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A Pew Research Center study of three U.S. media markets has lots of interesting fodder and lessons for journalists and newsrooms.

In Local News in a Digital Age, Pew studied local news coverage and consumption more thoroughly than any local news study I’ve seen. I encourage reading the full 160-page report, which provided detailed studies of the news environments in Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa.

The study includes a survey of people in each community, asking extensive questions about their community involvement and news consumption, as well as a detailed study local news providers, including all the content during one week (last July) and a computer analysis of Facebook and Twitter content and engagement with local news providers.

I’ll present my thoughts on the Pew study in three sections:

  1. What the study says about media and lessons we can draw from it.
  2. My evaluation of this study (or opportunities for future studies). I was sharply critical of Pew’s 2010 study of Baltimore’s local news market, so I think I should address what I see as strengths and weaknesses of this study. This project leaves plenty of opportunities for further study of local media, but I find it far more thorough and credible than the 2010 study, which was so biased I said it was useless.
  3. My Denver and Sioux City experiences (neither of them a big conflict, but both worth disclosing).

Findings & lessons from the Pew study

Pew’s story up high presents the obligatory disclaimer:

These cities are not meant to be representative of the United States as a whole, but rather serve as detailed case studies of local news in three specific, unique areas in the U.S.

Yeah, but …

Pew did the study because the data from these three specific, unique areas would have value to others in the media. And I see several areas where the study reveals or confirms facts that will be helpful beyond the communities studied: Continue Reading »

Craig Silverman

Craig Silverman

Journalists and news organizations need to do a better job of avoiding involvement in the spread of lies and unconfirmed rumors.

Accuracy and credibility are the heart of good journalism, and Craig Silverman‘s study Lies, Damned Lies and Viral Content documents widespread disregard for both in the spreading of digital reports by pro.

I won’t attempt to summarize the report here, though I will use some favorite quotes from it at the end of this post. I hope you will read the full report (it’s 164 pages) and consider what it says about you and your news organization.

What I want to focus on here are some suggestions for news organizations and individual journalists, some of which repeat Craig’s own suggestions and some of which are my suggestions, inspired by his report:

Confirming and debunking rumors

To start, I don’t think chasing rumors is necessarily the highest form of journalism, though admittedly, great journalistic investigation starts with a tip that’s indistinguishable from a rumor. But in general, I would encourage a journalistic approach that seeks to find and publish new information rather than chasing rumors. Continue Reading »

Dori Maynard

Dori Maynard

I was on a diversity panel with Dori Maynard a couple years ago, and opened by saying it was like being on a watchdog journalism panel with I.F. Stone. I said if Dori and I happened to disagree during the discussion, people should follow what Dori said because she would be right.

We lost Dori to lung cancer yesterday, and I am heartbroken.

Dori was the conscience of journalism. She was a wonderful combination of fierce, gentle, patient and persistent, and an absolutely outstanding teacher. She constantly reminded and taught us that diversity is more than a social issue, it is a journalism value, a matter of accuracy. We need to reflect the diversity of our communities in our coverage to cover the community accurately, Dori would say. And reflecting the diversity of our communities in our staffs would help us achieve the goal of accurate, diverse coverage of the community.

Whatever your excuse for failing to achieve diversity goals — and journalists and newsrooms always have excuses about diversity, because we nearly always fall short — Dori had an answer. Not a combative answer that called bullshit (though you knew she was calling bullshit), but an answer that explained why and how you needed to do more. An answer that made you want to do more. And an offer to help you do more.

I can’t think of anyone in journalism who more consistently called on our profession to do better and be better and helped us do better and be better. Continue Reading »

This photo of an airplane fighting a 1990 fire led a Flashback photo gallery for the Hamilton Spectator on the 25th anniversary of the fire.

This photo of an airplane fighting a 1990 fire led a Flashback photo gallery for the Hamilton Spectator on the 25th anniversary of the fire. Used with permission.

My blog post on ways to generate more value from newspaper archives drew two responses about newsrooms using old photos in projects they call Flashbacks.

Joan Walters of the Hamilton Spectator explained the first project in an email, which I’m using as a guest post, with her permission:

We’re posting Flashbacks from The Hamilton Spectator’s pool of archived photos at least twice a week – using news events (snow storms, local controversies, major anniversaries such as the recent 25th anniversary of the Hagersville Tire Fire, which remains the biggest environmental disaster in Ontario history).

