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Archive for April, 2012

The gatekeeper days of journalism were fun. But they’re over. And they weren’t as good as we remember them.

In a Facebook discussion today, Arkansas State journalism professor Jack Zibluk wrote, “By abandoning the gatekeeper role, I believe you are abandoning the profession.”

I replied: “Jack, no one abandoned the gatekeeper role. It became irrelevant when the fences blew away.”

Jack asked me to elaborate:

If journalism and journalists are no longer gatekeepers, then what ARE we? Nobody I know of has made a cohesive explanation of what our role is any more in society.

I initially begged off, saying I might blog about gatekeepers in a week or two. But another gatekeeper discussion on Jack’s Facebook wall and an exchange of private Facebook messages prompted me to blog now.

I used to be a gatekeeper, the person who decided which of the many potential stories my reporters at the Des Moines Register and Kansas City Star and Times could do would become news back in the 1980s and early 1990s. As editor of the Minot Daily News, I had the final say on every news story for our North Dakota town (and let’s be honest: beyond breaking news, a newspaper editor largely is the gatekeeper for local TV stations, too). Keeping the gate was a serious responsibility: We got to decide what was news and what wasn’t, what was front-page news, what was an inside brief and what wasn’t worth our readers’ time at all. We had to decide when a story was vetted and verified enough to make it through the gate. (more…)

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Craig Silverman has assembled eight “must reads” on how to verify information gathered through social media. I don’t have time to elaborate on them (and I would mostly just repeat what Craig and the writers say).

So don’t waste time reading my blog. Click on the link above and read what Craig and the others he has linked to have written. I will add them soon to my resources for accuracy and verification.

 

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One of a news organization’s most important jobs is helping voters make informed decisions before they go to the polls. We try to do that with lots of coverage during the election campaign: stories about stump speeches, horse-race stories, issue coverage.

But the fact is that lots of voters aren’t paying attention, particularly in the down-ballot races. They might be following the presidential campaign or races for Senate or governor. But a congressional race usually doesn’t command as much voter attention. Sometimes, especially with House races and local races, voters just want some help right before election. Historically we have tried to meet that need with voter guides readers could scan through, getting a quick look at candidates’ bios and their stands on key issues.

The York Daily Record offered readers a helpful tool in deciding how to vote in Tuesday’s primary races to choose the fall candidates to replace incumbent Todd Platts in the 4th Congressional District. With seven Republicans and three Democrats, voters had lots of candidates to follow, and a poll showed that two-thirds of registered voters were undecided as the primary approached.

The Record offered a quiz, asking voters’ opinions on issues, then showing them which candidate most closely reflected their views and priorities. The quiz, powered by GoToQuiz, asked what kind of experience voters valued, whether it mattered where a candidate lived, and about views on positions such as tax cuts, health care reform, climate change and the war in Afghanistan. You choose which statement most matches your position and the quiz awards points to the candidate whose position you chose. (more…)

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“I need to find the joy and excitement I once experienced as a journalist,” an editor told me in a recent comment on my blog. “I just don’t feel it right now. I pray it will return.”

This editor, Emily Olson, managing editor of the Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., is not one of the curmudgeons I addressed recently, resisting change in newsrooms. She is leading change in her newsroom. She was described by her publisher at the time (and now her group editor), Matt DeRienzo as an “unsung hero” of the Journal Register Co. turnaround. In the video below, Emily discusses the Register Citizen’s Newsroom Café , recognized by the Associated Press Media Editors as Innovator of the Year for 2011.

So why and how has someone who shared in the innovation of the year lost her joy and excitement for journalism? And how can she regain it? Let’s start by reading Emily’s comment:

It’s been more than 15 years since I decided to leave my job delivering flowers and planting trees at a nursery, go back to school and become a newspaper reporter. Since then (1997) I have built a career as a writer and editor and watched the world change and move under my feet – first with digital cameras and jpgs, which replaced film and contact sheets, then digital layout, web postings once a week, and in the last three years have observed and taken part in – to some extent – the skyrocketing changes that our industry has embraced. I have a title that has the word “managing” and “editor” in it, but they don’t go hand in hand right now because in spite of the massive changes and rolling waves that crash on our desks, we still have to read email, copy and paste, process in photoshop, built unending queues of pages and try, in the midst of it all, to become a ninja.

Well, I pray that my bosses over the years are doing OK. Most of them have moved on, some of them stayed behind, and some of them, like me, are trying to keep up. Am I a curmudgeon? Probably, and that’s pretty sad, to be labeled as such, but I also believe that what I am doing is often so contrary to what is happening around me that I feel like giving up.

