The Vancouver Sun asks: Can Technology Improve Literacy Skills?

Last week The Vancouver Sun‘s digital life writer Gillian Shaw approached Erica Hargreave to discuss the effect technology is having on literacy skills.  An issue often discussed in the Ahimsa Media office and, it would seem, many other offices too. Gillian’s article went to press on Saturday, and it was fascinating to read the full analysis, and hear other opinions.

Gillian discusses the use of technology in our schools and the changing face of learning at home.  Many, myself included, were initially fearful, of social media’s growth, particularly amongst children and teens.  Spelling seemed to go out the window, closely followed by sentence structure and even sentences themselves.  But Erica makes a great point about twitter’s 140 character rule: “with young people having to tighten up what they say, they are learning to write very precisely, to focus on what they want to say.”

Another educational tool which I had not previously considered is the ipad, Gillian writes:  “Today’s preschoolers can read books on an iPad that brings the touch features of a traditional print book: they can flip pages and read it sitting on their laps in the back seat of the car, not only at a desktop or laptop computer. The digital version also brings enhancements, from Alice literally tumbling down the rabbit hole on the screen in Alice in Wonderland to books that read aloud and let children take part in the story creation and other features.”

Photo by Tim Bishop for Weber Shandwick Worldwide

One of the reasons we, at Ahimsa Media, love technology is the ease with which it allows us to interact with ease, and The Vancouver Sun piece reflected this.  Less than a day after publication, an email popped into our inbox, from retired news reporter Alexander Young.  He had just read the article and found us through it.  It was timely as he has recently taken his first step into personal publication by beginning a blog, and he too has been pondering the issue of literacy.

He said: “As far as faulty spelling and grammar may be concerned, the point is whether the viewers of the writer can be understood. Take a look at usage in e-mail and facebook and twitter. It’s a fright if you insist on perfect spelling and grammar. But that, as I see it, is mainly because the people, especially the younger generations, who use those avenues of expression are in a hurry, they have little time for worrying about  typos and grammatical niceties, and they comfortably use multitudes of abbreviations and graphic symbols. So cut them a little slack.”

So, as Gillian concludes that if technology is used correctly it can improve literacy.  Please enjoy the full article here: Can technology improve literacy skills? Yes, if done right.

And in true interactive style we want to hear from you, do you agree or disagree?

Introducing the Kids of the Rocket Fund: Shawn and Shawnee

Ahimsa Media is comprised of a cast of interesting characters, so it isn’t a stretch for us to develop a new plethora of personalities – online characters that is.  Our inaugural lady was Emme Rogers, and since then character development has become a creative niche for us.  Amazing how it helps us to deal with all our own multiple personalities by creating characters online from novels, movies and television series; in addition to those for non-profits and businesses.  Incredible how liberating it can be for an organization to have a voice that can have fun, and doesn’t have to wear a tie or an uncomfortable set of heels.

Our latest delve into character creation has been with the Shaw Rocket Fund.  They are already known throughout Canada as a champion and funder of children’s, youth and family television programs. However, much of their exceptional research into youth, media and technology was unknown.  This year also saw changes in their annual Rocket Prize judging to include any entry’s digital content, in addition to the TV show.  This set the stage for the Fund themselves to enter the digital space and begin participating in both interactivity and convergence.  Enter Shawn and Shawnee Rockett.

Shawnee enjoying herself at the beach.

Shawn playing it cool

We built this delectable duo and have raised them to the stage of passing the reigns back to the Shaw Rocket Fund, who will now guide the cousins on their future path.  To accompany our new friends, we also introduced interactive feeds for the company itself.  In a time when convergence is becoming a crucial key to industry success, the CMF creates an experimental funding stream and broadcasters are learning to navigate the digital space, character driven online narrative has helped place the Shaw Rocket Fund amongst some of today’s broadcast industry innovators.  Despite still being only a few months old, the digital world is beginning to embrace Shawn and Shawnee.  So here they are:

The Characters:
Shawn and Shawnee Rockett are cousins. They were both born a few years apart, but on the same day of the year, their great grandfather’s birthday – hence their names.  They are both named after their Great Grandfather, Shawn Rockett.  And yes, their pops, whom are brothers had a bit of a spat over this, but both are terribly stubborn and he was both of their favourite grandfather.  The cousins, on the other hand, are the best of friends, and although they tease each other incessantly, they have gone into business together and love working together.  Their company is a Canadian Production House focused on creating children’s and youth television.

Shawn Rockett

Shawn Rockett

In his late twenties, Shawn is still young at heart, a personality trait often reflected his work where he focuses on youth programming.  He loves his music, bickering with Shawnee and pushing life to the extreme.  He considers himself a bit of a Casanova, much to Shawnee’s amusement.  Shawn also loves being at the cutting edge of convergence and keeps an eye out for new and exciting technology.

Shawnee Rockett

Shawnee Rockett

Shawnee is a couple of years younger and places more focus on children’s and tween TV.  She’s a lover of everything Disney, her cats and and is a bit of a giant kid at heart.  She still loves to climb trees and splash in puddles in her bright red wellies.  Quirky would definitely be the word for her. She loves her folk music.  Yes, she still watches Saturday morning cartoons.  She already is hooked online, chatting with other characters and youth programmers like Seth on Survival and Ruby Skye PI

We loved developing these two, and are sure the Shaw Rocket Fund will equally enjoy creating their voices…

…as for us onto the next character!

The NSI speaks to Ahimsa Media (part 2)

As promised, please enjoy installment two of Liz Hover’s NSI interview with Erica Hargreave and Susan Brinton. Here, the conversation turns to the unknown elements of applying to a brand new funding stream and our project’s future should the application be successful. Erica also takes the time to briefly discuss the funding changes within the convergent branch of the CMF. Since the podcast went live the CMF have announced an overwhelming number of applications, pushing back decision dates to October 2010.

Emme Rogers sets her sights on the CMF Experimental Stream

That means that Emme will have to wait a little longer to begin development on her travel adventures. We will keep you updated on the project’s progress as we learn more and if we forget, I’m sure Emme will shout about it all on her site.

The NSI speaks to Ahimsa Media (part 1)

The Ahimsa Media office began this summer abuzz with application preparations for The Canada Media Fund’s (CMF) first ever Experimental Funding Stream. As the printer fell silent, the regular working day returned and the waiting game began, our phone rang. Liz Hover, Digital Media Manager for the National Screen Institute (NSI), was calling to set up an interview with Erica Hargreave and Susan Brinton to discuss the application process as it related to our pitch. Already familiar with our character Emme Rogers, Liz was interested to hear how the development pitch for Emme’s Travel Adventures had gone.

Unsurprisingly, when the questions began to flow, the topics of industry changes and application insights became so engrossing that the conversation generated too much content for one interview. Therefore, two podcasts were created with the first focusing on Emme, the growing collaboration between the broadcast and digital world. As well as logistical tips alongside an insight into the lessons that we learned throughout the application process. Please enjoy the first instalment…the second half will not be far behind.

Bluepoint Wins the SCN Licence!

Saskatchewan Communcations Network (SCN) has always been close to our heart’s here at Ahimsa.  They (and Joanne McDonald) were the first to spot Erica Hargreave’s talents as a creative producer and aired our first educational series, The Magic Backpack.  Therefore, we have kept a keen eye on the bidding process of the network’s license and were pleased to hear today’s announcement by Saskatchewan Government that Bluepoint Investment Corporation won the contract.

© Liz Kearsley 2010 Richard Gustin (left) and Marcus Guske (right) of Bluepoint Investment Corp pictured at this year’s Yorkton Film Festival with Minister Dustin Duncan and Valerie Creighton.

“Bluepoint offered the best bid,” Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Dustin Duncan said.  “Along with buying the assets there is also a commitment to buy new Saskatchewan programming content that will support the film industry and to develop digital content.”

© Liz Kearsley 2010 Dustin Duncan, Minister of tourism, parks, culture and sport, Saskatchewan speaking at this year’s Yorkton Film Festival lunch in his honour.

Bluepoint are planning to ensure a community focus is alongside growing as a broadcaster, and the government felt they were the best fit to ensure a continuation of a Saskatchewan educational broadcaster.

CEO and founder of Bluepoint Investment Corporation Bruce Claassen reiterated that by saying: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to operate SCN in the spirit of its original vision, yet with a real chance to grow its audience base with additional programming.”

Copyright, Social Media & Orphan Works – Advice for Protecting Your Photos

© Liz Kearsley 2010. Bronwyn Malloy on Spanish Banks, Vancouver. Shot for Ahimsa Media

Many photographers have become fearful of the internet, in recent years.  It is a double edged sword, a great tool for getting our work seen by a wider audience, but it’s also hard to track images, copyright infringements and keep up to date on where and how to safely display our portfolio.

I was rarely lucky to be trained in photographic law, the importance of retaining copyright and it’s worth.  However, with an increasing number of people entering photography from a range of backgrounds, it is becoming vital for us all to keep up to date on the legalities of copyright and how the internet affects your rights as a photographer.

The easy part first: if you take a photograph, whatever it is of, (unless you agree e.g. through a staff job or by written contract) you own the copyright.  You do not need to register your photographs in order to activate it.  However, if you are uploading images to online sites or submitting to any news outlets, competitions … etc. you must, must read the terms and conditions as many will remove all of your rights.

There is infinite depth to this topic, so today I am going to try to simply highlight a few key issues that are likely to affect the majority.

A screen shot of one of Ahimsa Media client Yorkton Film Festival’s watermarked albums on Facebook

The most prevalent image outlets in my mind are the ever growing social media sites. They are wonderful tools for connecting with friends and networking, but are not designed to protect the photographer, quite the opposite. Take for example Facebook, they have been recently hitting the headlines due to the site’s privacy laws. From a photographic point of view, their terms have another massive problem. Every time you upload a photograph to Facebook you agree that :

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

What this means is that as long as your photos are on Facebook, they can be used by Facebook without paying you. They don’t prevent you selling elsewhere, but can use your pictures for free.  For this reason I ensure any content I place on facebook is watermarked.  Of course, the vast majority of snaps we put on Facebook are not commercially viable, so you have to decide what you don’t mind being used by others.

Facebook terms, however, are not the only thing we should be fearful of.  An even more worrying feature for the future is the stripping of photograph metadata, and as a result the loss of all copyright contact information.

Metadata is a photograph’s embedded information.  It is contained within the photograph and is there to inform the viewer / potential buyer how the photo was shot, by whom and what it is of.  Some of this data is automatically recorded by the camera (it does depend on which camera you have, how much, if any, is recorded).  For example, the camera settings, f-stop, shutter speed, ISO.  Other information is inputed by the photographer using editing software, like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom.  We use this to record our copyright information, website, keywords, captions. … etc … etc.   It ensures that anyone who may wish to use your image knows who to contact for permission.

A screen shot of an image in Adobe Photoshop with the metadata box (file info) open to edit.

In the past (and even at current), metadata has been enough to cover us legally should anyone try to use a photo without permission, as you have included your contact information and if they do not follow up it is a copyright breach on their part.  However there are new laws in the works in both the US and UK relating to Orphan Works.

Without getting too technical, in the last 12 months, both countries have come close to passing bills, which if passed, would have legislated the commercial use of any photograph whose author cannot be identified through a suitably negligent search (an orphans work).  That would mean anyone could use any of your photographs that are not watermarked or do not contain metadata.  Currently strong industry opposition has prevented this legislation, but many think it is only a matter of time before it becomes a reality.

In layman’s terms and in the words of Copyright Action, this is what this bill would mean:

Essentially, if photos were cars, so long as the numberplate is missing (or you can get rid of it and claim it was missing), you’ll be able to legally TWOC and use it on payment of a fee to the Government.

And facebook is not the only one to strip your metadata. Most social media sites and blog providers strip that data too. Why? Because doing so saves a little bit of space per image, and with millions of uploads, site providers think this is worthwhile.  They realize few people are aware of the affect that this could have, and I must admit before writing this post, even I was unaware of the extent of sites stripping data.

US photographer, David Riecks, has been doing some research into metadata stripping and his early results shocked me.  He has created Controlled Vocabulary to document tests on different sites and see how they change photo uploads.  As expected, Facebook, Twitter and Google Docs removed all metadata. Flickr retained the content (despite my hearing comments to the contrary).  Currently getting mixed information with blog, like WordPress and Blogspot, so testing that further.  Will get back to you with my findings.

