Kent State journalism professors will mentor student reporters and general aviators to cover Ohio’s 166 public airports, 772 private airfields and 18,000 pilots. Reporters will take photos, audio and video to go on a central Web site. The project also plans to produce mini-documentaries and a book. Content will be available to the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Ohio.com, local public television stations and the university’s NPR affiliate.
“Stories That Fly” Continues On Course, More or Less
It’s been quite a ride this year for Joe Murray, whose “Stories That Fly” project involving narrative nonfiction and online storytelling about aviation remains sky high. The Ohio Board of Regents recognized Murray with one of 10 Faculty Innovator Awards, his project received an additional $30,000 in grant money, and donors are willing to help buy a 1946 Piper Cub aircraft for the project if he can contribute $10,000.
Despite those gains he notes that his team at Kent State University produced about one-third as many online stories in the project’s second year while he trained his eyes on fundraising. “I am disappointed that we did not produce more, but it is necessary to support the project with external funding to continue our success into the future.”
That meant writing 10 competitive proposals, totaling $935,000. While four proposals were not funded, four were, totaling $30,000. Two proposals for $147,000, which would exclusively support fieldwork and story production, are pending notification in the fall. Murray is also collaborating on two currently funded research projects.
And Murray has spent time cultivating prospective partners by writing three 4,500-word feature stories published nationally in Pilot Magazine.
Students produced an additional 20-30 features for the “Stories That Fly” online magazine and another 15-20 story assignments will be added next month.
Meanwhile, outreach continues as Murray has conversations with the editor of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s magazine (circulation 700,000) which may write a piece about “Stories That Fly”.
Murray has also spent time searching for an aircraft that would improve access to the many rural airfield and farms in Ohio. After contacting more than 70 owners and pilots, he reports that he found one priced at $50,000, as well as two local pilots who are willing to donate $40,000 toward the purchase. He is currently seeking the remaining $10,000. The plane would also help his project attract students and allow for collaboration with researchers in the biology department. They plan a partnership with the Knight Center for International Media and onewater.org to have biology and journalism students create stories about local water ecology throughout Northeast Ohio.
This year has also seen an impact on the curriculum, reports Murray. Two professors have assigned writing and photojournalism students to generate content for “Stories That Fly”. On another bright note, Murray was able to replace textbooks with online content, saving his students approximately 80 percent in out-of-pocket costs every semester and earning him a Faculty Innovator Award.
The site was also recognized as a notable entry in J-Lab’s Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism in 2009.
Murray is taking this time to consider his site’s social media strategy. Rather than direct e-mail subscriptions, he has recognized the significant presence of a large aviation community on Facebook. The site’s Twitter followers - about 400, he reports - include aviation and adventure travel marketers, commercial, private and military pilots, flight training organizations, national and international aviation magazines and blogs, schools, airlines, film producers, authors storytellers, journalists and even NASA. Combine the two, and Murray believes he can capture a greater audience than by subscriptions alone. “It will also reduce workload to manage subscribers and eliminate the subscribing hackers and spammers,” that are attracted to the site.
That social media drive, along with uncovering an extra $10,000, will be a part of his plan for the coming months.
“Stories that Fly” Gets Off the Ground
After nearly a year of collecting content, the Stories That Fly crew launched its online magazine May 2 with a fete for aviation enthusiasts, Kent State University faculty and students and members of the public.
Several pilots flew in to the University Airport and caught a free shuttle provided by the university’s flight school to get to the celebratory barbecue on time, wrote student reporter Leila Archer in a May 4 story for StoriesThatFly.com.
As his site got off the ground, editor and project leader Joe Murray - a Kent State journalism professor and a pilot - reports that Stories That Fly, or STF, will begin a partnership with the Denver-based PilotMag, which has a hard-copy circulation of 800,000 and receives 3 million Web-site visits a year. One of Murray’s feature-length articles appears in PilotMag’s May-June issue and another will be published in July-August. Both stories are illustrated with photos by student photographers.
PilotMag would like to incorporate STF into its Web-site redesign and share its own videos and stories on the STF site, adds Murray, who will discuss further opportunities with PilotMag’s publisher this summer.
Murray also reports that he is developing a partnership with Kent State’s aeronautics and flight program, “We can leverage their expertise in flight education and safety in a lot of good ways.”
He is also happy to report that Stories That Fly has snagged the attention of the editor of AOPA Flight Training and AOPA Pilot magazines. Murray said the editor would like to run a story about Stories That Fly in one or both of the national aviation magazines, which have a combined hard-copy circulation of 493,000 and log more than 5 million online visits annually.
Murray has met his second-year New Voices match and also has applied for two other grants to sustain and advance his project. The awards would allow his team to expand its coverage of aviation and the environment and extend its reach into rural Ohio communities and airfields, Murray says.
So far, 20 photojournalism students have contributed pictures, 25 writing students have provided stories and research, and about 100 people have taken part in articles and interviews. In addition, 284 people have signed up to follow STF on Twitter and 40 have joined the site as subscribers.
The Stories That Fly site employs several up-to-date features to engage its audience, including an eye-catching 3-D Wall that functions as the site’s home page, a user-commenting feature and a 10-star voting system for all content, a Flickr group and a YouTube channel. Users can submit original content and receive updates via Twitter.
Site user David McCartney contributed a story about a Florida subdivision that is centered around an airfield. “Imagine the thrill of living a few feet from your own airplane and wishing it ‘sweet dreams’ every night from just down the hall,” he writes - adding, however, that some of the community’s home hangars are used as “ballroom dance floors.”
