time of war over the press, and never again has such power and restraint recurred in our history. This, in turn, was a test of power of the federal government in controlling newspapers and what they printed due to wartime fears.

(Sources: Virginia Law Review and chicagounbound.uchicago.edu)

Yellow Journalism

Another notable period did not involve the government controlling the press so much as it involved the press controlling the masses. The sensational stories about Spain’s control over Cuba influenced the public and government to become involved in this foreign conflict in the late 1890s.

According to the Office of the Historian: “Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century, it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States.”

Yellow Journalism depicting Hearst and Pulitzer.
Image from Media Throughout the Ages.

Such sensational articles—mainly by Hearst and Pulitzer publishers—used dramatic, bold headlines, drawings of events, and “occasionally printing rousing stories that proved to be false.”

Overall, the press influenced ideas and involvement in foreign affairs and showed the impact and power held by the press.

World War I & II

World War I during the Woodrow Wilson era saw a decrease in freedom of press due to wartime and was punishable up to 20 years in prison.
American women protesting the sedition and espionage acts at the White House between 1917 and 1918.

The American people didn’t want to partake in World War I. Because of such disdain for entering the War, President Woodrow Wilson needed to increase public approval for entering war, which involved government propaganda and holding the media accountable.

Because of this, another attempt at stifling press freedom was enacted under the Sedition Act of 1918—a distant cousin of the one in 1798.

“In effect, the government reenacted the Sedition Act of 1798. But whereas the 1798 act had a maximum penalty of two years in prison, the World War I statutes carried penalties ranging up to 20 years in prison. Most people convicted under these acts were sentenced to terms ranging from 10 to 20 years in prison. During World War I, some 2,000 individuals were prosecuted under these laws, including not only individual speakers, but publishers of newspapers and magazines.”

Unlike WWI that saw little enthusiasm from the American public, World War II differed in that the attack on Pearl Harbor awakened a mass frenzy to enter the War. Even so, the 1940s propelled the thought that “the government no longer thought it could (or should) convict individuals for criticizing the war unless their criticisms included false statements of fact. This was a major step forward in our First Amendment traditions.”

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 7, 1941.
Front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin right after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Image from The World War II Multimedia Database.

(Source: chicagounbound.uchicago.edu)

Post-September 11th

How the press covered the 9/11 attacks in terms of press freedom.It’s argued that after the September 11th attacks, journalists were reporting in fear—not knowing when the next attack would be or where it would occur.

An article from The Atlantic titled, “They were far less concerned about civil liberties. Editors long ignored isolated reports that the United States was holding suspected terrorists in secret prisons. ‘We wouldn’t publish it even if we knew,’ a senior editor at a major American newspaper said when it was suggested that his paper devote its impressive investigative talent to exposing the secret prisons.”

Since then, the ‘digital revolution’ continues to impact news consumption where social media has made it possible to discover new information in mere seconds. Privacy concerns are on the rise, and traditional, print media outlets are under fire for losing a large part of their revenue streams as well as not successfully adapting to such a fast, visual and interactive, and impatient society.

(Source: chicagounbound.uchicago.edu)

What’s Next?

Fake news, Trump and Facebook—oh my!

Donald Trump declares a war on the media that has caused many to question freedom of press.
Image from CNN.

Think how topsy-turvy the world is when trying to acquire factual and unbiased information. Trump declared “war on the media” due to alternative facts of his apparent success. Trust in the media is at a new time low. Fakes news seems to be influencing citizens more so than journalistic media outlets. These are just a few issues dealing with press freedom and how the media is portrayed in society.

Are we seeing the most censored time in press freedom? Perhaps it’s not the most censored time after reviewing the history of press freedom and past actions by the federal government.

In a Politico article titled “Trump is Making Journalism Great Again,” it stated, “In his own way, Trump has set us free. Reporters must treat Inauguration Day as a kind of Liberation Day to explore news outside the usual Washington circles. He has been explicit in his disdain for the press and his dislike for press conferences, prickly to the nth degree about being challenged and known for his vindictive way with those who cross him. So, forget about the White House press room. It’s time to circle behind enemy lines.”

History proves journalists were trialed, tested, hated, and loved over and over. Take advantage of the need for factual information in this digital age, and don’t let fear override the true role of the journalist—informing the public with honest, factual information so they aren’t left in the dark.


