Friday, June 8, 2007
Home buyers, 'Potter' fans and more: Speak up!

Four USA TODAY sections are currently looking for your input.  Can you help?

--The Money section is working a story about high down payments. "Home prices may have fallen. But some first-time buyers still need to put down $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000. How many people have that kind of cash lying around?" If you're a first-time home buyer with those issues, e-mail the reporter.

--The Sports section wants your opinions. "Do you perceive that the Surry County, Va., prosecutors are dragging their feet and/or protecting Michael Vick in the investigation of dogfighting allegations involving the Falcons quarterback?" Leave your comments in the Sports Scope blog, and they may be used in a future story about the case.

--The Travel is looking to hear from people with experience in the airline industry. "Have you looked for a job with the major airlines since they restructured in the past few years? What prompted you to look for an airline job? If you applied or attended orientation, please tell us what's happened since. Or, if you overlooked airlines, tell us why. Did you find better offers elsewhere?" Your stories could end up in a story the section is writing. You can e-mail the reporter or leave comments here.

--The Life section seeks Harry Potter fans -- big, big fans. Fanatics, if you will. "It's a big, bittersweet summer for Potter fans. Are you the most passionate Potter fan in your school or neighborhood?" If you fit the bill, e-mail the section.

Don't think your responses go anywhere?

Think again. In today's USA TODAY, there were readers weighing in on how they think The Sopranos will end. Their comments came in response to a call on the front of the online Life section, just where the Harry Potter call is now. Earlier this week in the section, editors ran the best reader memories of Bob Barker. If you're just reading those pieces now, be sure to check out the comments on both pages. After we published the reader responses, new readers brought even more ideas and stories on the subjects.

In some cases, even your online votes can have an effect. Your votes on summer swimsuit trouble areas led the direction of a story this week. After you identified the top issues, editors asked experts to give you answers.

Friday, June 1, 2007
Can story comments save a honeymoon?

Comment conversations on USA TODAY stories can be thought-provoking, igniting, amusing, divisive, uniting, and most reactive moods you can imagine. But as a travel story shows today, the comments can also be helpful or even life-changing.

It was Wednesday of this week, and travel reporter Laura Bly was working on an article for today's Destinations & Diversions section. The State Department had extended the lead time it said Americans should allow to get their passports before traveling abroad. The department faced a backlog, an issue Bly had written about before.

Researching the new development on Wednesday, Bly looked at a story she'd written in early April about the department adding passport staff. When she read the story comments to find how readers had reacted at the time, she was surprised to find a reader had left a comment just hours earlier.

Reader denneadam had a problem. Preparing for his honeymoon, he had applied for his passport in mid-February, he wrote in his comment. Officials told the process would take 10 weeks, he said. But his passport didn't arrive. Despite numerous calls and his congressman's intervention, he said he still hadn't received his passport, and the honeymoon flight was scheduled for Friday (today). "This is going to cost me thousands of dollars and my only vacation for the year and a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Honeymoon we have wanted for years," he wrote. "I know you can't fix my problem but maybe you can inform others."

For her story, Bly promptly left a message on denneadam's profile and e-mailed him. He replied immediately, and Bly asked the State Department that afternoon about his case. Officials said they would look into it. On Thursday, well....

Read today's story to find out what happened. The situation was a classic case of USA TODAY's new "network journalism," connecting readers to reporting, but Did Denne's passport arrive before his honeymoon flight today? If you only read the story in the paper, you should read the online version as well. Printing deadlines forced the paper version to end in a bit of a cliffhanger, but Bly has updated the story for the Web.

Also, be sure to check out the comments on today's story. Denne has left the first one.

E-mail us: It's your dad's turn

When we asked for your Mother's Day stories last month, we promised we'd come back to you for Father's Day. Earlier this week, the Life section asked for your fashion-disaster dads, and you responded. Reader stories and photos arrived quickly, all wanting to be a part of the section's upcoming story on Father's Day makeovers.

But on the more serious side of Father's Day -- not that some dads don't have serious wardrobe issues -- the News section now wants to hear your fatherly advice. "Tell us the best advice your dad gave you and what it meant to your life," the section asks. "Or share advice you wish your dad had shared. If you're a father, what do you wish you'd told your children?"

E-mail your name, story and contact info to newscall@usatoday.com. A reporter may contact you for an upcoming feature in USA TODAY, or our producers may use your submission in a Father's Day package on the site. And just a reminder: Father's Day is June 17 this year. Stock up on ties.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Messages back to normal

Updating last week's item, the patch for a profile messaging issue has arrived. The vendor delivered the fix late last week, and our site operations team installed it over the weekend. If you had trouble leaving messages for other readers, particularly if you were using Internet Explorer 6, you should now be able to do so without issue. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Trouble with messages?

A heads up: If you've recently had trouble leaving messages for other readers, help is on the way. The vendor that supplies our profiles has identified an issue affecting some Internet Explorer users. (Firefox is not affected.) The company is currently testing a fix, and we hear that fix may come to our servers soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 17, 2007
The many faces of Frank

Slide0001_image013 While this blog has already touted why you should change your profile picture, USA TODAY readers still seem to love Frank. That's his picture at left. He's round, pale and ubiquitous.

