Archive for June, 2012

I was surprised to see this week that the Des Moines Register building, my workplace for nearly a decade, may soon be demolished.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. As I’ve noted before, nearly every organization I’ve worked for has been sold or closed or both. Two of my former workplaces have already been leveled.

I spent more than a decade (in two hitches) at the Omaha World-Herald and a year or so after I left, they moved across the street and demolished the building where I worked. The photo below is me sitting in the park that now occupies my former workplace.

While I have many fond memories of working at the World-Herald, they center more on the people than the building. A couple memories of the place: (more…)


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I guess I should admit that I occasionally recycle points and lines in my blog and in speeches and workshops. I don’t think I do this in the way that Jonah Lehrer did in his New Yorker blog. I think Lehrer crossed a noteworthy line and I don’t think I have. But I do recycle.

I’ll discuss all that shortly, but here are some points I believe I have repeated in some fashion (and I’m pretty sure this list is incomplete):

  • Don’t turn obstacles into excuses; make them the war stories of your innovation success.
  • Newspapers are experiencing a time similar to the pre-Gutenberg monks who handmade artistically inscribed Bibles.
  • Several points about why paywalls on newspaper websites are a bad idea.
  • Tips on using Twitter.
  • Criticism of newsrooms with restrictive, fear-based social media policies.
  • Tips on maintaining your digital profile and finding jobs in digital journalism.
  • Blogging tips.
  • Never say no for someone else.
  • Newspapers need to develop more diverse digital revenue streams. (OK, I’m going to stop coming back here and adding bullets; I think you get the point and I already said this list was incomplete.)

Some people have used the term “self-plagiarize” to describe what Lehrer did. I don’t consider that phrase accurate. Plagiarism is theft of words and you can’t steal from yourself. Recycling, remixing or repurposing seem to better describe what he did (I just changed that sentence to take out the word “offense” because I don’t think recycling, remixing and repurposing are offenses in themselves. They are honorable and common writing practices). (more…)

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Thanks to Tim McGuire for his recent “This I believe” blog post, spelling out his core values and views about journalism, newspapers and the future of media. I think it’s helpful, especially in turbulent times, for journalists (or people in any field) to reflect occasionally on what we believe — core values as well as our beliefs about where our profession and our industry are going. I promised earlier this month to blog a response.

This I believe about journalism and the future of media:

I believe journalism plays an essential role in our democracy.

I believe journalism plays an essential role in community life. (more…)

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Editors in Michigan face an interesting community engagement challenge and opportunity: How do you curate and join the community discussion when it centers around the word “vagina” and its synonyms?

When a big local story becomes a big national story, with equal measures of humor and outrage, that’s a huge engagement opportunity. But when it involves a word that newspaper editors tend to use with care, if at all, you engage (see, even that word can be read wrong in this context) carefully.

If you missed the background, Michigan Rep. Lisa Brown, a Democrat, used the V-word (no, I’m not going there; she said “vagina”) Wednesday on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, in a debate on a bill to restrict access to abortions. Her statement (which you can hear in context in the video below):

Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’

Brown was rebuked by House Republicans and was not allowed to speak in a Thursday debate on an unrelated issue. Charlie Crumm of the Oakland Press reports that Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, said Brown’s remark had “crossed the line.” (more…)

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The Gazette’s double-truck front page from June 13, 2008

Wow, I didn’t think this date would sneak past me, but it did. Not until Chuck Offenburger tweeted did I realize that this was the fourth anniversary of the Cedar Rapids flood:

I’m not sure whether I’m amazed that it’s already been four years or that it’s only been four years. But it doesn’t seem like four years ago.

Maybe next year I’ll anticipate the anniversary and write something more thoughtful. But here are some quick reflections: (more…)

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Mandy Jenkins and I are making plans to hire and launch a curation team for Digital First Media.

If you wonder what a curation team is, don’t bother to apply. If you wonder what a curation team could be, and have some ideas, we want to hear from you.

Mandy, who will supervise the curation team, has a draft of a job description that will be included with the official job postings for a curation team leader and two curation editors. But we want people in these positions who will be finding the right directions for their jobs, not following our direction.

So here’s an invitation to journalists interested in curating for Digital First (or those interested in contributing to a broader conversation about curation): Tell us how you think a national journalism curation team should work: (more…)

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With all the upheaval going on in the newspaper business, the sale of Freedom Communications piece by piece is getting relatively little notice. Warren Buffett wasn’t the buyer and staff cuts were not as dramatic as those going on at Advance Communications.

But I noticed.

In my three years at the American Press Institute, Freedom was by far my leading client. I led regional seminars for newsroom staff members in Destin, Fla.; McAllen, Texas, and New Bern, N.C. I spoke at editors’ conferences in Dallas, Tempe, Ariz., (publishers joined that conference) and San Antonio. I spoke at a National Writers’ Workshop in Fullerton, Calif., hosted by the Orange County Register. (more…)

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My family’s connection to and interest in ABC’s Robin Roberts continues and deepens.

Robin Roberts

When my niece, Mandy Poulter, and her husband, Matt, were wondering about the safety of their adopted daughter, Maya, at a Haitian orphanage following the 2010 earthquake, Roberts found Maya alive and safe and relayed the news to Mandy through Skype. A few days later, with some assistance from Roberts’ ABC colleagues, Mandy and Matt brought Maya home. (She’s doing great now, and Roberts has done some follow-up coverage.)

