Mixed Fortunes For Knoxville Motor Industry Since April’s Storms

4 12 2011

Businesses are still dealing with the good and the bad effects caused by the freak weather, several months on from the hailstorms.

The Knoxville auto industry is still dealing with the effects of April’s severe storms, and the impact has not been positive for everyone.

“Frankly, it’s been a nightmare,” said Gilbert Lusk, the manager of Lusk Body Company, who estimates the number of hail damaged cars in the Knoxville area could be as high as 125,000.  “We still have a backlog of cars and trucks that we are committed to repair.  I suspect we will be doing some hail damage repair even a year from now.”

Lusk grew up working in the business his father started in 1955, taking over as manager when his brother died in 2003.  He describes April’s storm as the worst he has ever seen in Knoxville and the time since has been hard on the company.

“It just drains you physically, mentally, and financially,” he said.  “It’s just been frustrating and we’d all like for it to be over with.”

‘Good for business’

On the other hand, the hailstorm has boosted business for the Knoxville car rental industry.  Enterprise Rent-A-Car has particularly benefitted as it is the only car rental firm located in downtown Knoxville.

“You can never have too much business, but it was a stressful time,” said Jonathan Anderson, the branch manager.  “You don’t want to say it’s a good thing but it’s good for business.  We want the business but I’d rather have got it from just normal day-to-day activities.”

Anderson’s branch lost 15 cars from its own car park to hail damage and many more that were already rented out to customers.

“What we did was very quickly got what the surrounding states had,” he said.  “Other Enterprises in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas, even as far away as Texas just got trucks on the way.  They would load up the haulers, 10 to 15 cars on a truck and just as fast as they could were sending them.”

Enterprise had to turn some customers away in the weeks that followed the storm.  Anderson said it was a stressful time and took two to three months for the demand to calm down.

“Your business and the expectation and demand of your customers goes up 1,000 percent,” he said.  “You would choose a number that would seem ridiculous and it was so much higher than that as far as the demand went.  I heard about 30,000 insurance claims were made in Knox County alone.  There’s not that many rental cars, obviously.”

‘That difficult’

For Gilbert Lusk, the decision he faces if a storm as severe as April’s ever hits Knoxville again is not whether his company will be better prepared.  The decision will be whether the company gets involved at all.

“I’m not sure if we’d get involved in hail repair ever again,” he said.  “It’s been that difficult.  If I have a weak moment again in the future and something like this occurs again, I’d have to sit and think about it for a long time.  But I’m not sure we could ever do it again.”


ABC (RSS) Feeds The News

20 11 2011

As you would expect with a large broadcast network like ABC News, typing their name into a Google web search brings up their website in number one position.  Not only are you supplied with the link to the home page, but also to “World News with Diane Sawyer,” “Good Morning America,” video, news, politics and a hurricane tracker.  There is also a link to two news stories, but neither of them are current.  One is an investigation into battery chickens from one day ago and the other is about Joe Paterno’s lung cancer from two days ago.

By just typing “News” into a Google search, ABC News drops down to second position behind CNN.com.  A difference between ABC News on this Google search and CNN above them, and MSNBC and Fox News below them, is the other three sites all have links to recent stories underneath the links to the actual home pages.  ABC News only has the link to the home page.  If I had done this Google search looking for news, I would probably have been more inclined to go to one of the other websites through one of the current headline links if one of them caught my eye rather than just go blindly to ABC News.

RSS feeds are not given huge prominence on the ABC home page.  They are promoted along with the social media icons in the bottom half of the home page.  They employ the traditional orange RSS feed logo, which appears fourth after Facebook, Twitter and Google+.  When you go to the RSS feed page, before you can even select one there is a FAQ section about RSS feeds which would indicate they still aren’t totally widespread in their use.  Despite this, ABC offers a vast number of RSS feed options, split into news feeds (from politics to travel to ESPN sports), most popular feeds, video feeds and blog feeds.  This wide variety means the user can really tailor their feed to exactly what they want.

In terms of news aggregators, you have to do a bit of digging on a news story to find them (well I did!!).  I only found them by accident, located underneath the story headline by hovering over a plus sign, which could have been for anything.  Here you have the option to share or bookmark the story, with the most popular sources of aggregation listed (like Delicious and Google) as well as a further option to list another 334 sites – the majority of which I didn’t know even existed.  However, at least ABC News gives you the choice (if you can find them)!!