Sources

  1. Gallup, Inc. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low.” Gallup.com. N.p., 14 Sept. 2016. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. Available at: gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx.
  2. David S. Bogen, The Origins of Freedom of Speech and Press, 42 Md. L. Rev. 429 (1983)
    Available at: digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/mlr/vol42/iss3/3
  3. Geoffrey R. Stone, “Freedom of the Press in Time of War,” 59 SMU Law Review 1663 (2006).
    Available at: chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2955&context=journal_articles
  4. Carroll, Thomas F. “Freedom of Speech and of the Press during the Civil War.” Virginia Law Review, vol. 9, no. 7, 1923, pp. 516–551. jstor.org/stable/1065306.
  5. “Milestones: 1866–1898 – Office of the Historian.” U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. Available at: history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/yellow-journalism.
  6. Bonner, Raymond. “The Media and 9/11: How We Did.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 9 Sept. 2011. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. Available at: theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/09/the-media-and-9-11-how-we-did/244818/.

SEO for Journalists: How to Increase Visibility to Your Stories Naturally

SEO for journalists demystified: Learn everything you need to know about how to increase visibility to your online articles and more in this informative blog by Katie-Leigh Corder on SPJ.As journalists, we are expected to adapt to many different and rapidly changing technologies and techniques in order to increase views, shares, clicks, etc. which attract users to our online articles and websites. At the same time, journalists don’t want to fall into the ‘clickbait trap.’ Still, journalists need to prove that their articles are engaging readers, and that’s where search engine optimization (SEO) can help.

What is SEO?

Think of SEO as free visibility for your site if you do it right. Many people assume SEO is purely marketing or ‘robotic’ writing and doesn’t relate to what they’re trying to accomplish with their online presence; however, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to Internet Live Stats, “Google now processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average (visualize them here), which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide.”

Knowing that people are increasingly searching for practically everything on search engines, how can you become more involved and benefit from these searches? How can you dive into this technical world of optimizing your content while keeping your journalistic ethics in check?

Here are the main areas of SEO in which every journalist should have a basic knowledge so they can implement in their online stories:

Keywords

One of the most important areas of SEO involve keywords and queries—basically what people are searching for and how popular those searches are in search engines. Let’s say you live close to Pueblo, CO, and wrote a news article about a developing wildfire. Obviously, you want people to read your article especially since other local outlets will be ‘competing’ to break the story first. To increase your chances of visibility and higher ranking in search results, you’ll want to conduct keyword research.

Not so long ago, Google had a really awesome, free tool called Keyword Planner that gave you the average monthly searches of keywords; however, instead of an exact number, such as an 170 average monthly search volume, it now gives you a range, such as between 100–10,000—that are ultimately useless for our purposes here. Because of this, I would recommend using limited, free tools or biting the bullet and purchasing an account with Moz or other sites that include keyword research capabilities.

The goal of keyword research is to understand how many people are searching for keywords that are related to your article’s topic. The higher the searches and lower the competition, the more likely your article will receive better visibility and visits. Other tools involve typing in queries in Google and seeing what Google suggests under your search as well as related searches near the bottom of the first page of the search engine results page.

You can find more specific queries people are searching for—called longtail keywords—through Ubersuggest and Answer the Public; sites that are really helpful in determinning what people are searching for.

After choosing a keyword or two that people are researching, then you can move forward to the next section.

On-Page Optimization

Learn everything you need to know about on-page optimization for the pages on your site to increase visibility to them with this awesome infographic from Moz.
Image from: https://moz.com/learn/seo/on-page-factors.

After writing a great article and conducting keyword research, you want to make sure all of your hard work doesn’t go to waste. By inserting those keywords into certain areas on the back-end of the page, you are following the main ‘rules’ of SEO. Here are the seven areas of a page you should focus your SEO efforts on:

  1. Headline
    First and foremost, the page title of a news article is very important. Not only must you engage users to click on your article, but you must make sure it accurately represents the presented information. It should also include keywords that will increase its ranking in search engine results. But it’s easier than you think.After determining your keywords you can simply plop them as close to the beginning of the headline as possible. For example, let’s say ‘Pueblo Wildfire’ is a trending and breaking news story. People around the area and in the state are searching for ‘Pueblo wildfire’ to stay up-to-date with developments. One way you could approach this is by including ‘Pueblo Wildfire’ into the forefront of your engaging title: Pueblo Wildfire Consumes X Acreage in Less Than a Day.
  2. URL
    Not only should the URL be short and concise, but you should place your main keyword into the URL, as well. For example, using the keyword from above, you could create a custom URL such as: domain.com/pueblo-wildfire-acreage. Mind you, your site may default to adding category names, tags, and/or dates in front of the customization; however, Google has dropped the requirement for news articles to contain numbers in their URLs.
  3. Meta-Title
    Meta-title (aka page title) and headline are sometimes interchanged with one another. The meta-title refers to the title that a user will see if he or she hovers the mouse over the page’s tab, as we can see in the example below:
    This is where you can see a page's meta-title if you hover over the page's tab in your browser.Like the page title, you’ll want to include your keyword near the beginning of the meta-title. Also, you’ll want to include branding in it, such as the example above (usually found at the end of your meta-title): “KRDO.com | …”This is what your meta-title will show up in a Google search results page, using the same example from above:This is what your page's meta-title will look like in search results.There are character limits you should follow. According to Moz, “Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag, or as many characters as will fit into a 512-pixel display. If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly.”
  4. Meta-Description
    Another item to focus on is the meta-description, or the brief description that shows up underneath URLs in search results:This is what your page's meta-description will look like in search results.Include keywords in the description but acknowledge these are most useful for click-through rates, so you’ll want to include between 150–160 characters and make it as unique and descriptive of the page as possible, see Moz for more details.
  5. Images
    In addition to correctly sized images for social-media purposes and showcasing an interesting visual, you’ll want to make sure two elements behind the image are included: the title and alternative tags:

    • Title Tag
      The title tag isn’t important for SEO purposes, but if a user Pins the image then the title tag will—most of the time—fill the description text area. Also, including a title tag ensures your page is Section 508 compliant for those that use screen readers, or if the image doesn’t load correctly, then that text will still show up to describe the image.
    • Alt Tag
      The part of the image that IS crawled by search engine bots is the alternative tag (alt tag). YYou’ll want to ensure your keywords are included in this tag along with an accurate, natural-sounding description of the image—write as a human, not as a bot. Your images will stand a better chance of showing up in image search results, as well.
  6. Body Text
    Ensure your researched keywords are included within the body text of your article, as well. You’ll want to write as you normally do, but include the keywords a few times throughout your content, which is necessary to increase visibility to your article.
  7. Tagging and Categories
    If the site you’re contributing to is a large site or has lots of past articles, then it’ll probably have a variety of tags or categories to help with organization and search. The tags and categories you choose to better describe your article will help define the URL at times as well as where it is within the site. This also helps with SEO as it gives a better idea of the covered topics in your article.

Sharing

After completing your research, refining your article with keywords, adding engaging images and titles, and publishing it, you’re ready to share it on your site’s social media accounts! Ideally, users will click on the article, engage with others—and not try to bite each other’s’ heads off, and, most importantly, share it on their walls for others to interact with. You’re increasing the visibility of the article and the company’s brand, which is a great indicator that people are visiting your article to read about that certain topic.

Linking

  • External Linking (link building)
    Google will see your site as reliable and trustworthy if other equally trustworthy sites link to you. Think of it as a vote of confidence … one that will increase your site’s rank and visibility.Using the Pueblo wildfire as an example, you write an article with great stats, interviews with locals and professionals, and included great visuals. You use highly searched for keywords, include an engaging title, and share it on social media. Now let’s say another reporter who works at a media outlet farther away from the wildfire wants to write about it, as well, and loves your article. The reporter decides to link to your article from his/her article to give a more localized feel for his/her article.With more external sites linking to pages on your site, Google will see you as a trustworthy source and move your page up in rankings for certain queries.
  • Internal Linking
    Another way to increase visibility to the pages on your site—and to make it easier for Google to crawl your site—is to link to other, already published pages within your site that are relevant to the page you are working on.Let’s say there was a past wildfire in your community that you reported on a while back, and you want to reference it in your story about the current wildfire, so you bring up the past wildfire and link to it. This allows users to not only learn more about wildfires in the area, but allows Google to crawl your site better and give ‘SEO juice’ to both your current and past wildfire articles.

The number one factor in ranking and visibility is the quality of your content. Make sure your content is accurate, sounds natural, and doesn’t lead your audience on.

You don’t have to be a SEO expert to implement these strategies into your online content, and the more you practice these tactics, the easier and more natural they’ll become. At the same time, as technology and online methods continue to evolve so will SEO. It’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with where SEO is going to ensure your efforts are paying off (see my earlier post about the best sites to follow for SEO and other technical updates).

Learn everything you need to know to get started with SEO in Moz’s beginner’s guide to SEO.

This blog post was originally published in the Society of Professional Journalists’ First Draft blog network.

Attribution of top image: By Periodicoelcolombiano (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons