LA's Mayor raises millions through a little-known process

Since his election in 2013, Mayor Eric Garcetti has used a little-known process to raise millions. KPCC combed through public records, which show some of the contributors do business with the city.

"Behested payments" is a pretty intimidating term. My objective in creating the look of the graphics was to make this term easy to understand.

Image: Getty Images. Data: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission & California Fair Political Practices Commission.

To make these graphics more approachable, I used bright colors like our gold accent color and white type. But this is a also serious investigative story, so I balanced the gold with a darker tone – our deep blue.

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images. Data: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission & Los Angeles City Clerk.

Iconography proved to be a difficult for this story (what does an icon representing a company versus a charity look like?). But wire images were abundant for this topic.

Verizon made a $100,000 donation to the Mayor's Fund a little over a month after the City Council voted to approve a contract for voice and data services with the company worth up to $15 million. Data: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission & Los Angeles City Clerk.

July Photo Tip of the Month: Get Closer

KPCC reporter Priska Neely wins Photo of The Month. Her image is a great example of why getting closer makes a better picture!

Every month, I send out a photo tip to the KPCC staff! Here's this month's tip:

Priska's winning image is a great example of getting closer. Instead of snapping a far-away picture from the house seats, she got on stage to capture the moment.

Break this bad habit: "I'll crop it later.”

When you amplify sound recorded from far away, it sounds bad. The same goes for images! Zooming and cropping on your phone just leads to crappier image quality.

Zoom with your feet!

You get close with your mic, the same goes for your camera. Get close to your subject! Sometimes that means getting in their personal space and that's OK. Making good pictures is physically awkward.

AAJA-LA Mobile Photo Workshop

On Wednesday evening, June 28, I led a mobile photography workshop for AAJA Los Angeles at Opodz in Little Tokyo, with sponsors Spitz and Kenu. Thank you to all who joined us! Below you'll find the presentation slides and links to the photo editing apps we talked about.

The presentation

Everything on social media and the internet has visuals. So how do you stand out from the crowd? This presentation breaks down how to make a good picture with your smart phone.

You don’t need expensive equipment to capture the moment. In this hands-on workshop, you’ll learn simple steps to making better pictures on your mobile phone and which apps are best for photo editing.

Let's make portraits!

The hands-on workshop included a photo walk where everyone broke up into partners and took portraits of each other!

Apps to download

Here are some of the apps we discussed at the end of the workshop. Keep using #aajalaphoto to share your experiments!

Snapseed (Free, iPhone and Android): simple, user-friendly photo editing app.

Filterstorm ($3.99, iPhone and iPad only): more advanced photo editing app, supports adjustment layers.

Photoshop Mix (Free, iPhone and Android): more advanced photo editing app.

Afterlight ($0.99, iPhone and Android): has more subtle filters than Instagram's.

Image Blender ($3.99, iPhone only): make double exposures!

Layout from Instagram (Free, iPhone and Android): make photo collages!

5SecondsApp (Free, iPhone and Android): make GIFs from videos in your photo library!

Inside Los Angeles Apparel

Three years ago he was ousted as CEO of American Apparel. These days, Charney is running Los Angeles Apparel. He created the company after a telepathic chat with his dead grandfather, who told him to start over. Many American Apparel factory workers followed Charney, and even lent him money.

June Photo Tip of the Month: Layering

KPCC's Leo Duran having fun with me at the Ice Cream Museum!

KPCC's Leo Duran having fun with me at the Ice Cream Museum!

Every month, I send out a photo tip to the KPCC staff! Here's this month's tip:

What exactly does "layering" mean?

Sadly, this doesn’t have to do with cake. 🍰

There are three parts to a photo: the foreground, middle-ground and background. The goal is to make sure there's something in each of those parts that contributes to telling your story.

Layering is important because it allows the viewer to instantly draw a story from it (you know, the whole “picture worth a thousand words” thing).

Think about your favorite iconic news images – they probably all use layering.

Challenge: how does Nick Ut use layering in his “Napalm Girl” photograph?

Check out this educational blog post to learn more!

Explainer fun with Character Animator

For the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about how we can make better quick-turnaround video explainers.

Today's quick-turnaround social media explainers lack personality and aren't character-driven. The second problem: many long-form stories make concepts feel complicated and unapproachable for their audience.

California had a much-needed wet winter, but now that record mountain snowpack is starting to melt.

Adobe has new beta Creative Cloud program called  Adobe Character Animator. It allows you to quickly and easily bring a 2D character to life using your webcam and microphone.

It's so fun to play with!