A Design of Two Halves and Appy Days

13 11 2011

In terms of visual design the top portion of the ABC News home page is very clear and well laid out.  The colour schemes of mainly dark blue with lighter blue and white is easy on the eye and clear on what the different sections of the website are.  There are no banner ads above the header, only a plug for an ABC News show – a Diane Sawyer exclusive with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly.  ABC use a top navigation, with their primary navigation menu just below the header.  A good feature of this navigation menu is how it is split up simply by using a different shade of blue, so the user knows where the news sections end and the sections specific to different ABC programmes begin.  The use of red text also highlights when a story is predominantly featured around video or photographs.

The middle portion of the website adopts a more grid-based layout.  The left hand section lists the latest headlines, the middle section contains stories which heavily feature photos, and the right section is for news “just in” that updates automatically.

The further you scroll down the ABC News home page, the more it starts to lose its organized feel and it becomes harder to navigate.  It seems as though the less important stuff for the home page has just been thrown together at the bottom instead of the planning seemingly given to the upper portion.  Towards the bottom of the page are located links to social media, slideshows, adverts, newsletter sign-ups, “This Day in History” and links to ABC Local News.

Overall, I like the way ABC News is presented when you immediately visit the site given its clarity and use of colour.  However, the further you scroll down the home page the more disorganized and overly cluttered it becomes.

The ABC News app is a fairly straightforward version that mirrors the website in its sections and content.  It is divided into a news section, a section for ABC news programmes, a video section and a local news section.  It is the local news section I think is the best part of the app.  In the section you can choose which cities you would like news to appear from and deselect cities you are not interested in.  This has an advantage over the website as there you can only choose one city at a time.  On the whole it is an average app – it is simple to use but quite boring to look at.  I would look at other news apps before considering ABC News.

Videos, Videos, Everywhere

6 11 2011

Given ABC is one of America’s main broadcasting networks, you would expect the ABC News website to feature an abundance of video.  Sure enough, it does.  The prominence videos receive on the website can be seen by the fact the “Video” icon option comes immediately after the “Home” icon, even before “News” and “Politics”.  However, do ABC use videos on their website to accompany news stories as effectively as they could?

When going to the aforementioned “Video” section there really is an enormous amount of videos to choose from, in sections from U.S. to World and from Money to Entertainment.  However, there is one major thing that surprised me when I watched one of the news stories.  I was attracted to the headline “Man Skips Jail, Claims to be Immigrant“, but when I clicked on the video there was only the video itself and a single line summary of the story – “Jaime Alvarado avoided jail in Utah by pretending to be an illegal immigrant”.  There was no link to the written story.  This put me off the video section because although I may be interested in some stories through their video content, there are others I would rather read only so by not linking to the full story it put me off even using the video section.

The video content used by ABC is all directly taken from material used on one of their news programs.  This has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the positive side, generally the footage shown will have appeared on the television previously so the packages are of a consistently high standard and are presented by familiar reporters and presenters which tends to reassure regular viewers.  Also, if the material is considered newsworthy to appear on television it will usually cut down on the more amateur, less newsworthy material that may appear on other news sites.

On the other hand, the abundance of video material can work to their disadvantage.  An example of this is the consistency of type of material used.  In the above screenshot is the main story from ABC News (at time of writing) where Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, says relations with President Obama have become “a little frosty“.  The video which accompanies the story is a 12 minute interview from the program “This Week with Christiane Amanpour”.  One of the other main stories is of the 5.6 earthquake that hit Oklahoma.  This is accompanied by a 36 second news clip from “Good Morning America”.  A third of the main stories is of the “Ex-Penn State Coach Barred From Campus After Arrest” which has a more regular video clip of two and a half minutes.  It is better if the videos that directly accompany the stories are of similar length so the user knows what to expect.  The 12 minute interview can easily be linked to if someone has a particular interest.

Another problem ABC have with using television news material is because they are reliant on their news program footage for the website it sometimes leads to the written part of the story being updated well before the video itself.  This is shown in the Oklahoma earthquake story as the initial 36 second video clip soon becomes fairly irrelevant as more details of the story are added to the written section, but this may be overlooked if someone just watches the video.

Overall, ABC News has some very good use of video storytelling.  However, the organization of the videos where they don’t link to the written story and the inconsistency of length and type of video material means they aren’t exploiting their video potential quite as efficiently as a news broadcaster could on their website.

Warning: ABC News May (Not) Contain Graphic Material

30 10 2011

With the average web news story being accompanied by audio, video, links, likes and follows, it can almost be difficult to know where to look or click first.  Add in adverts, comments and graphics, and a web editor can have a tough job trying to ensure the story is told and presented in the best way.  ABC News’ website contains many of the features mentioned above.  However, their use of data visualization through graphics is scarce.