But one place he isn't loved is Pop Candy. Whitney Matheson's pop culture blog has one of the site's most active communities, full of readers who don't hesitate to change their picture. Matheson is running a contest this week among those readers, "The First (And Maybe Last) Search for the Awesomest Avatar." Her call has drawn more than 200 comments, and all but a handful have personalized profile pictures.

Slide0001_image009 Among the hundreds, one of our more interesting avatar subgenres received representation from reader j. She uses a modified Frank-- a gender-modified Frank (seen at left). Maybe that makes Frank into a Francine. Or a Frankie ala Frankie and Johnny. But it's fun for sure.

Frank's identity has been in doubt ever since he arrived on the site in March. History? Who knows. Gender? Take your pick. Name? We only call him Frank because we have to call him something. If he's a him at all. Readers like j have given him new life in their profiles, taking his picture and going to town on it. Thank you, Microsoft Paint and friends.

One of our USA TODAY colleagues, Julianne Elliott-Marton, has been kind enough to round up the Warholian variations. She's helped set up the site's entire profile system, and the many faces of Frank are a kick for her and the rest of us. Here's the collection so far....

Read more...
Friday, May 11, 2007
How's 'Network Journalism' doing?

After all the publicity surrounding USA TODAY's March relaunch, Web media analysts have kept an eye on the "Network Journalism" push -- its successes and its complications. Internally, we're seeing reader comments and photos increase nearly every week. Windows on this picture have opened in the media as well, with top USA TODAY editors talking about how we're faring and the early issues we've faced.

Reader comments in particular have drawn the attention of the Associated Press recently, covered in "Newspapers debate unfettered reader comment." The wire story looks at how a number of papers, large and small, are accepting and handling comments on a daily basis. "We walk a tightrope of creating the right type of environment that reflects well on the brand while at the same time not trying to be overly controlling in how we moderate," USA TODAY Executive Editor Kinsey Wilson says.

Elsewhere, the Editors Weblog asks, "Is USA Today's orientation toward social networking detrimental to its journalistic purpose?" Read the blog's analysis of how we're faring so far and Wilson's responses to the blog's questions. In a story from the journalism industry's Poynter Institute this week, he describes understanding the sharing and exchanging of information as key for today's journalists.

Some of the powerful comment cases from our first two months of Network Journalism surface in WebProNews. Following the mid-April Nielsen/NetRatings news of a 21% jump in USA TODAY's traffic after March's relaunch, David A. Utter writes: "I asked executive producer Joel Sucherman of USAToday.com about the commenting taking place. As one might expect, he cited some hot-button issues as ones gathering lots of interest, like the fall of radio legend Don Imus over his commentary on Rutgers women's basketball. Iraq and Hilary Clinton's Presidential aspirations, both major national news topics, likewise attract plenty of interest.

"It's been the smaller stories that have pulled in the most compelling comments. Sucherman said reports on weight loss, adoption, and health, stories that by themselves aren't on the same scale as the headliners, generate the most interesting feedback."

If you're interested, you can find profile pages on the site for both Wilson and Sucherman.

Send us your mom stories

As we get close to Mother's Day, USA TODAY wants to hear about the lessons your mother taught you. Readers are welcome to send their stories and photos on the topic to newscall@usatoday.com. The first readers stories are here, and there's links as well to the various mother- and Mother's Day-themed stories running in the paper this week. The first few photos are in this gallery, with many shots showing readers and their moms.

On Deadline has several more stories, and half-a-dozen readers offer their memories in the comments below the posting. In Pop Candy, there are more than 40 reader suggestions for Mother's Day gifts. Many readers include links to where you can buy the gifts they've chosen.

Looking ahead: Not slowing down, we're going to begin accepting your Father's Day stories and photos next week. Again, the e-mail address is newscall@usatoday.com.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Life, Money sections want to hear from you

Highlighting the diversity of USA TODAY's new reader interaction, our Life and Money sections want to hear from you today for two very different reasons. Both calls to you are important to their future work, linked at the top of their respective section fronts.

In Life, editors want your questions for a star. "We're chatting with award-winning actress Debra Messing about motherhood, her career and her new TV project 'Starter Wife.' Send us your questions about marriage and motherhood, and we'll get Messing's answers." You can e-mail the section here.

In Money, the editors would like your experiences instead of your questions. "Are you taking care of your elderly parents –- personally or financially? USA TODAY is developing stories on the financial and emotional impact on families, and we’d like to talk to you." Write to the section here, and be sure to include your contact information.

Your analysis of the story, now on the story

If you read USA TODAY's 1A cover story this morning, you learned about one officer's successful tactics in Iraq. Wrote reporter Jim Michaels: "When U.S. strategy in Iraq called for pulling American forces back to large, heavily protected bases last year, Army Col. Sean MacFarland was moving in the opposite direction. He built small, more vulnerable combat outposts in Ramadi's most dangerous neighborhoods — places where al-Qaeda had taken root."

If you're reading the story this afternoon, you get the story and more. After the story drew hundreds of comments this morning, USA TODAY News editors have read through the reader comments and brought out some of the best. Visit the story now and look for the "READERS' OPINIONS" box to find remarks from five different readers with various takes on MacFarland's approach.