(more…)

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I will be leading a digital storytelling workshop for Heritage Media staff and bloggers, with a special emphasis on liveblogging.

As a demonstration, we’ll feed tweets with the #dfmliveblog hashtag into a liveblog.

Here are some storytelling examples I might use:

In the afternoon, I’ll be discussing thinking and working Digital First with another Heritage Media newsroom.

Here are my slides for the digital storytelling workshop:

I don’t use slides for the workshop on thinking and working Digital First, but here are some slides I used to use with that workshop:

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Sports coverage is a great match for community engagement because engagement is about conversation and sports fans love to talk. We boast when our teams are winning, whine when they are losing and trash-talk with fans of rival teams. We analyze statistics and strategy and fantasize in games that involve both.

I’ll be discussing community engagement in sports coverage at a meeting of the Great Lakes Region of the Associated Press Sports Editors today. Here are tips I’ll be sharing:

Talk with fans. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for monitoring and joining the fans’ conversation. Follow the popular hashtags for the local sports teams and follow individual fans as well. Pose questions to fans on your Facebook page (individually or a branded page). Join the conversation on fan groups or fan pages on Facebook.

Live-tweet and liveblog games. Fans expect live coverage of all events at all levels now. Whether you live-tweet or use CoverItLive or ScribbleLive to liveblog, you should provide live coverage of every event you staff. (And if you live-tweet, you should feed those tweets into your site using CIL, Scribble or a widget.) If high school or small-college writers need to keep their own stats, they won’t be able to tweet or update as frequently, but they still should post major developments live. (And they should explore ways to get schools to provide reliable, timely stats, so they can liveblog more aggressively.) The approach may vary depending on whether a game is televised. If fans are likely to be watching TV while they read your live coverage, don’t bother with play-by-play. Do more analysis, color and commentary. Same if most of your readers are likely to be in the stands or reading after they’ve watched the game. But if the game is not televised, especially if it’s a road game, be sure you’re reporting what’s happening, even if you don’t do actual play-by-play. (more…)

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Front page tease to "Finding Their Way Out" package in York Daily Record.

For most of my career, I’d need to wait until Sunday to read and write about a big newspaper enterprise project. But I read the York Daily Record and Sunday News’ “Finding Their Way Out” on Friday afternoon.

It’s an outstanding package by reporter Bill Landauer and photojournalist Jason Plotkin, designed by Samantha K. Dellinger. They examine the lasting impact of a local act of school violence. It underscores some old-school principles of journalism:

  • Reporters and photojournalists need to knock on some doors and develop good relationships to get many of the best stories.
  • Reporters and photojournalists should work together on big stories.
  • Editors should give reporters and photojournalists time to work on major enterprise stories.
  • Professional journalists bring genuine value to their best work.

The project also underscores some principles of digital journalism:

  • Digital journalism is first and foremost about doing good journalism.
  • We no longer wait until Sunday (when web traffic is slow) to publish our best work. Publishing the story online Friday and in print Sunday fits our company’s Digital First approach.
  • We build on strong reporting and photojournalism with strong interactive elements.
  • We promote and explain our work on social media and blogs.

I asked the York team some questions by email. Sunday Editor Scott Blanchard, lead editor on the project, answered, along with Editor Jim McClure and Assistant Managing Editor/Visuals Brad Jennings: (more…)

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Airport lounge media useWhen your flight is delayed three hours, you have some time to observe your fellow travelers. So I walked around the lounges at Gates E5 and E6 at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, observing what people appeared to be doing and using.

Here are the numbers of people using various devices to pass their time:

  • Phone 13 (I can’t swear that I could tell an iPhone from an iPod, so it might be more accurate to say handheld device)
  • Tablet 11 (mostly iPads, but I noticed at least one Kindle)
  • Laptop 10
  • Book 6
  • Newspaper 4
  • Television 2 (some people were not sitting in position to watch TV)
  • Magazine 1

Three pairs of people were conversing with each other. One appeared to be working on some papers from his briefcase. I counted the woman pictured above as a laptop and a phone because, well, look.

I just counted the people I saw in a brief walk around the waiting lounge, trying to catch just the people in a particular area as I walked by, rather that counting people as they came and went. So the woman who just sat down across from me with a smartphone isn’t included. I did not count myself (keeping tabs on my iPhone, then blogging on my laptop) and I did not count Mimi (iPhone in hand, iPad on lap).

This is a small sample and just a snapshot. I don’t think any deep analysis here is merited, so I won’t attempt any. But I’m pleased that my company is pursuing a Digital First course.

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At the risk of repeating myself, don’t let valid obstacles in your newsroom become excuses for your failure to develop as a digital journalist. No one benefits (or hurts) more from your career than you do. So don’t leave your career success or fulfillment in the hands of bosses who are stuck in the past.

