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As I noted in yesterday’s post about crowdfunding, I was participating in a #MuckedUp chat on the topic last night. You can read a Storify curation of the chat if you missed it.

I made brief reference in the post to a community-funded project by the Pottstown Mercury:

Nancy March

Nancy March

Thanks to Nancy March, editor of the Merc (and a previous guest blogger here in our days as Digital First Media colleagues), for letting me use this email about the project as a guest post:

We extended a paid internship to our Chips Quinn intern Miica Patterson for an additional 23 weeks to work on this project. I don’t assign her any other work, and every story runs with a note at the end saying reporting is funded in part by the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation. She is learning new journalism skills and strengthening others — video, interviewing, engagement, writing, photography.

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

The work involves a lot of community engagement aimed at promoting cheap and accessible ways to exercise and eat right. Miica organizes and manages a “Mercury Mile” lunchtime exercise break every Thursday at noon to emphasize that you can get exercise in your work day.  Last week we did yoga in a downtown park.

We have had zumba and agility classes after work in public parks, features on the community garden and cooking with vegetables, and a wonderful community engagement effort in the Fourth of July parade in which Bike Pottstown, health and wellness foundation staffers, Stop the Violence marchers and The Mercury family joined forces to show off our causes.  Here’s my column about that.

We feature our Fit for Life coverage on a subsection of the website, and it has its own Facebook and Twitter identity.

Rather than a conflict of interest, the foundation funding is a joining of community interests. It allows us to report on and engage people in a project that we would not be able to manage with our staff resources.  The project was inspired by news — a health needs assessment that showed obesity and health-related concerns on the rise in the Pottstown tri-county area — and is intended to lead the community in improving itself.

Can we combine a community-supported business model with the declining commercial model for news?

I’ve been mulling the idea of crowdfunded beats for a while, probably since the idea occurred to me while David Cohn was speaking by Skype to my class at American University in 2011. Dave’s business at the time, Spot.Us, was helping crowfund stories by journalists: A freelance writer would propose a story idea and a budget, and when people pledged the budget, the journalist would do the story.

I asked Dave whether he had tried the idea for a particular beat — maybe as a way to fund reporting of a topic that was important to the community, that some people might care greatly about but that wouldn’t generate enough traffic to survive the next round of budget cuts at a news organization.

He liked the idea, but didn’t know about anyone doing that. Laura and Chris Amico did something like that when they crowdfunded an internship to continue Homicide Watch while they went to Boston for Laura’s Nieman Fellowship. Only that was their whole business focused on a single beat, not a slice of a larger news operation.

I never fleshed the idea out enough to pitch it as something we should try at Digital First Media, where our newsrooms cut many jobs in my tenure. But when John Robinson recently blogged about his concerns about a community arts group funding arts coverage in the Greensboro News & Record, I shared it on Facebook, saying, “I’d be more comfortable with a community-based crowdfunding, where ArtsGreensboro would be one of many funders, with a ceiling on how much any one source could contribute.”

John wrote about my suggestion, then Columbia Journalism Review’s Corey Hutchins wrote about it. Now Muck Rack has asked me to discuss the idea in a #MuckedUp Twitter chat this coming Tuesday (8 p.m. Eastern time/5 Pacific).

So maybe it’s time I fleshed out this idea. Continue Reading »

The rewrite of the SPJ Code of Ethics is moving in the right direction, just not far enough.

In three monstrously long posts in 2010 and earlier this year, I called for an update of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and criticized the first draft of an update by the Ethics Committee.

In a Saturday meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the Ethics Committee finished its latest draft.

Mónica Guzmán, an Ethics Committee member who led a digital subcommittee that I served on (she was the only committee member on the subcommittee), praised the progress made since the first draft (I missed a second draft published July 3):

I agree that the committee has made progress, but I’m still disappointed in this attempt to update what used to be journalism’s most important ethical guide.

In March, I wrote:

I think I’d prefer no update to these tweaks. If the code remains obviously outdated, the need to update it will remain strong. And maybe they’ll take another try in a few years and get it right or closer to right. I’d rather do that than tweak it now and have the anti-change forces spend the next 18 years claiming they had already updated it.

I’m not sure I’d go that far now. If SPJ wants to return to the days when it was a leading voice in journalism ethics, it certainly needs to go further than the current draft. For that reason, I might vote against this draft if I were an SPJ member (I let my membership lapse because of the lack of progress on updating the Code of Ethics). But I would not say this update is better than none at all. I’ll just be disappointed if SPJ doesn’t go further.

I will not go through the code point by point as I did in the previous posts (which, reading them now, I can see made for some long and perhaps confusing reading). I’ll just summarize the primary things that disappoint and please me.

Here’s what the Ethics Code still needs to do:

Address linking 

I am absolutely flummoxed by the refusal of either SPJ’s Ethics Committee or Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist to address journalists’ reticence to link to digital sources of information that they use. Refusal to link may be the most widespread ethical failure in journalism today, and what good is an ethics code that doesn’t address our failures?

In a response to my March post, Ethics Committee Vice Chair Fred Brown said, “We stuck with basic, abiding principles and tried to avoid any mention of specific technologies.” But that’s not true. The first and latest drafts both refer to “social media” and “online publication.” If specific technologies merited mention in those places (the social media one was unnecessary), then digital linking merits specific mention.

The current draft says “always attribute,” and to many journalists, that just means to add “so-and-so said” after material, not to link to sources. The latest draft also says, “Provide access to source material when relevant and appropriate.” I’m not even sure what “when relevant and appropriate” means. I guess “provide access” covers embeds as well as links. But it’s ridiculous to write around linking. Many, if not most, journalists and news organizations don’t link to sources. They should and SPJ should tell them specifically that they should.

I sent a draft of this post to Mónica and some others who have been involved in this process, inviting response. She said the committee is planning to hyperlink passages of the code to deeper discussions of applying the principles in the code. I look forward to hearing more about those plans, which follow a suggestion I made last year. This doesn’t change anything I said above about the need to address linking in the principles, but it’s an improvement and I welcome it.

Endorse accuracy checklists

Checklists save lives when doctors and pilots use them. They save errors when journalists use them. The current draft makes some strong statements about accuracy but SPJ should go further and endorse a practice that can improve accuracy. Statements of broad principles are fine, but I think it’s an important principle to endorse best practices that are not widely practiced. Principles don’t lead to better journalism. Practices do.

Editing suggestions

The committee should restore the explicit statement that journalists, not sources, are responsible for accuracy. I was pleased to see that phrasing (which I suggested in 2010) make it into the first draft. Now the reference to sources has been removed. That section says journalists should “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before its release.” Normally I think a positive statement about what you should do should suffice. But not here.

As I noted in a recent post on corrections, too many journalists blame sources for their errors. The Code of Ethics should be explicit in saying that’s no excuse.

The committee also should restore this passage: “Be sensitive when seeking or using information, interviews and images of people affected by tragedy or grief.” I can’t figure why that was cut from the “Minimize Harm” section of the first draft.

Improvements in this draft

The biggest improvement is the pairing of transparency with accountability in the fourth basic principle in this latest draft, and a little strengthening of the transparency principles in the section. This would be a good place to address linking.

Other improvements included restoring the current code’s call to “give voice to the voiceless” and adding, “Seek sources whose voices are seldom heard.”

Nashville conference

I have no idea whether the latest draft will be adopted when SPJ meets at the Excellence in Journalism conference in Nashville Sept. 4-6. I suppose it could be revised further in debate, though I’m not familiar with the approval process. And certainly it could be rejected, either for going too far or not far enough, or perhaps for reasons not yet apparent to me. Michael Koretzky, an SPJ board member, has been critical of how SPJ’s senior leaders have handled revision of the code. I won’t pretend that I’ve studied his accusations enough to comment on their merit, but clearly the code revision could face some dissent in Nashville.

I commend Mónica for advocating persistently and effectively for a stronger update. And I appreciate the time and thought that the Ethics Committee chairs and members have given to this important job.

I don’t think the SPJ Code of Ethics will regain its place as journalism’s most important guidance on ethics. Poynter’s Guiding Principles are stronger and more relevant. Telling the Truth and Nothing But, Rules of the Road and the Verification Handbook are much stronger, more detailed and more helpful, even though each addresses a narrow range of ethical issues. The Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project also is more helpful, providing detailed guidance in multiple directions in the areas where journalists don’t agree. One of the two sessions I’m leading at the EIJ conference will place the SPJ revision on the context of this broader discussion. (The other will focus on a digital approach to enterprise stories.)

The latest draft at least brings SPJ some relevance in the discussion of journalism ethics today, and that’s an improvement. I hope members push for more when it comes up for approval in September.

A year ago, I urged Twitter to fix its arbitrary and stupid limit on accounts you can follow.

Here’s how annoying that limit is: That post is now my second most-read post, with more than 19,000 views. Day after day, nearly a hundred people come to my post, invariably from Google, looking for help with Twitter’s follower limit (97 came on Thursday, 83 on Friday).

Twitter allows anyone to follow up to 2,000 other accounts (although you can’t follow more than 1,000 in a day). I think it’s good for Twitter to have some measures to curb excessive following. It limits what spammers can do. But it’s ridiculous that Twitter hasn’t developed a way for an account to prove it’s legitimate and then continue adding followers.

The limit is not a problem for me. If you have more followers than the number you follow, you’re fine. I have more than five times as many followers as I follow, so I have well over 2,000 followers and have never hit the limit. (I’m trying to trim my follower list, just to lighten my timeline; please don’t take it personally if I drop you). Continue Reading »

I have been privileged to know a few giants of journalism, but none bigger than John Seigenthaler, who died today.

One of the special privileges of leading a few seminars a year for the American Press Institute from 2005 to 2008 was that we took every seminar to the Freedom Forum for a session on the First Amendment, led by John or Ken Paulson or often both. It was a treat that never grew old.

John and Ken would educate and engage the group in a quiz and discussion about the First Amendment and the five freedoms it guarantees (can you name them?). Each question resulted in fascinating stories about our freedoms being tested and protected. Continue Reading »

Guest-speaking at Northern Kentucky University, 2012

Guest-speaking at Northern Kentucky University, 2012

In my recent job hunt, a university (not LSU, where I’m now working) asked applicants for faculty jobs to submit a statement of teaching philosophy. It seemed to me more like something to cover in a job interview than a document to submit with your cover letter and CV, but I was interested in the job, so I wrote a brief statement and submitted it.

I expect that what I submitted in May, before I’d ever taught full-time, will change in subtle ways in the coming year. I’ve taught several times as an adjunct professor and many more as a guest speaker. And I’ve trained journalists hundreds of times. But as a full-time teacher, I know I’m a rookie with a lot to learn. But I suspect students and colleagues still might be interested in my teaching philosophy, since I went to the trouble of writing it. So here’s what I wrote:

However much knowledge or experience I have to share with students, the most important things I can teach them are how to make good decisions as journalists and how to learn. Continue Reading »

Digital First Media logoI joined the Journal Register Company in May 2011, expressing gratitude for what I called an “extraordinary opportunity.” Today I leave Digital First Media (a merger of JRC and MediaNew Group) still grateful.

As I move on to my next job at Louisiana State University, any regrets I might have pale next to all the experiences I’m thankful for.

Thanks first to Jim Brady, with whom I’ve shared the DFM and TBD adventures. Jim hired me twice and I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for a third project with him, though we’re pursuing separate opportunities now. He’s as good a leader, editor, visionary and person as I’ve ever worked with.

I wish we’d had more time to carry out all of Jim’s vision for the Thunderdome and for DFM’s newsrooms. I can’t wait to see what he does with Brother.ly, his new local-news venture in Philadelphia.

Thanks to John Paton, DFM’s CEO, who reached out to me right after Jim left TBD and eventually brought me on board. I thank John for giving us a chance to do some excellent journalism and to make our contribution to the search for a prosperous future for journalism. That I wish we’d had more time to finish that search doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the experience we had or the contribution we made.

Thanks to Jon Cooper, who moved on to a corporate communications role but first played a key role in bringing me on board at the old JRC.

