Archive for November, 2011

I spent 10 years at the Omaha World-Herald, so I was interested and surprised at today’s news that Warren Buffett is buying the newspaper company.

Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, is going to pay $150 million in cash and take on $50 million of World-Herald debt, taking ownership of my former newspaper and several other Midwestern newspapers and a direct-mail company. This ends more than 30 years of ownership by employees and the Peter Kiewit Foundation.

I may have greater insight later than I do today, but here are some initial observations:

  • This doesn’t say anything about Buffett’s optimism, or lack of optimism, for newspapers. As Jim Romenesko noted today, just two years ago, Buffett told his shareholders: “for most newspapers in the United States, we would not buy them at any price” because “they have the possibility of going to just unending losses.” Buffett is worth $39 billion, according to Forbes. This purchase cost about half of 1 percent of his net worth. He’s using the change he found in his sofa cushions to buy his hometown paper, a newspaper he has long expressed affection for. He also owns two other iconic Omaha businesses: Borsheim’s Jewelry and Nebraska Furniture Mart. As the Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein told Romenesko: “It’s an emotional, personal buy.” (more…)

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A longtime fact of journalism is that when tragic news breaks, we need to get information and reaction from people under great stress. Sometimes they don’t want to talk to us. Sometimes, though, they reach out publicly to friends and supporters on Facebook.

Lisa Yanick-Jonaitis of the Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant, Mich., a Journal Register newsroom, did an outstanding job earlier this month using Facebook to gather information, including the tragic conclusion that a missing woman was found dead. I asked Lisa to share her reporting techniques with colleagues on a Google group. Then Jim Brady and I decided it would make a good blog post.

Lisa used names in her email, but I have edited this to remove the names. I’ve linked to a couple stories above, so you can see the end product and what I’m writing about. However, I don’t want this post to show up in Google searches for the names of the people involved. Journalists can sound insensitive and detached discussing how we cover tragic stories, and I don’t want to add to their pain by having this column show up inadvertently in search results for their names. So here’s Lisa’s account of the story behind the story, with names replaced by generic references such as “the wife” or “the boy.”

When I logged in to Facebook Sunday evening, from home, on a normal day off, I certainly didn’t expect to be bombarded with breaking news questions and information. (more…)

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New Haven Register reporter Alexandra Sanders will be leading a workshop at 2 p.m. EST today about Freedom of Information laws.

Register Engagement Editor Ed Stannard provides the following description:

While she will be talking specifically about the Connecticut FOIA, there should be information that will be informative to any reporter seeking documents from government agencies, including the SEC.

We are going to be experimenting with a new platform, called Big Live, which has the advantage of being accessible from Facebook and which can be embedded in any blog or webpage.

The embed code apparently doesn’t work with WordPress.com blogs, so all I have is the link:
However, if you would like the embed code for your blog, email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

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I’m disappointed with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s response to a high school student’s tweet and with media coverage of the resulting fuss.

From his initial bullying response to his grudging, whining apology that didn’t really accept responsibility, Brownback has behaved as the child in this whole incident. And the media should have called him on his lame apology.

Brownback spoke Nov. 21 to a Youth in Government program visiting Topeka on a school field trip. A student at the program, Emma Sullivan, tweeted:

She didn’t really talk to Brownback; she was just joking among her friends, as kids tend to do using social media. But Brownback was listening — reading, actually. As the Kansas City Star reported, Brownback’s director of communication, Sherriene Jones-Sontag, called the tweet to the attention of a Youth in Government program official, who notified Shawnee Mission East Principal Karl Krawitz. The student got the proverbial call to the principal’s office, where she was told to write an apology letter. (more…)

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A friend asked how he could make money from his blog. With the caveat that I don’t make money directly from my blog, or try to (more about that later), I have some advice to share. Bloggers can pursue multiple options to generate revenue:

Sell ads

One way is to sell ads yourself. This requires time and skill that many bloggers don’t have. You would need to figure out what to charge for ads, identify potential advertisers, make the pitch, service the account and bill the customer (or arrange for handling credit cards). Journalists who blog might also feel that selling ads would present ethical challenges, either for the blog itself or with their day jobs.