If you are worried about your rights and the law regarding your images, there are a few ports of call I try to keep an eye on: firstly Carolyn E. Wright’s photo attorney website, as she is uniquely useful being a full time photographer attorney, who is also a professional photographer.  Out of Britain I have found EPUK invaluable.  They deal primarily with the editorial market, but their sister site Copyright Action contains a great deal of useful basic information for both photographers and image buyers.  And finally Pro-imaging is great for a variety of information.

Photo Editing for the Interactive Audience

Alyzee Lakhani on Spanish Banks beach, shot for Ahimsa Media.

Caption accuracy and editing used to be the main tasks us photographers had to focus on following a shoot.  Today that has all changed.  With a multitude of platforms to display our photographs, most freelancers now have to get to grips with internet distribution too, on sites like photoshelter, flickr and stock agencies.  As a result intelligent and extensive keywording has become a vital tool.

My newspaper background means that I have always been most at home with the new agencies for any sales beyond a newspaper or magazine.  I, like many British press photographers, have many photographs listed with Alamy, yet as my client list widens so do the places I display my work, and with that I have found my workflow techniques evolving.

Everyone has their own process of editing using different software, be it the camera’s e.g. Nikon Browser, professional e.g. Adobe Lightroom or computer based e.g. iphoto.  I use Adobe Lightroom and have found it is a great time saver for multi-use captioning and keywording, as well as embedding photographer information into your images prior to editing.

However it was not until I uploaded our coverage of the 2010 Yorkton Film Festival to flickr that I discovered just how much time can be saved by properly preparing your images.  I’ll use Lightroom processes here as an example, but different software has similar options.

When I open up Lightroom 2 and attach a memory card an option box pops up (see below).  It includes a variety of things you can input for the entire photo batch.  In the local newspaper game each download usually involved several jobs so I wouldn’t fill much of this in, bar my copyright information, (which I have pre-programmed) so I would put in minimal keywording or captioning then download the pictures.

A lightroom screen grab of opening page information

This has recently changed when I realised just how much time can be saved by keywording each image prior to upload and to batch keyword jobs initially. One reason for this is that on flickr you must place quotation marks around each phrase longer than one word to tag or keyword and then a simple space between single words.  Whereas, most other systems use the simple comma to separate phrases.  As a result most of us need to continually remind ourselves to use this method, and it can become awkward when cutting and pasting repeating words.

Whereas, in Lightroom you can place your group keywords in that initial download and then easily add individual words whilst editing.  Take for example the image below:

Screen shot of Adobe Lightroom 2, with keywording options open

On the right hand side of the page the panel gives a variety of keywording options.  You have a list of the keywords already attached to the image (from initial download), then a section to add more, and options for the programme to remember past keywords in groups for you.  It allows you to easily click and add without re-typing.  I tend to keep that option on recent keywords, due to my varying shoots.   Below the keywording panel, is also a keyword list, with ALL your past keywords, which can be handy if you forget spellings. Below this is a section detailing your metadata.  The metadata is crucial picture information: copyright information, caption and shooting data.  This can be edited at either the download section, or within Lightroom. You can also input it in Adobe Photoshop.  (I will explain in a further post the importance of metadata in relation to copyright theft and in particular facebook)

I have found that inputting all of this information into Lightroom significantly speeds up my uploads and keeps my files up to date should I wish to use the photos on a different outlet.  It also means that my contact information stays with my image (bar placing on facebook) so if you wish to upload to various sites you do not need to keep typing the same information.

Embedded information is also very useful should you later wish to put the pictures onto a blog, for example using WordPress.  It can help bring further traffic to the site, because the photos keywords are also added to the SEO of the post.

Bringing Together Ahimsa’s Education and Broadcast Worlds

Here at Ahimsa we relish our diverse skillset and now our very own Erica Hargreave has helped us add a new string to our busy bow with the airing of her educational kids science TV show: The Magic Backpack episode The Greenhouse Effect.

Whilst Ahimsa Media were co-producers, multi-tasker Erica had a starring role, was the show’s creator and writer joining forces with Kevin Fraser who took on the show’s story editing aspects.  I’m sure you’ll all enjoy the clip below to see Erica in action.


