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Archive for December, 2013

Sergei Yakupov, CEO and founder of the Russian web magazine MediaMedia, asked me 10 questions for his 10 FAQts feature.

You can see the exchange in Russian at the link above, but the Google translation isn’t perfect. So I’ll post his English questions and my responses here.

1. How did you start your career in media? What was the initial point?

I was a newspaper carrier in the 1960s for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. But my first job as a journalist was as a sports writer for the Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1971, when I was in high school. I covered sports at small high schools in that rural area, and I immediately loved reporting, writing and interacting with the community.

2. If not in journalism, i would be in… (more…)

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WordPress just informed me that I published my 1,000th post on this blog today.

Some quick and mostly self-indulgent observations/summaries from the first thousand:

  • Twitter is my most-used category on the blog (no surprise), with more than 100 posts, 28 of them in my #twutorial series. I’ve done nearly 100 on ethics.
  • My most-viewed post is one that gets great search traffic but almost no engagement, The 5 W’s (and How) are even more important to business than journalism. It ranks high in Google searches for the 5 W’s and has more than 24,000 views, but I think that’s an oddity.
  • My most-viewed post that I think people actually read is about ideas for new revenue streams for newspapers. It has more than 15,000 views. My only other post with more than 10,000 views is on how a Digital First journalist works.
  • After changing the name frequently in my first couple years. This blog was Puttin’ on the Gaz (when I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette), then Transforming the Gaz, then Pursuing the Complete Community Connection (after a blog post that for a couple years was my most-read). I changed it to The Buttry Diary when TBD launched. Even though TBD is long since dead, I think I’ll stick with it. I changed names too frequently.
  • I’ve used a few different headers, but I think I’ll stick with the one designed for me last year by Tim Tamimi.
  • I’m not blogging as often (or getting as much traffic) as I did last year. I topped 25,000 views in five different months last year, twice topping 30,000. I’ve only topped 25K once this year and twice I dropped under 20K. I attribute my less-frequent blogging to my work load and to better fitness. I usually do my blogging in the morning. I have been taking morning walks most of this year (cold weather has slowed that lately), and that has cut into my blogging productivity.

Other blogs

I have no idea where I hit the 1,000 milestone in total blogging. I’ve had several blogs and contributed guest posts to several other blogs.

I started the Training Tracks blog in 2004 for the No Train, No Gain website and later continued it at the American Press Institute. Also at API, I had blogs called Leadership Tips and Writing Tips (blog versions of email newsletters where I aggregated links on those topics, sprinkling in some of my own links and tips). None of those blogs are still available online, except for the Training Tracks posts I’ve republished here (I should have saved the other archives).

I also have three other current blogs:

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Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002.  (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

Parween Arghandaywal pronounces words during English class at the University of Nebraska Omaha for visiting Afghan teachers in 2002. (Omaha World-Herald Photo by Bill Batson, used by permission)

This continues my series on updated lessons from old stories.

One of the most profound privileges of my career was to spend most of five weeks in late 2002 with 13 Afghan women teachers.

After 9/11, much of my reporting at the Omaha World-Herald focused on the work of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha. It was the nation’s only academic center studying Afghanistan, so we suddenly found ourselves with some of the nation’s and the world’s leading experts on the distant country that suddenly mattered more to America than any other.

I proposed several times that my editors send me to Afghanistan to cover various UNO projects abroad in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That would have been expensive and it would have been difficult, but we absolutely should have done it. My editors’ failure/refusal to make that happen remains one of the deepest disappointments of my career. I connected by satellite phone and email with UNO officials when they were in Afghanistan on projects we should have been covering. I used similar means to reach Afghan officials, U.S. officials and leaders of other aid organizations in Afghanistan who were working with UNO. I did my best but it was all second-hand reporting, grossly inadequate.

My best shot at first-hand reporting came when UNO won a State Department grant to bring 13 Afghan women teachers to Nebraska for five weeks to teach them American culture and educational techniques. After years of Taliban bans on schooling for girls, these committed and courageous teachers were back on the job and UNO was going to help them be better teachers and teach their colleagues back home to be better teachers.

Finally, I would get to witness UNO working directly with Afghans. I sought and was granted full access to the visit, invited to virtually embed myself at times in the Afghan teaching project almost as if I were covering a U.S. combat unit over in Afghanistan. I traveled with them around the Midwest. I visited in the homes of host families where they lived. I followed them to classes in UNO and around Omaha schools.