This software got me thinking about making character-driven explainers that make a complicated concept approachable and fun for our audience.

 
 

Check out a pitch about this that l presented at KPCC.

I originally called this idea "anthropomorphizing the news," but my co-workers told me that sounded creepy.

Schoolhouse Rock's "I'm Just a Bill" is a perfect example of transforming what could have been a dry explainer into a character-driven narrative.

You keep watching because you're rooting for the poor little bill!

 
 

The explainer at the top of this post has been a small side project for the last six weeks. To make this a minimal-effort project, I used wire and file images, and voiced it myself.

Software/equipment: The character was designed in Adobe Illustrator. I recorded a separate audio file in the KPCC studios. The facial expressions and auto phoneme lip sync were recorded in Adobe Character Animator. The arm movements were key-framed in Adobe After Effects. The whole video was cut together using Adobe Premeire Pro.

This video is the first of further iterations. I'd like to simplify the production process even more.

I'd love to hear your feedback!

#AudioHack: vocoder via Facebook Messenger bot

This weekend, the Come & Play Audio Storytelling Hackathon in San Francisco brought together more than 50 artists, storytellers, producers, developers and designers to think up new and fun ways to tell stories with audio.

During our team's initial brainstorm session, we identified this user problem: how can we make anyone an audio creator?

In today's audio storytelling environment, there are creators and consumers. We hoped to challenge that divide.

A brainstorm Post-it note read: "Voices can be boring." We identified two elements of voice: the audio itself and the personality behind the voice. We agreed that in today's system, both can be boring.

Our six-person team built VoxAnon, a vocoder tool using a Facebook Messenger bot. The vocoder allows users to submit stories anonymously in response to prompts.

We were inspired by journalist Yusuf Omar, who used Snapchat's face filters to mask identities of sexual assault victims sharing their stories:

He handed them his phone and stepped away. The girls spoke individually to the camera and told their stories, without the intrusion of a reporter, cameraman and crew.

Another note read, "the world is more complicated than a story." In today's audio storytelling environment, creators tell other peoples' stories. We wondered: how can we give everyone (even those who want to remain anonymous) the opportunity to tell their own?

Logo and color palette for VoxAnon.

VoxAnon is a platform for submitting anonymous, optionally masked audio. Users contribute audio content via a Facebook Messenger bot and choose from a range of vocal filters to share their story anonymously or modify their voice for fun. Think decim8 for audio!

The VoxAnon website would store and categorize content – suggesting storytelling topics for users. But it's essentially an open platform like PostSecret.

Check out our pitch deck and see the repo on GitHub.

VoxAnon team members: Ted HanMiko LeeCyrus NematiRobert OchshornEmily Saltz and Maya Sugarman

What is slime and why are we so obsessed?

Do you make slime? We're obsessed with this gooey, weird substance, so we invited a friend to show us how to make it. All you need is glue and laundry detergent. Before you get started, make sure you have an adult helping you. Learn about the science behind slime on Brains On!

Pay close attention to the percussion of this original slime song by Steph Alexander (hip hop artist P.O.S.). Notice anything? The sounds are made from slime!

Big rigs, big risks

Every day in Southern California, tens of thousands of commercial trucks — tractor-trailers, tankers, semis and 18-wheelers crawl — barrel along congested freeways. Crashes involving these vehicles, which can weigh 40 tons, are the deadliest and costliest, and they are on the rise. See KPCC's report.

May Photo Tip of the Month: Peak Action

I miss shooting sports 🏈 😭

I miss shooting sports 🏈 😭

Every month, I send out a photo tip to the KPCC staff! Here's this month's tip:

Making a good picture is all about anticipating a moment of peak action.

Did you know your iPhone can shoot in burst mode? Your phone can shoot 10 photos in a single second!

Go into "Photo" mode on your camera app and hold down the shutter button to trigger this.

Later, you can go through those images and pick your best ones.

Pretty cool. To have even more fun with it, turn those burst photos into a looping GIF!

Museum of Ice Cream

It's not really a museum – the Museum of Ice Cream, which officially opens Saturday, April 22, 2017 is better described as an art installation of treats and photo ops. Need to sweeten the deal? Admission includes samples from local shops like McConnell's and CoolHaus.

Girl At The White Horse

Girl at the White Horse003.JPG

Girl at the White Horse, a new bar in East Hollywood, is set to open on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. The spaced used to be the famed Los Angeles dive bar, The White Horse Inn. The new venue is owner Reza Fahim’s second Los Angeles bar. Fahim owns Tenants of the Trees in Silverlake.