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I thought I was done blogging about whether top editors should be active on Twitter. Then last night, Lexi Mainland tweeted this:

As her Twitter profile says, she’s an editor on the Times’ interactive news desk. Not exactly agreeing with me (as you’ll see in some subsequent tweets), but sort of agreeing with me. So, given the interest in my criticism of her boss, Dean Baquet, and other top editors who aren’t active on Twitter, and Baquet’s response to me, and the response to Baquet, I thought I’d give the topic at least one more ride and curate last night’s Twitter exchange among several of us:

“Pontificating.” OK, that could be me.

What I’d say here is that Baquet and his predecessors, who have been similarly dismissive of Twitter in terms of personal use, have led a lot of great innovation at the Times. So “suffering” isn’t exactly the right word, and I don’t think I ever said innovation at the Times was suffering. In many respects, it’s been an innovation leader.

But a Times committee studied innovation and said the newsroom needed to do better. That’s true in any newsroom, but no other has identified the need (to my knowledge) as clearly or in as much detail as the Times. Baquet has embraced the report and said he plans to implement its recommendations.

My point is that you lead innovation more effectively by example than by exhortation. But back to the tweets (where I think I made that point):

Valid point: I believe Twitter is a valuable tool for every newsroom leader and editorial-page editor.

I was a long-distance participant in a workshop today for the Madison, Wis., chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

My first session, about going digital-first in your newsroom, drew heavily from my Project Unbolt posts, particularly those on breaking news, enterprise reporting, routine daily reporting and the post about the Five Satins story. Here are the slides for that workshop, on which I collaborated with Joel Christopher:

I collaborated on the second workshop, on mobile news-gathering, with Nick Penzenstadler. That relied heavily on my posts about live coverage and my livetweeting tips. Here are Nick’s slides (used with his permission), followed by mine:

Nick Penzenstadler SPJ2014

I told faculty of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in January that one of their most important jobs was to help students learn for themselves how to use new tools. That’s what I’ll be doing next semester: I’ll be teaching without teaching.

Dean Sarah Bartlett had asked me to speak at a faculty meeting about what journalism graduates needed to succeed in digital media. Back then, I was thinking I’d be working the next several years at Digital First Media. A key point of my presentation was that students needed to learn how to use digital tools — not that a school needed to teach any particular set of tools, but that students needed to learn how to learn new tools by themselves. Whatever tools a journalism school teaches students, some of them will become obsolete before long, and new tools will come out soon after any student graduates. So it’s important that journalists have some experience and comfort with the process of figuring out how a tool works and how to use it to do better journalism.

Well, that Digital First thing didn’t last as long as I thought, so I’m teaching now. And next semester, I will be teaching a class in interactive storytelling tools. Only I won’t be teaching the students how to use the tools (some of them I may not know myself). Instead, I’ll be guiding the students in exploring how to learn new tools themselves. Continue Reading »

Numbers always demand context.

Twitter is used by “only” 19 percent of Internet-using adults. That was the word Ann Friedman used in a Columbia Journalism Review piece, following up on the discussion of New York Times Twitter use started by Buzzfeed and continued by me, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and others.

Friedman’s piece gave reasons why a journalist might want to use Twitter as well as some why you wouldn’t. She’s enthusiastic about Twitter and I applaud her contribution to this discussion. But I’m going to pick at that one word, because others have used that 19 percent figure as a reason to dismiss Twitter. On Twitter and in a comment on Friedman’s post, people zeroed in on that number as a supposed sign that Twitter isn’t important (Ivan is channeling others here, not expressing disdain):

But 19 percent of adult Internet users is a lot. Let’s do the math:

How much differently would Friedman’s piece have read if she had written “a whopping 40 million Americans” instead of “only 19 percent”?

My opening point was that numbers demand context. So here’s some context for you: 19 percent of adult Internet users or 40 million Americans is more than:

The point is: Internet use is huge and 19 percent of its users are a lot of people. Google, Amazon and Facebook have bigger audiences, I presume, maybe a few more. But there aren’t many bigger digital audiences than Twitter’s.

And, as I’ve said many times before, Twitter is an excellent tool for finding sources on breaking news, liveblogging and many other journalism uses that have nothing to do with the potential size of your audience.

Don’t use 19 percent as a measure of how small Twitter is. It’s a measure of how big Twitter is.

Update: I remembered this after initially posting. I made a similar argument here a couple years ago, when the numbers were smaller.

Guidepostsnot-my-willGreat writing reaches across the miles and years, touching people in ways, places and times the author could never anticipate.

I remember as a boy visiting a Tokyo bookstore how impressed I was when I saw the name of my grandmother, Francena H. Arnold, in English letters down the spine of a book whose title and contents were all in Japanese. That was Grandma’s work reaching across the miles, around the world from the Chicago home where she wrote her books in longhand.

The “Tillie’s Treasure” item above, from this month’s Guideposts, a devotional magazine, shows how Grandma’s writing reached across the years:

Tillie … gave me Francena Arnold’s classic Christian novel Not My Will, about a young woman struggling to make the right choices in life. Tillie thought it would help me in my faith journey. It not only did that, but this first “grown up” novel in my collection inspired me to become a writer myself.

Continue Reading »

I’m leading a workshop for LSU students tonight on job-hunting and preparing yourself for a job hunt. The workshop will share tips from these blog posts:

Tips on landing your next job in digital journalism

Use digital tools to showcase your career and your work

Your digital profile tells people a lot

Randi Shaffer shows a reason to use Twitter: It can help land your first job

Elevate your journalism career

Job-hunting advice for journalists selling skills in the digital market

Prepare for your next job hunt while you’re still working

Job-hunting tips: Spread the word, network, be patient and persistent

Why journalists should use Twitter: When you’re fired, it helps with encouragement and actual job prospects

I’ll showcase some examples of journalists’ websites showcasing their experience and their skills, including Sean McMinn, Lexy Cruz, Dylan S. Goldman, Dustin Blanchard, Nicholas Slayton, Eileen Joyce, Megan Bauerle and Ivan Lajara. I’ll also show Tyler Fisher’s advice for using GitHub to build your own portfolio site.

Here are my slides for the workshop:

In a discussion in the comments on a blog post this week, Dan Mitchell dismissed “reader engagement” as a “squishy phrase” with vague meaning and no true value. He called engagement an “overblown concept.”

I’m pretty sure I failed to convince Mitchell of the value of engagement. He has plenty of company in being dismissive of engagement as a buzzword without real value for news organizations. Many also confuse engagement with promotion (some of Mitchell’s points addressed web traffic).

But, as I’ve said for years, engagement is about doing better journalism:

Krystal Knapp, publisher and founding editor of Planet Princeton, provided an excellent example. NBC News had proclaimed that Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman was in a “voluntary quarantine” following her return from covering the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.

Krystal reported that Snyderman, who lives in Princeton, had been seen out in public in the community. Jeff Edelstein, a columnist at the Trentonian, wrote about the situation and called it to my attention:

I praised Krystal for breaking that national story (the state of New Jersey made the quarantine mandatory today and NJ News Commons curated the story):

And she gave credit to her communty:

That’s why community engagement isn’t squishy and isn’t a buzzword. It’s an essential technique for getting and doing better stories.

Update: After I sent Krystal a link to this post, she added this in a Facebook message:

I agree 100% about community engagement. I measure success based on engagement. If I am not engaging readers in my community I am not doing my job, given that I am a community news site.

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