Seldom have I been as touched and moved by the people I covered as I was by these Afghan women. Their courage, joy, perseverance and optimism amazed me day after day after day. I could see that these women had been changing the lives of Afghan girls and women for years (before and after the Taliban, Afghan schools were segregated by gender, so the women taught only girls and other women) and would do so again. (more…)

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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

A common challenge for new editors is leading staff members who are older and more experienced than you. Sometimes a lot older.

Digital First CEO John Paton has said we’re going to “put the digital people in charge.” Digital people aren’t always young and print people aren’t always old, but sometimes that means an editor will be leading people as old as his or her parents. Or older.

And that’s not strictly a phenomenon of digital journalism. I was 24 when I became an assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register, supervising veterans such as Nick Lamberto and Otto Knauth, both of whom were older than my parents. The young editor getting a leadership opportunity has always been tested and evaluated by veteran journalists.

The best ways for a young leader to earn respect from older journalists are to show respect and to do good work. But these specific tips can also help:

Make learning two-way. Your digital skills are an important part of why you are getting your leadership opportunity. You need to teach and coach colleagues in their use of digital tools and techniques. But recognize that you have much to learn from them. When their work impresses you, ask questions about what they did and how. This helps you in two ways: You show respect to them at the same time that you learn from them and become a better journalist. (more…)

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I used to start workshops by telling reporters the most important thing they could get from an interview was the “Walmart sack.” I carried a blue plastic Walmart sack loaded with my workshop handouts and dropped the sack with a thump onto a table, hoping to intrigue the reporters and grab their attention.

Finding a character’s Walmart sack should be the point of an interview, I said. You needed to learn what the character’s Walmart sack was and you needed to get the character to entrust the sack to you.

The Walmart sack was a metaphor in my workshops, but it was a real sack when I interviewed Vanessa Forsberg in 1995. I had a riveting, powerful interview with Vanessa, but the Walmart sack held papers that could tell part of her story even better than she could. (more…)

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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

One of an editor’s most important jobs is developing other leaders in your newsroom. A top editor should:

Understand your staff’s aspirations. Except at the largest newsrooms, an editor should take the time to learn what everyone on your staff wants from their careers. Not everyone wants to be an editor, but if someone wants to be an editor (and shows potential), you should know that and watch for opportunities to develop and show their leadership skills. On a bigger staff, you should know the aspirations of your mid-level editors, and perhaps a few other stars, and expect the mid-level managers to know the aspirations of their staffs. You can’t always control whether you hang onto your best people, but your odds are better if you know what they want from their careers and are helping them pursue those goals.

Provide opportunities. Weekend or holiday editing slots or late-night and early-morning shifts give some budding staff members their shots at running the show (as I did on Sundays as a young assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register). Give some authority (and some clear guidance) to potential leaders and see how they perform in these positions.

Know when to let others lead. Some big news stories require all hands on deck and require leadership from the top. But sometimes a top leader can show leadership by stepping back and letting the budding leaders lead. You put people in key leadership positions to do a particular job. Remember to let them do that job.

I remember hearing Libby Averyt, then the editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, describe her staff’s coverage of the big national story that broke in their back yard when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting buddy in the face by accident. That broke on a weekend and Libby checked in by phone but resisted the urge to bigfoot the weekend editor by rushing in to run the show. If someone’s not getting the job done, you can often direct from home. Or you might need to come in if someone’s in over his head (then follow up with some coaching). (more…)

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Martin Reynolds (in the doorway) shows off the News MoJo to Northern California Digital First colleagues.

Martin Reynolds (in the doorway) shows off the News MoJo to Northern California Digital First colleagues.

This week I led engagement workshops at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., and at the Santa Cruz Sentinel for Digital First Media newsrooms in Northern California.

I’m posting the links and slides here for the benefit of people attending the workshops.

Martin Reynolds led sessions on Oakland Voices (particularly discussing a post by Adimu Madyun) and on the forums and workshops he leads for the Bay Area News Group, including forums on asthma, Trayvon Martin and diversity in San Mateo and a workshop on public records. Martin also showed the News MoJo van and discussed how it can help in community engagement and news coverage.

Lanz Christian Bañes led a session on photo engagement (assisted by Chris Riley in the Vacaville workshop), discussing their Our Town and Generation Snaps projects. (Watch for more on those projects soon on the Inside Thunderdome blog.)

Here are Lanz’s slides: (more…)

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