Camayak Blog

Camayak is a content production tool for newsrooms.
Empower editors. Improve communication. Create better content.
  1. Save Time Grading + Paying Newsroom Staff

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    We’ve been working on a feature to help newsrooms figure out how to evaluate and pay their staff more efficiently, week-in, week-out. Here’s why.

    Save time

    Every fortnight, writers at the Kansas State Collegian fill out their pay sheets so they can show their editors what they worked on. On average, let’s say it takes just 2 minutes for each writer to fill one of these pay sheets out. Each desk editor then checks their writers’ sheets to make sure they’re accurate. On average, this takes each desk editor 10 minutes to do. The person who’s responsible for collecting all these pay sheets then needs to enter each person’s details into a spreadsheet, so it can go into the billing system. This takes them about an hour each fortnight.

    Here’s what that means.

    30 writers write articles over a two-week period, so 30 people spend 2 minutes each writing their pay sheet (60 minutes in total). Four desk editors take 10 minutes each to check these writer sheets (40 minutes in total). Then an editor needs to summarize the pay sheets so they can be added to the billing system (60 minutes in total).

    Total time spent every two weeks = 2 hours, 40 minutes

    Total time spent every 10 week semester = 13 hours, 20 minutes

    In this case, our goal is to save the newsroom over twelve hours a semester in tracking whom they should pay and how much. In comparison, a newsroom like The Daily Wildcat at the University of Arizona has seven desk editors that spend about 30 minutes each counting their writers’ bylines. That’s a total of over four hours of time that Camayak could save them, every fortnight.

    Save money

    At Georgia Southern’s Student Media department, the students are paid through a bi-weekly stipend. Even though they spend less time tracking how many assignments each writer has worked on each week, they can sometimes lose track of a writer falling short of their weekly commitment.

    A writer stops writing regularly and therefore no longer qualifies for she fortnightly stipend. Since the writer hasn’t officially informed their editors that they’re quitting, payroll doesn’t know that they shouldn’t be paid this week.

    In this case, Camayak can now save the newsroom from over-paying its contributors, to ensure that it never spends more money than it has to.

    Analyzing staff performance with visualizations

    We exported payroll data for a couple of newsrooms that use Camayak and using the RAW visualization tool, turned their statistics into pretty pictures.

    The size of the circles refers to how many assignments each staff member completed and/or uploaded files to, between July 2014 and February 2015. The larger the circle, the more assignments they worked on. The colors of the circles reference how many files each staff member uploaded to those assignments. The closer to orange, the fewer files they uploaded. The closer to blue, the more they did.

    Kansas State Collegian

    113 staff wrote and/or uploaded files to approved assignments from July 2014 to February 2015.

    K-State Collegian 2014-15 Payroll.png

    Largest circle: 236 assignments

    Darkest blue: 221 file uploads

    Darkest orange: 0 files uploaded

    TCU 360

    113 staff wrote and/or uploaded files to approved assignments from July 2014 to February 2015.

    TCU 360 2014-15 Payroll.png

    Largest circle: 137 assignments

    Darkest blue: 215 file uploads

    Darkest orange: 0 files uploaded

  2. We’re Making Deadlines Easier to Meet

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    After we launched our daily email roundup, editors asked us to include a reminder to their writers if they had upcoming deadlines. From today, we’ll let your writers know if they have a deadline within the next 24 hours. We’ll even nag them if they miss it.

    FSD Calendar booya.png

    We’ve also changed the way your calendar looks in Camayak so you can see who’s assigned to each item that appears. As well as viewing assignments for a specific desk or publishing destination, you can now also choose to see all your contributors’ first submission deadlines alongside your publishing schedule.

    Got questions? Get in touch.

  3. Journalism-Driven Data – How it Works

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    This is a plot about four newsrooms using the Camayak platform. We plot various indicators of staff behavior over time.