And any cancer survivor feels a connection of sorts to the people you meet or people in the public eye who battle cancer. I had surgery for colon cancer in 1999 and for basal cell skin cancer in 2005, so I was pulling for Roberts to beat breast cancer when she was diagnosed and treated in 2007 for breast cancer. But that’s a connection we share with some 12 million people.

Our latest connection is a much rarer health challenge. Roberts announced yesterday that she has Myelodysplastic Syndrome, diagnosed in 18,000 Americans a year. MDS is a group of blood disorders, so I don’t know that her disease is identical to the MDS my niece, Kat Devlin, was treated for last year, but in both cases, it was described as a possible precursor to leukemia. Beyond their age difference, Roberts’ MDS appears to have been caused by her cancer treatment. Doctors were studying a possible genetic tie in Kat’s case (her only sibling, Patrick, died of leukemia in 2009).

The treatment is similar. Roberts will receive a bone marrow transplant from her sister. Doctors could not find a suitable bone marrow donor for Kat, so she underwent a stem-cell transplant. Roberts’ treatment is not described to be as extreme and grueling as Kat’s or Patrick’s. They both spent months in hospitals, then months quarantined at home.

Kat is doing great now. She’s just finished her first year of high school, including track and field competition. I look forward to updates about Roberts’ successful recovery. We want her story to turn out as happily as Maya’s and Kat’s have.

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Update: Bill Keller has responded. Please read his response at the end of this post.

I don’t care that Bill Keller hates doesn’t like social media. What annoys me is that his lazy reporting is making him a bad example of old-school journalism.

I am of Keller’s generation, less than six years his junior. I understand about shoe-leather reporting. Like him, I’ve been doing it for decades. You do a lot of phone interviews, sure, but you also get off your ass and see things firsthand, so you can write with authority.

When I covered agriculture for the Kansas City Star, I walked wheat fields with Kansas farmers, trying to learn their business so I could report it accurately. When I covered religion for the Des Moines Register, I accompanied missionaries to Venezuela so I could understand firsthand their mission work, their Pentecostal fervor and the disaster for which they offered relief. As a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, when I told the story of twin girls being rescued from near-death, I walked the alley where they were found nearly frozen and I asked medical workers to re-create the scene in the emergency room, so I could tell the story accurately. I’ve gone to prisons, Indian reservations and devastated communities because it was important to understand the topics I covered.

Keller knows, I am sure, that you need to get firsthand knowledge to report authoritatively. He could top my stories of firsthand reporting many times over. I don’t think he won his Pulitzer Prize for coverage of turmoil in the Soviet Union by sitting in the Moscow Bureau of the New York Times. Oddly, you don’t even have to get off your ass to gain some firsthand knowledge of Facebook. But for some reason Keller thinks it’s good journalism to write about Facebook without bothering to use it or learn its culture.

He wrote a column about Facebook Sunday, but the most recent entry on his Facebook page is from last Oct. 13, when he changed his job in his profile from Times editor to columnist. In eight months, he hasn’t posted a link or a photo or status update. His other October update generated 51 comments, none of them from Keller. If he’s not even joining the Facebook conversation, it’s clear his understanding of Facebook is based on reading and interviewing other critics, rather than firsthand experience and exploration. But you know what he did Sunday? He wrote about Facebook. (more…)

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The old career advice doesn’t always fit today. For most of my career, veterans would have counseled a young journalist to stick around a while, so your résumé showed some stability. You want to show some commitment, an ability to hold a job.

Daniel Victor

But the New York Times just hired my friend Daniel Victor to his fifth job in just a little over two years. I was one of those others who hired him (to his longest tenure of the past three jobs) and I enthusiastically recommended him to other employers.

Dan was a reporter for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., when 2010 started. I hired him to join TBD’s community engagement team. When TBD cut its staff, Dan moved to Philly.com to help build an online community. When Amanda Michel was looking for someone to help with social media at ProPublica, I recommended Dan and she hired him. Then she moved to the Guardian and Dan got her job leading ProPublica’s social media efforts. Now he’s moving to the New York Times.

News is a volatile industry right now with lots more journalists looking for work than finding jobs. A journalist who has been hired four times in 26 months is a journalist in high demand.

Since I know a little about Dan and his career moves, I thought I would (with his permission) share some career lessons from watching him, as I did after hiring Mandy Jenkins for the second time. The first four lessons are nothing new and their importance can’t be overstated: (more…)

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I won’t cross-promote every post at Mimi’s and my travel blog, 2 Roads Diverged. But I blog a lot here about Twitter, and Twitter plays a notable role in my latest post: Embracing (sort of) the legend of my travel jinx.

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Here are links and slides for some workshops I led Friday for the staff of Everyday Health:

My blogging tips:

Social media (mostly Twitter) resources for journalists

Twitter advanced search

Andy Carvin Storify of how he debunked the rumor that Israelis were supplying arms to Libyan rebels

How journalists and newsrooms can use Pinterest

Helpful links for learning and exploring Pinterest

Ivan Lajara’s blog post and Storify about making slideshows using Pinterest and Storify

Dan Victor’s advice on posting images, rather than links, to Facebook

Craig Silverman’s tips on verifying information from social media

Mandy Jenkins’ tips on verifying information from social media

My tips on liveblogging, curation, crowdsourcing and digital storytelling

(If you participated in the workshop and recall a different link I mentioned or showed, let me know and I’ll add it.)

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