The focus for us is to relate the Flashback material directly to our website, thespec.com. We don’t post archive photos unless we can relate the post somehow to thespec.com with story links to the web at the top of each blog post.

A  simple example is Jon Wells’ long read on the weekend about The Way we Shopped, which carried only a handful of  available photos on the website. So we cross-linked the web story to the Flashback blog post, where the link to Jon’s story was also placed.

We have an Omniture tag on the Flashback blog to make sure we benefit from traffic, which has been good.

When we post on Flashback and it’s not directly related to a current story, we place a click-through to the blog on our website carousel, using the best photo.

High levels of commenting on some of the posts teaches us what’s popular, what works, and what doesn’t.

For instance, a post on a long-gone ski hill and winter sports park soared during a local controversy over banning sledding and readers went crazy over a simple I Remember post on a popular restaurant-motel.

It’s early days yet but it’s working for us.

The other Flashback example came in a tweet, so it didn’t offer as much detail:

The Herald’s Flashback feature mostly features galleries on topics relating to Miami culture — such as South Beach and beauty pageants — but also looks back on incidents in Miami history — such as a visit from Winston Churchill and another historic fire.

We’re seeing a fascinating pair of case studies on the importance (or not) of truth, context and conflict in journalism.

It’s pretty clear that Bill O’Reilly lied as certainly as Brian Williams did about the danger they faced in covering wars. Williams apologized as quickly as he was caught in his lie and soon took himself off the air, then was suspended by NBC News. O’Reilly has responded with bluster and name-calling, and Fox News issued a statement Sunday that it was in “full support” of O’Reilly.

At the end of this post, I’ll address the documentation of the accusations against O’Reilly (and the weakness of his response, which actually underscores the case against him). But first, I want to address the issues I see in the contrast between the two situations of TV stars caught in lies.

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • Each man was caught lying about his experience covering war, particularly the personal danger he faced.
  • Neither man was caught the first time he lied, so he just kept repeating the lie.
  • Because they are TV stars, we have actual video of what they said.

But here are some differences: Continue Reading »

I offer mostly curation, rather than fresh commentary, on the New York Times’ move from a daily page-one meeting to a daily meeting focused on digital platforms:

Poynter’s Ben Mullin explains the change, including Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s memo to the Times staff.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOm has a thoughtful commentary on the change, including how overdue it is.

I blogged about newsroom meetings last year when Margaret Sullivan reported the first steps toward a digital focus in the morning meeting.

I blogged some advice on leading newsroom meetings in 2013.

Changing newsroom meetings is hard. As I noted yesterday, I was not successful in changing meetings as thoroughly as I wanted when I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

I don’t say this to criticize Baquet or the Times, just to note how deeply entrenched meetings are in a newsroom culture and how hard it is to change them: The Times Innovation report, recommending a digital focus to the meetings, was completed last March. The change is now being implemented 11 months later. Of course, many other changes recommended in the report have already being implemented.

I’m not banging on the Times for taking 11 months to change its morning meeting, just saying this is a big and difficult change. I wish Baquet and the Times well in executing this change and in using it to continue culture change in the newsroom.

Melody Kramer asked a smart question this week about value in legacy media:

Update: Melody also did a longer post about the value of archives.

I have long felt that newspaper archives were a wasted asset that exposed our legacy mentality, always focused on the expensive task of producing new content while failing to think of new approaches to our business and failing to extract full value from content we’ve already paid to produce.

With the increasing value of video, TV station and network archives are similarly valuable. In both cases, older archives that haven’t been digitized present a cost-benefit consideration: You need to develop an effective way to generate revenue from your archives to justify the cost of converting old content from its original formats to digital. But I think archives have serious revenue potential that would cover the costs of converting and preserving archives. And much of your archives are already in the digital formats we’ve been using for years now.

I think press associations or media groups could hire developers to make do-it-yourself tools that allow users to make customized products such as front pages, newspapers and videos using content about themselves, their teams and their organizations. The ideal tool would provide search access to archives, with templates that offer basic products or some drag-and-drop options, giving the user flexibility choose or rearrange content, make simple edits and add original content.

Here are some ideas I hope legacy media operations will try to add value to their archives (if you’re already trying these or other ideas, please send me information, including links, and I’ll highlight them here): Continue Reading »

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