Thanks to my Thunderdome colleagues, who treated me as one of the team, even though I showed up in New York only occasionally. I won’t call the roll, except to salute the four I helped bring aboard: Mandy Jenkins, Julie Westfall, Angi Carter and Karen Workman.

I wish Mandy had gotten the chance to show what a great managing editor she would be. Mandy is two of the best hires I’ve ever made (I hired her at TBD, too). If you need a star digital leader in your newsroom, hire her right away.

Mandy and I hired Julie, Angi and Karen for the curation team. They quickly moved on to roles in breaking news and features when curation became a key job for nearly all of Thunderdome, eliminating the need for a special curation team.

I’ll single out three more people in Thunderdome to thank: Robyn Tomlin, Thunderdome’s editor, and the two guys who edited my occasional blog posts to Inside Thunderdome, Davis Shaver and Chris March. Standouts all and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Out in the DFM newsrooms, my first thanks go to the regional engagement editors: Martin Reynolds, Dan Petty and Ivan Lajara. All three are stellar journalists, creative innovators and genuinely nice guys. I didn’t get enough visits with any of them, but learned from all three and enjoyed our digital chats as well as our personal visits. I’ll be sure to stay in touch (and may actually have more time now to join #dfmchat, Ivan).

I was privileged to help hire and coach seven new DFM editors last year, spending a week in each of their newsrooms to help them get off to strong starts. Thanks to Chris Roberts of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M.; Michelle Karas of the Bennington Banner in Vermont; Brad McElhinny of the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia; Robert Sterling of the Marin Independent Journal in San Rafael, Calif.; Rachel Alexander of the Fort Morgan Times in Colorado; Kevin Moran of New England Newspapers and Sylvia Ulloa of the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico. Those extended newsroom visits were a highlight of my DFM tenure and I am grateful to each of those editors and their staffs for their hospitality and for their embrace of the digital-first approach I was teaching. I wish we’d had more time to work together.

Thanks to Matt DeRienzo and all the staff of the New Haven Register who put up with more of my visits than any other newsroom, including two prolonged visits earlier this year as part of Project Unbolt.

Thanks to the other Project Unbolt pilot editors: Bob Moore, Tricia Ambrose and Kevin Moran (again) and their staffs at the El Paso Times, News-Herald and Berkshire Eagle. Though my work on Project Unbolt was curtailed and I didn’t get to visit those newsrooms, I appreciated their enthusiasm for and work on the project.

I wish we’d had more time to push further with Project Unbolt together. I hope the pilot newsrooms and others achieve great success on this project after I leave the company.

Thanks to DFM’s senior editors, a collegial group who worked hard and effectively to lead our transformation in the newsrooms, clusters, regions and operations they led: Matt, Tricia and Bob as well as Jim McClure, Greg Moore, Dave Butler, Nancy March, Mike Burbach, Kevin Kaufman, Terry Orme, Michael Anastasi, David Little, Dan Shorter and Frank Scandale (as well as Glenn Gilbert and Nancy Conway, who have retired).

I’m thankful that I got to visit all of our daily newsrooms (and a few weeklies). Dozens of colleagues took me on tours of their communities, hundreds discussed their individual journalism challenges with me and a couple thousand joined me for workshops.

I am grateful for my interactions with more engagement editors, reporters, editors and photojournalists than I can remember or name here. I’m especially grateful for my interactions with the colleagues who collaborated with me in a series of regional engagement workshops. And for those who collaborated on efforts to develop plans for digital opinion journalism. I’m especially grateful for my monthly exchanges with winners of the DFMie awards recognizing journalistic excellence and for the chance to recognize our annual winners personally in two events in Denver and St. Paul.

I’ve said farewell too many times in my career. That reflects more opportunities than disappointments and some opportunities that ended in disappointment. I wish this job had lasted longer and ended differently, but it lasted longer than my previous two jobs and it was an enjoyable ride.

I don’t know what the future holds for Digital First Media, our individual newsrooms and the many colleagues I worked with there. But I leave with heartfelt thanks. I never had a better job.

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