Whatever floats your boat - or your plane. Stories That Fly also offers a three-minute feature about the pilot of a “float boat,” a small plane with pontoons that can land on and take off from water as well as land. Murray shot the footage himself, from the ground and aboard the bright yellow aircraft. He talks with pilot Dan Marks as Marks traces the course of a river and buzzes above the green summer countryside. The video story leaves you wanting more. It is also educational: Viewers learn that if they don’t retract the landing gear on their pontoons before setting down on water, they’re likely to capsize the plane.
Photos by Stories That Fly staff.
- Hope Keller, 6/11/09
“Stories that Fly” Takes Off
The online aviation magazine Stories That Fly will officially launch on Saturday, May 2, 2009, with a daylong celebration at Kent State University’s newly renovated converged media complex. Project leader Gordon (Joe) Murray and his team are finishing work on the magazine’s Web site, which even in its prototype stage has attracted online visitors.
The attractive, interactive online magazine has succeeded in gathering content from Kent State faculty and students as well as from members of the aviation, academic and general public. Approximately 30 stories are now being produced from interviews and video footage recorded in summer 2008. The Stories That Fly team aims to have one to two months’ worth of feature stories, video, photographs and photo essays in reserve so that roughly five new features can be published every month once the site goes live, as well as an unlimited number of contributions from the public.
Murray and his colleagues have focused on making the Web site engaging and easy to use. “We are ... integrating, developing and testing a targeted variety of interactive features intended to facilitate social networking, the sharing of content and contributions from participants, members of the aviation and academic communities and the general public,” he writes.
Among the Web site’s features:
Users can subscribe to the magazine online (it’s free).
Subscribers may comment on all stories via a reply dialogue associated with each feature story, video, slide show and regular column.
A 10-star ranking system allows site users to “vote” on all stories and other material.
A Flickr group permits users to upload images to the Stories That Fly site to share with others.
Via a YouTube channel, users can upload video clips to the Web site.
On the main page, video excerpts of features are presented in an interactive, 3-D video wall to attract and engage users and encourage them to enter the magazine site.
A “share this” link accompanies every story, video, news item, event and slide show to allow users to e-mail content directly from the magazine.
Users also can post magazine content directly to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
Content-wise, Murray and his team are experimenting with slide shows (photo essays) and with short- and long-form articles. The idea is to test reader interest in the various formats.
Challenges remain. “A number of technical hurdles are being overcome that are related to the preview videos that will be presented on the video wall,” Murray reports. “We are experimenting with formatting and quality settings for video and audio that will be delivered via YouTube.”
To sustain the online venture, Murray has been talking with numerous aviation-related groups, including Jeppesen Sanderson, a publisher of flight information; the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA); and the Kent State University School of Aeronautics.
Murray reports that he will receive $2,500 from the University Teaching Council as well as a $3,500 fellowship from the Faculty Professional Development Center, which will be his match for Year Two funding from J-Lab. He does not now have the money to hire an ad sales representative, but he hopes to do so in the future. The Stories That Fly team has engaged Jennifer L. Kramer, manager of public relations and marketing for Kent State’s College of Communications and Information, to organize the May 2 public launch.
Funding is Murray’s primary worry. He estimates that the magazine will need approximately $25,000 to cover annual stipends and expenses. “This is not a lot of money,” he writes, “but without it the project will fail.”
Kent State journalism professor Joe Murray and his project co-pilots Jacquie Marino and Gary Harwood (and their students) have flown all over the state of Ohio, shooting video, photographs, writing stories, all about the world of aviation. It’s a rich beat in a state that’s home to 18,000 pilots, 166 public airports, 772 private air fields, and a $10.5 billion flight industry.
Marino teaches the advanced storytelling class at Kent State; Harwood teaches photography. Murray is the new media czar. All of their students are on board. And, how often does a student reporter get to fly to an assignment in a plane piloted by a professor? Murray is expecting 25-30 stories to come out of it. And the stories are as colorful as the characters they cover:
* A hot-air balloon fair.
* A septuagenarian flight instructor.
* A 15-year-old, too young to drive, pilots her first plane.
* A small field airport owner who attracts 450 people to his airport diner every Sunday.
* Mechanics who can fix everything from the fabric on a 70-year-old antique to the most modern twin-engine turboprop.
* Airplane owners who donate time to fly sick patients to the hospital.
* A former steelworker who races pigeons at a local airfield.
Some of the features will be written by aviator/citizen journalists. Murray said Forest Barber, who owns an airfield and knows everyone, is interested in doing a column. He also has a grad student who might write a column called “Flight Groupie,” which would look at aviation traditions and rituals from a general public perspective.
“The aviation community is very enthusiastic about it,” said Murray. “I was starting to worry it might wear thin, since they are hearing from videographers, writers, photographers, going out multiple times, but it hasn’t.” The project has received positive press on campus.
Murray newest idea for the site is to put a video wall on the front page. “It was an epiphany for me. You’ll see 30 videos in a 3-D space, you can hover over them, as windows into each story.” The video wall creates the effect of looking out of the front of an airplane windshield.
Murray said he’s starting to plant some seeds for a public launch in the spring, possibly with an event at Kent State, which has a new J-school with a huge auditorium and three giant screens. He’s considering coupling the launch event with some usability testing on the site.
With the “skyrocketing” price of commercial air travel, you might wonder how much it costs for project staff and students to traverse the state by air. Murray said he can rent a 4-seat plane from Kent for $65 to $85 an hour or borrow a plane from a friend. Airplane fuel is $5 a gallon. He can take students 100 miles away in a 45-minute flight. “I can drop them off and pick them up in one day. Cutting travel time in half,” said Murray, who paraphrases an old bush pilot, “A mile of road will take you one mile. A half-mile of runway will take you anywhere.”
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.