I also should note that this prolongs my already-long curmudgeon conversation. This post is prompted by a comment from “FormerStaffer” on my recent lessons-learned post, following up on my “Dear Newsroom Curmudgeon” post. FormerStaffer makes some valid points:

Some curmudgeons are made by their own newsrooms. Lack of decent training is a big issue. If a newsroom worker doesn’t have personal time off the job to learn these new skills (new baby, sick family member, working two jobs, aging parents, or similar problems), is it fair to penalize that worker for the problems in his or her private life?

Newsrooms also give mixed signals. If the paper claims to be web first, but only posts some stories first on the web, what is the message to staffers? If there are no consequences for failing to post on the web, but missing press deadline by 10 minutes produces an angry memo, what message is being sent?

If a staff member trying to learn Twitter asks for guidelines about using Twitter (what to post, what kind of language shouldn’t go in a quote in a tweet, whether tweets should refer to rival news operations, whether out-of-focus photos that are banned from the printed product can be sent with tweets, etc.) then the question shouldn’t be ignored or brushed off — someone should think about writing some guidelines, even if they’re only four or five items on a list.

I will address the issues shortly, but first I want to say this: I will be emailing FormerStaffer to ask whether he or she worked recently in a Digital First Media newsroom. If one of our newsrooms is operating this way, then Jim Brady and I will want to address these issues directly with the editors leading that newsroom. I’ll also offer to email FormerStaffer’s former editors if he or she doesn’t work in our company. Editors who operate like this need to be called out on their backward behavior. But now, I want to address FormerStaffer directly: (more…)

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The witty woman behind the People of Wal-Mart music video has a musical take on the declining newspaper industry.

Ken Paulson‘s Freedom Sings programs are a popular feature of the First Amendment Center, where he is president and CEO. On his last evening as American Society of News Editors president last week, Ken hosted an evening program at the Newseum examining parallels between the music and news businesses, starting with Robert Levine, author of Free Ride, and then turning to musicians.

While I enjoyed the veteran songwriters on the program, original Cricket Sonny Curtis (“I Fought the Law” and the Mary Tyler Moore theme) and Jim Peterik (“Vehicle,” “Eye of the Tiger”), the highlight for me was Jessica Frech, a young musical entrepreneur who has made her name with humorous songs on YouTube. Her most famous tune is “People of Wal-Mart,” a clever music video viewed by 6 million people. She entertained the editors with the premiere of her new song, “Where Have All the Newspapers Gone?”

It’s a silly song, but a fun one, with lines like, “I don’t understand how they can get all the news from the palm of their hand.” The “Subscribe” pitch at the end could be part of her newspaper humor, but I think it’s actually a pitch to subscribe to Frech’s YouTube channel.

(more…)

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I’m leading a webinar today for the Ohio Newspaper Association on how journalists should use Facebook and Twitter.

For reading on this, I recommend my list of resources for journalists using social media as well as Mandy Jenkins’ social media helps. You also might check out the Facebook + Journalists tips on Facebook search.

This video (produced for public relations specialists rather than journalists) has some good search advice:

Here are my slides for the webinar:

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Friday’s letter to newsroom curmudgeons resulted in my busiest day ever on this blog, 4,882 views, smashing my previous record by 58 percent. After less than 72 hours online, the post is already my fourth most-viewed post in three-plus years blogging here. With more than 80 comments, I presume it already is my most-discussed post, though I should note that probably a third or more of those are me responding to comments.

Few things I have written have received as much praise or as much criticism (the two often go together), certainly not in their first day or two after publication. I try to make a common theme of this blog discussions of digital journalism and lessons we can learn about what works and what doesn’t. This post worked and failed in notable ways, so I should try to learn (or relearn) something from the experience:

Pronouns matter. I made some of the same points about curmudgeons in a post last fall. That post answered a question from someone asking how to “convert” curmudgeons to using Twitter. So I responded in the third person, essentially discussing curmudgeons behind their backs as him and her. That post got some attention, one of my top 40 in page views, but it only got half as much traffic as Friday’s post got on its first day. It made a difference, I’m sure, to address my post to curmudgeons, inviting people to email the link to a curmudgeon or to print it out for one to read. In another post a couple years ago, I wrote in the first person about how I redirected and rejuvenated my career. It offered sincere advice to others, and advice that stems from personal experience can be the most valuable advice. But unless you are sharing the lessons from your mistakes, advice offered in the first person always has a boastful tone, however helpful you’re trying to be. “I” is not an engaging pronoun. “You” is one of the most engaging words in our language, and it worked in this post. (more…)

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