    The time dimension is represented in the music as time. The music is composed of verses, each verse corresponding to a season. Each season is broken into four equal parts (approximately 23 days each), and each verse is correspondingly broken into four “phrases”.

    We distinguish between the summer season and all other seasons in these ways.

    * Chord progression (i v i III versus I V vi IV)

    * Presence of drums (off during the summer)

    The commenting on assignments and pitches in newsrooms and assignment of tasks to writers affects the main rhythms and the use of drums.

    The rhythm for the melody is based on averaged data across all the newsrooms and dates for the particular season. There are two underlying tracks, and the data affect how fast the rhythm; one of them gets faster when more comments are made in the newsrooms, and the other gets faster when more assignments are created. Similarly, the bass drum turns on when there are lots of comments, and the hi-hat turns on when there are lots of assignments.

    The rhythm is also based on the number of pitches submitted; measures get more notes added at the end of the measure when more pitches are submitted. (If a lot of pitches are submitted, notes eventually get added to the beginning of each measure too.)

    Pitches of all notes are based on the data for the particular newsroom during the particular 23-day section of the particular season; pitches are higher when more assignments were created.

    The time dimension also is represented in the video, as the x-axis. The season’s name is shown in text, and the background color changes to grey in the Summer.

    The y-axis in the video is the activity generated per day. Activity per day is plotted incrementally—in 23-day sections and one organization at a time. The name of the present organization is written towards the bottom-left of the screen, and the curve for that organization is shown in front of all of the other curves.

    At the right end of the curves are plotted an alternating circle and triangle. Their size is proportional to the number of pitches submitted (circle) and users registered (triangle) for the particular date.

    Activity is low during the summers and very low at the beginning and ends of the song. Low activity during the summers occurs because three of the newsrooms are student newsrooms, which have much less activity when school is out. Low activity at the beginning occurs because the newsrooms had not yet begun using Camayak, and low activity occurs at the end because we are using data that were exported a couple months ago.

    There is a weekly trend of high activity on weekdays and low activity during the week.

    Credit: Thomas Levine

    Further reading: gastronomical data

  4. Film Your Newsroom For $300

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    120209-N-XD935-302

    We’re offering every student newsroom we work with the chance to earn $300 by shooting and editing a 60-second video to explain how your staff use Camayak.

    Any newsroom that meets the criteria for what we’re looking for will receive a $50 check right away*. Then, if we select your video to use as part of our marketing and training campaigns, we’ll send you another check for $250. Easy, eh?

    *In order to qualify for your $50 and $250 reimbursements, your video must…

    – be no shorter than 50 or longer than 65 seconds
    – include footage (or animation) of your campus, newsroom and students
    – show at least three people’s POV on how they find Camayak useful

    You may only submit one video on behalf of your newsroom, so be sure to discuss this with your colleagues. When you’re ready, you can use a large file transfer service like WeTransfer’s free version to send us your work, by addressing it to roman@camayak.com.

    We’ll be accepting video submissions until March 15th at Midnight, Eastern Time and will be awarding an extra prize to the most creative video we end up using.

  5. Introducing: Automatic Notifications

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    We’ve all been there. You’re waiting for your editor to send your work back to you so you can make some changes. You’re expecting an email to let you know you can start working on it. The email never arrives.

    The next morning, you find out that your editor sent you your assignment, but you weren’t logged into Camayak (and either didn’t have desktop notifications activated, or were away from your computer) and so you missed it.

    From today, anyone who’s been assigned to a step in your assignment’s workflow will receive an email 15 seconds after the assignment is sent to them (unless you choose to send it to someone else in that time), letting them know that it’s ready for them to work on. By picking someone for an empty step, you’ll make sure they get that email, too.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 2.47.29 PM.png

    For those of you using comments to tag people with emails that prompt them to log in, you can still do so if you’re a writer trying to notify an editor at an empty step. As an editor, you’re able to assign another editor to that empty step to ensure they receive the automatic notification.