I would suggest the reason behind this may be that ABC News is focussed on television news and subsequently they concentrate on graphics for use on television which may not transfer onto the web.  There are other ways interactivity through data visualization can be produced – like maps or charts – but ABC rarely seem to use these either.  The main thing they use to accompany their stories are videos of the news stories themselves.

I attempted to find any sort of interesting uses of data on the site but only managed to come across a few extremely basic examples.  Two of them were just charts used to break down statistics – one of the number of female troop deaths from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other of results from a poll about retirement homes.  The other graphic used was of a map showing sorority attacks in Dallas.  All three of these examples were actually from stories written by Associated Press so it is likely the graphics were produced by them as well.  As they were all so basic they didn’t really add any value to the stories.

I don’t think ABC News suffers from not producing much in the way of graphics, mainly as they use video footage to accompany so many of their stories.  I suppose it would be beneficial to have the odd graphic to help explain a more complex topic but then if they are not committed to producing a lot of high quality graphical content, it is better not to throw in a few poor quality ones just for the sake of it.  Also, users have the opportunity to interact with the site in so many other ways there is again the danger of information overload.

The Tolbert Report

26 10 2011

He describes himself as “God chaser, writer, artist, mover and shaper.”

Joe Tolbert is a 23-year-old from Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media, with a concentration on magazine writing.  Into his sixth year at UT he says he is a “senior on a victory lap.”

A lover of the performing arts, Tolbert has written songs for a solo album and is waiting to get started on its production.  He says the album will be, “using music and poetry to tell the ups and downs of relationships.”

Tolbert has been heavily involved with Jazz for Justice, a student group at UT who use arts to raise awareness and promote healing in Northern Uganda.  He also has played an active role with the S.T.A.Y. (Stay Together Appalachian Youth) Project, working with youths in Central Appalachia affected by extractive industries like strip mining.

Tolbert has a great desire to go travelling and notes Paris, Rome, the Mediterranean, South Africa, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea as particular places of interest.  “Though there is nowhere I would say I wouldn’t want to go,” he said.

From acknowledging himself as a “really, really, shy” child, Tolbert can put poetry, singing and theatre on his resume.  Also, when working as an extra, he can also claim to have rubbed shoulders with a Hollywood star……….

A Social (Media) Popularity Contest

23 10 2011

I’ve already covered the implications of social media and how they can have positive and negative impacts on news coverage.  Now would be a time to look at how ABC News uses social media, and whether the content they post on sites like Facebook and Twitter is as effective as other news sites.

Firstly, I chose to look at the ABC News Facebook page, which before I could receive the content I had to “like” the page – possibly one of Facebook’s most annoying creations.  On the ABC wall are a number of stories asking for user opinion on that particular topic.  For example, at the time of writing, the top topic is “What do you think of the U.S. having a continued presence in Iraq?” linked to the story, “Clinton warns Iran: U.S. remains committed to Iraq“.  This is followed by 50 people liking the story (irrelevant information), 57 people commenting (irrelevant people) and 18 people have shared the story.

The share option is the only feature from ABC’s Facebook page that I think is of any value.  I would never use a news site’s Facebook page to go and find news (I will be unliking ABC News as soon as this post is complete).  The only time I may stumble across it is if one of my friends shares the link with me or their page.  Even then, this is unlikely to ever be ABC News because most of the news items shared I come across from friends are funny or unusual stories from more obscure or foreign websites.

The one area of social media I do think has great potential for news distribution, especially breaking news, is Twitter.  However I was really disappointed when I started following ABC News in what they had to offer.  I looked through my Twitter feed from Sunday afternoon and wanted to see what ABC had to offer:

“Chemistry Labs’ Safety at Universities Questioned”, “‘Paranormal Activity’ Is in the Eye of the Beholder”, “How to Lower Cholesterol Without Pills” and “10 Great Places to Sleep with a Ghost”.

If you consider that Associated Press mentioned the liberation of Libya and 85 people dead in a Turkish earthquake in the same time period then you have to question what ABC News are trying to present themselves as on Twitter.  Even Gawker and Piers Morgan posted more newsworthy material in the same time period as ABC did.  With so much competition for attention on Twitter then you have to know exactly who you are targeting with your tweets.  If this is the best ABC can come up with then it doesn’t look as though they are using Twitter for actual news so once this post is finished I will be unfollowing them.  Which is now.