Exciting Times for Media

Times are a changing in the Media World and we are highly excited by some of the most recent evolutions.   Particularly here in Canada where the new Canadian Media Fund (CMF) has been announced bringing in an experimental element. This is a perfect opportunity for members of the digital media community to get funding and branch out, trying new projects that funds would not have previously been available for.

This is the first year such funding options have existed here in Canada and although the fund’s guidelines are still evolving, it is this open invite for submissions that we feel can allow the creative juices to follow.  The CMF are also widening their view towards the advantages of transmedia storytelling for their more traditional television fund with the convergent program.  This provides exciting opportunities for traditional media to discover new avenues with their storytelling and really have fun with the new challenges and opportunities that the changing landscape of media offers.

In keeping with the times, the Yorkton Film Festival has really embraced the idea of Interactive Storytelling, and has contracted us to help them to tell their online story.  They are rebranding their image, doing a bit of marketing for the festival and the Golden Sheaf Nominees, and acting as a case study example to festival delegates of how interactive tools can be incorporated into their stories.  Way to go Yorkton!  And thank you for inviting us along for the ride!

To follow along on the Yorkton Film Festival’s online story, check them out on:

In keeping with this model of forward thinking and moving towards the future of media, the Yorkton Film Festival is hosting some great workshops on Friday May 28th, 2010 aimed at thinking convergently, including a few with our own Erica Hargreave.  Here is what you can look forward to:

Friday May 28

  • 8.30 am – 9:00 am:  Blast Off – Social Media at the Festival, Ramada Yorkton

A look at telling the Festival’s story using social media and how filmmakers can use this to build the buzz around their productions, with Erica Hargreave.

  • 9:15 am – 10:15 am: Panasonic Workshop and Presentation, Ramada Yorkton

Panasonic Canada presents and discusses the latest Panasonic video cameras and technology, including notes and news on 3D.

  • 10:30 am – 12:00pm:  Let’s Play CanCon Convergence Roulette, Ramada Yorkton

A fun filled game show where panelists compete by trying to adapt new convergent technologies and applications to classic Canadian TV shows. Hosted by Robert Hardy. Panelists Cam Bennett, Trent Haus, Rob Bryanton, Brenton Sawatzky and Erica Hargreave.

  • 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm: Which Way To The Future? Ramada Yorkton

Spend an afternoon with some of the biggest names in the industry, as they try to make sense of and figure out where the rapidly changing screen based media industry is headed. Hosted by Richard Gustin. Panelists Cindy Witten, Daniel Cross, Norm Bolen, Valerie Creighton and Rudy Buttignol.

Saturday May 29th, 2010 at the Yorkton Film Festival hosts some always needed industry staples, putting you face-to-face with the broadcasters, talking finance and actual production, and discovering how to get your proverbial foot in the door.

Saturday May 29

  • 8:30 am – 9:00 am: Blast Off – Social Media at the Festival Part 2, Ramada Yorkton

Explore ways to use social media as a storytelling device on your projects, with Erica Hargreave.

  • 9:15 am – 10:15 am:  Now’s Your Chance, Ramada Yorkton.

Table-hopping group discussions with industry leaders, broadcasters and distributors.  Ask the questions you’ve always wanted answered.  Join industry leaders for straight talking, small group discussions.  A rare honesty that Yorkton offers, unlikely to be found at larger festivals.

  • 10:30 am – 12:00 pm: Oh, Oh! They Said Yes – Now What? Ramada Yorkton

You’ve finally pitched a project that a broadcaster/investor likes enough to make an offer. Join the panel of experts as they share insights and ideas of what has to happen in order to get the proposal into a finished project. Hosted by Joanne McDonald. Panelists Stephen Onda and Peter Raymont.

  • 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm:  My Big Break, Ramada Yorkton.

Five successful Saskatchewan film and television producers discuss their first big “success” and how they found it (or how it found them).  Hosted by Bruce Steele.  Panelists Michael Snook, Jeff Beesley, Dennis Jackson, Melanie Jackson and Anand Ramayya.

Click here to register for this year’s festival.

We hope to see you in Yorkton!