  6. Getty Images Partners With Camayak

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    Today we’re announcing a new partnership with Getty Images, the world’s leader in visual communications, which gives Camayak users direct access to over 50 million images for non-commercial use in any of their assignments.

    Getty release screenshot final.jpg

    Using the embed tool, anyone working on an assignment in Camayak can now draw on Getty Images’ latest news, sports, celebrity, music and fashion coverage; immense digital photo archive; and rich conceptual images to illustrate their assignments.

    Whether you’re covering a news event or looking for creative images to illustrate the gist of a story, inserting high quality media into your editorial workflow has never been easier.

  7. Austin Chronicle Sponsors Local College Media Programs, Looks For Young Writers

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    Autin Chronicle logo.jpg

    In a bid to support young journalists and their college media programs, The Austin Chronicle is partnering with Camayak to offer its professional-grade tools to local students for free. Camayak, which is also used by journalism schools at TCU, SMU and UT El Paso among others in Texas, will be offered free of charge to any state school media organization in Austin, courtesy of The Chronicle. The partnership, which The Chronicle hopes will help its editors identify promising young writers and photographers, is designed to help student media weather budget threats and grow its influence in the city.

    For more information or to claim your free Camayak license, please email roman@camayak.com.

  8. Root Cause Analysis for Camayak Outage of February 3rd/4th

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    Overview

    Camayak customers experienced three service outages though the evening hours of February 3rd (US Time Zones)/Early Morning February 4th UTC.

    The outages spanned the following times:

    Outage 1 (34 minutes):

    – UTC From 02/04/2015 03:39 to 02/04/2015 04:13

    – CST From 02/03/2015 21:39 to 02/03/2015 22:13

    Outage 2 (12 minutes):

    – UTC From 02/04/2015 04:37 to 02/04/2015 04:49

    – CST From 02/03/2015 22:37 to 02/03/2015 22:49

    Outage 3 (40 minutes):

    – UTC From 02/04/2015 04:54 to 02/04/2015 05:34

    – CST From 02/03/2015 22:54 to 02/03/2015 23:34

    In the times between the outages, service may have been slow as customers tried to reconnect.

    Part 1: The service outage

    A: Cause

    We have determined that the service outages were caused by the following circumstances:

    1) A customer inadvertently created a large number of publishing destinations pointing to non-existent or misconfigured WordPress instances.

    2) When the customer went to the manage publishing destinations page, Camayak attempted to validate the publishing destinations. Due to the specific circumstances of those WordPress instances, the validation code ended up waiting a long time for validation before timing out.

    3) The validation attempts tied up application server threads, preventing them from being used to service other customer’s requests

    4) Our load balancer, seeing that the applications servers were not responding to the validation requests in a timely fashion re-attempted those requests to other application servers, causing application server threads on those servers to be tied up waiting for validation.

    5) This process continued until all application server threads were tied up waiting for validation.

    6) Eventually, the validation requests timed out fully, and the application server threads were available to process other requests.

    Steps 2-6 of this process happened three times, causing the three outages.

    B: Remediation

    1) We have, as of February 4th 16:45 UTC (10:45 CST) released a fix to our application server software to ensure that reasonable timeouts on the validation attempts. The validation timeout is well below the load balancer timeout, to ensure the cascade effect in (4) does not happen.

    2) We have, as an additional measure, increased our application server capacity.

    Part 2: The support outage

    A: Cause

    The Camayak support team was unable to respond to support queries from customers, which began at UTC 04:01, until UTC 07:29. The reasons for this are detailed here.

    B: Remediation

    We have, as of February 4th 14:45 UTC (08:45 CST) set up a notifications system with extra features to alert and inform off duty support personnel of service outages. This is an addition to our existing notifications framework for other critical and non-critical alerts.

  9. How We Messed Up

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    Last night we let our users down.

    At around 10pm Central Time, the Editor-in-Chief of the Kansas State Collegian emailed our support address to tell us that his staff had been unable to log into Camayak for ten minutes. Usually he would have expected a reply from us within the next fifteen, telling him what was up and what we were doing to fix it.