However, the advantage of selling ads yourself is that you can target specific advertisers interested in the niche audience of your blog, which might bring you a higher ad rate if you are selling ads based on how many thousand impressions you serve (a rate called CPM, short for cost per mille, or thousand). You also could seek to sell sponsorships at a flat rate. (more…)

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Sunset over Cox Bay, Tofino, BC

I blogged a year or so ago about chasing the perfect sunset. Mimi and I caught another great one Saturday evening over Cox Bay in Tofino, so I wanted to share it, and made it the new header for my blog, replacing the Bryce Canyon photo I’ve used for the past couple years.

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Even a novice blogger needs to understand how people use search engines to find the content they are looking for. You want to help people find your posts. This practice is known as search-engine optimization, abbreviated SEO.

I am not expert enough in SEO to cover the matter in depth (for more on the topic, I recommend Danny Sullivan‘s excellent Search Engine Land blog). I will cover some basics for a workshop today for the music staff of the CBC. When you are working on a blog post, consider these factors to help people find your post:

  • Relevance
  • Headline
  • Keywords
  • Google trends
  • Links
  • Photo captions
  • Metadata (more…)

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Update: I’m going to be doing this workshop a third time today (Dec. 2) for CBCnews.ca. I’ve added some new examples (EPPY winners and finalists) and some other links.

We will be using many of my tips and examples for digital storytelling (I will be updating them soon).

In a morning workshop, teams of participants will analyze the tools and techniques used in some of these digital stories:

Here are my slides for the workshop:

The workshop includes a storyboarding exercise, something like Knight Digital Media Center describes.

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I’ll be leading a daylong workshop today for the CBC music staff on writing for the Web. Some topics we’ll cover:

Here are my slides for the workshop:

We’ll start with this song that brings music and journalism together:

I used the Detroit Free Press’ outstanding Respect package as an illustration of pulling multiple digital storytelling techniques together.

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Reporters and editors everywhere battle and complain over length of stories. Even online, where newspaper space or tight broadcast schedules aren’t an issue, you need to write tightly to hold the reader’s attention and keep the story moving. You need to hone your ability to organize information and write tight stories that make every word count.

Plan to write tight

Coordinate with your editor. Discuss story ideas in some detail with your editor before you start gathering information. Make sure you agree on the probable scope of the story. This can save time wasted gathering information you don’t need. As you are gathering information and writing the story, you will need at some point to agree on a probable length if you are writing for print. If you delay this discussion too long, you may waste more time and effort and invite more frustration.

Consider the reader. A failing of some long stories is that they are written for sources, rather than for readers. Consider why you are including information in a story. To impress sources with your knowledge? To keep a source happy? Or to inform the reader? A tougher challenge is to decide whether you are writing for the reader with strong interest in the issue or for the reader with average interest. For most stories, you should write primarily for the average reader who would read the story. (more…)

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If you’re starting a blog, keep these eight points in mind:

  1. Understand your community. No blog appeals to everyone. Identify the community for your blog and keep those people in mind when you gather content and develop new posts. (I deliberately used the word community rather than audience because the best blogs invite participation, rather than just reading and watching.)
  2. Think in terms of blog posts, not other types of writing. A news story or a newspaper column could be a blog post, but you don’t need to be limited by such formats. A blog post can be (and often should be) short. An interesting link that you wanted to share can be a blog post. Anything that might interest your community is a potential blog post. (more…)

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I will be leading a webinar on using Twitter for research for Newspapers Canada.

The tips I will present in the workshop are covered in my earlier blog posts, Updated and expanded Twitter tips for journalists and Advanced Twitter techniques for journalists. Here are my slides for the workshop:


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