    Minutes later, the student media adviser at Pepperdine University and Editor in Chief of UCLA’s Daily Bruin both asked for help, too: Camayak wasn’t responding normally and had now been periodically inaccessible for at least twenty minutes.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.06.15 PM.png

    As anyone who uses Camayak knows, the whole point is to have real-time access to your newsroom, 24/7, no matter where you are. We work to maintain that standard because it’s an essential part of our service and also because people rely on us to produce their work on deadline.

    But last night, after thirty minutes of intermittent service, we still hadn’t responded to the people letting us know that we had a job to do.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.07.40 PM.png

    Then, minutes-that-felt-like-hours later and still without any support response from us, Camayak seemed to return to normal and newsrooms from around the country reported that their staff were able to keep working.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.09.56 PM.png

    But it didn’t last. Less than half an hour later, we received more alerts from other newsrooms of service interruptions that in some cases hadn’t let up since they’d first been reported.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.10.52 PM.png

    By this point it was abundantly clear that we’d let our users down on two counts. They’d been forced to deal with unplanned downtime and even more confusingly, were doing so without any guidance from us.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 2.11.57 PM.png

    Finally, at 11.45pm CST – a full two hours after the Kansas State Collegian had first reported difficulties accessing Camayak – we recovered full service.

    This morning, over an hour and half later, we sent our first responses to the people who’d reached out to us for help.

    Why we messed up

    First off, we’re profoundly sorry for letting our users down on two fronts last night. People use Camayak because it’s a more efficient way to work and we’ve always prided ourselves on our response times to any urgent difficulties our users are having.

    So what went wrong?

    Downtime

    Last night we experienced an outage, which we’re currently investigating. We’ll be updating our blog with our root cause analysis, later.

    Usually we’re in a position to react to such outages by monitoring our systems and adapt on-the-fly. Unusually, we didn’t respond like that last night. This is because we had a gap in our engineering and support coverage.

    Lack of support

    We’re used to ‘after hours’ questions from newsrooms, because that’s often when newsrooms get busy. We also work with newsrooms that are based in Pacific and other ‘later’ timezones. So the timing of last night’s issues was not outside of our predictable scope of activity.

    We’re a distributed company – which comes with timezone/support benefits – and decided three years ago that having a co-founder on the same timezone as many of our users was a sensible idea (we also have coverage for Central, Eastern and GMT/BST timezones). I’ve been living in Los Angeles ever since and am usually the first to respond to support questions from the Pacific timezones. We aim to get back to urgent requests within ten minutes.

    Last night however, I was not on the West Coast and our Central hub was off duty as our downtime began. As you’ll see from the time-stamps in this post, I’m currently in London, along with our GMT/BST hub that only came on duty at 6.30am local time (12.30am CST and 10.30pm PST).

    While these were highly unusual circumstances for our service and team, they shouldn’t have affected our service levels and we deeply regret that they did.

    What we’re going to do about it

    We’re going to publish the results of our root cause analysis for the outage Camayak experienced. Update: our analysis and remediations are listed here.

    Despite being spread across multiple timezones, we’re also taking steps to make sure our engineers and support team can be alerted to critical needs, even when they’re not on-call. The situation we ran into last night has never happened before but is a timely reminder for us to make sure we have a plan in place for urgent events that might occur when we’re all asleep or off duty.

    We’re hugely grateful for how responsive and patient our users are and won’t forget this as an example of how we can keep improving. We messed up and are determined not to let it happen again.

    If you’d like to follow-up with me, please reach out to roman@camayak.com.

  10. We Messed Up

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    This evening, we messed up. Over the last four hours you may have been affected by several periods of Camayak downtime that have prevented you from logging in and doing all the things you rely on us to help you do. Camayak has been back up for the last hour but we have more questions to answer, which we’re going to do in a separate blog post, shortly.

    Update: you can read our follow-up post here.