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Archive for May, 2014

Margaret Sullivan, photo linked from Twitter avatar

The mass killings in California last week underscore a point I made in 2012: News media should reconsider giving mass murderers the attention they clearly crave.

I didn’t blog about this immediately after the May 23 killings because I was focused on other matters and I haven’t repeated this point every time a murderer goes on a rampage. But I was immediately struck with how clearly this case was a successful attempt by the killer to go out in a blaze of infamy. His hateful videos and his 141-page diatribe (I think calling it a “manifesto” perhaps overdignifies it) make it clear that attention was as much a motive of this hate crime as was misogyny.

I’m discussing this case a week late because Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addressed the issue of whether the Times should have published the diatribe and video.

Sullivan’s a friend and the best public editor the Times has had. I’m glad she raised the issue of whether the Times should have published these items and the name of the killer. But I disagree with her conclusion that the Times’ decisions were the right ones.

“In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public,” she wrote. (more…)

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When traumatic stuff happens in a community, journalists are some of the first on the scene, along with the cops, fire fighters, paramedics and other emergency workers.

These tragic events that end and disrupt lives can propel a journalism career forward. The phrase “great story” invariably slips from some journalist’s lips (usually out of earshot of those for whom the trauma is evident). We often cover these stories, though, without a full understanding of what trauma is, how it works and its impact on those who experience trauma, including the journalists who cover it.

At a workshop for Digital First journalists this month in West Chester, Pa., Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, led an exploration of the uncomfortable issues of how we get great stories from tragic events and how we process the trauma that we experience.

Scott Blanchard and Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record journalists, organized the workshop and helped Shapiro lead it. They proposed this training to me after attending a Dart program as winners of honorable mention for a Dart Award for their coverage of the lasting impact of a violent, traumatic event. I supported their suggestion and Claire Gaval, Digital First Media’s Vice President of Learning and Organization Development, helped make it happen.

Scott blogged about the workshop yesterday. I was able to attend only the first of two days of training, and Bruce told participants the workshop would be off the record, to encourage people to talk freely. So I won’t blog much about the workshop itself (though I encourage others to consider holding similar workshops).

What I will do here is share some of my advice from years of reporting and editing on stories about disasters, murders, sexual and domestic abuse and other traumatic situations.

Some of these are tips or anecdotes I shared during the workshop. Others I thought of during the discussions but kept to myself because I thought it was more important for others to talk. I’m not on the front lines of our coverage of traumatic news, and the point of the workshop was to get those on the front lines talking, so they could learn from each other about covering these difficult events and about dealing with the personal impact of that coverage. (more…)

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This is a guest post from Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News (speaking in my crooked Twitter photo above). I’ll post more about the training tomorrow.

In December 2012, dozens of journalists from Digital First Media newsrooms came together in Newtown, Conn. to cover the mass shooting there for news organizations across the country.

Many returned deeply affected by what they had seen, heard, written and photographed.

The following spring, photojournalist Jason Plotkin and Sunday editor Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News — which had sent seven staffers to Newtown* — asked Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma executive director Bruce Shapiro if Dart could work with DFM to create something that would be a first for a U.S.-based news organization: A company-wide peer-support program for journalists who cover conflict and violence in their communities. (more…)

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Belated thoughts on the big developments at the New York Times recently:

I have started twice in the past week to blog about developments at the New York Times. First, I was going to blog about the initial report of the Times Innovation Team, which raised lots of issues for all newsrooms trying to transform digitally. Digital transformation has been the focus of my work at Digital First Media, and I was going to draw some lessons from the Times recommendations for Project Unbolt.

Then I was going to blog about the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times. I will post some observations about Abramson later in this piece, but I doubt I can add much insight beyond what’s already been written.

Mostly, I want to call my DFM colleagues’ attention (and the attention of everyone trying to change the culture of entrenched print newsrooms) to the full report of the innovation team (leaked to Buzzfeed and both more blunt and more detailed than the summary report). You should read the full report (you can ignore the sanitized version). Then you should read Josh Benton’s piece on Nieman Lab. (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the last in a series of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to unbolt the newsroom from the processes and workflow of print. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics. 

What are workflow and processes?

Currently our workflow happens in a variety of ways:

  1. Digital journalists file stories. Filed copy is read and edited and sent to the web. Stories are then put in system for print.
  2. Digital journalists (early and late shifts) write breaking stories that are sent to the web. Stories are then put in system for print.
  3. In the sports department, the workflow process has been reprioritized to so that all stories have hit the web before the last page has been sent. Priority is given to game stories, which hit the website first, followed by daily roundups (as scores are called in later).

(more…)

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the sixth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to for engagement. Community Engagement Editor Jenn Smith, chair of the engagement committee, rewrote part of the plan in response to my suggestions. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s revised plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics.

What is engagement?

Engagement must exist on two parallel levels in The Berkshire Eagle newsroom. 

As a productive news outlet and agency of community engagement, we must adopt and exercise proven ways of gathering, communicating and sharing content and also strive to innovate new best practices within our industry. We will be advocates for our journalistic standards, practices and products by initiating two-way communication with our audience to generate ideas and feedback and to promote reader contributions as well. Where communications may struggle, we will work to meet our audience members at their level and help them to access the various tools and products we use to share news.

As a newsroom, it must become our practice, our habit, our instinct to constantly and consistently inform and share our work, ideas and give feedback on the content with produce. We shall focus on methods of collaboration versus insular or rogue pursuits, and provide quality technology and ongoing training to help improve these news practices. While we may have designated newsroom leaders, we also respect and encourage individuals and groups of staff members to express and share their specific skills sets, expertise and experiences.

How do we apply Unbolted engagement?

In the context of the newsroom, it’s the state of a news staff being geared up and ready for action — to tackle what the day and night bring, to communicate among themselves and with people in the community, and to share what we learn 24/7 in the most well-informed, efficient and meaningful ways possible. We want to add value to people’s lives by being their go-to source for information that is accurate, timely, helpful, depthful, relevant and presented in a well-rounded objective manner.

We also must actively reach out to the community to show that we’re ready to not only listen to their feedback, questions and ideas, but to respond. To do this successfully, we must remain alert and flexible. If someone cannot navigate our digital content, we must show them how by providing a personal response to their email or creating and sharing a tutorial. If we’re providing a liveblog, we must proactively promote the link to our readers and provide a place where people can easily recognize and access the link. If we’re excited about a contest we’re hosting, we need to share our enthusiasm through ongoing tweets and social media posts.

We need to continuously keep in contact with community entities — from animal shelters to youth centers, public health initiatives to human rights organizations — about how they’re addressing issues in the community and discuss with them how we might best keep people in touch with events, forums, initiatives, etc. Just as we encourage people to be active and informed citizens, we too must practice and maintain a leading role as a civically engaged community member.

Action plan for staff and community engagement

Goal: To develop and revise our practices based on six tenets: Transparency, conversation/social media, curation, interpersonal connections, networking and proactive outreach. 

The following represents recommendations of initial priorities for Project Unbolt in The Berkshire Eagle newsroom:

Transparency

For newsroom:

  • Identify and articulate shared goals in how to improve communications amongst ourselves, particularly among reporters and editors. By doing so, we can better address issues such as story duplication and over-scheduling; planning coverage when reporters and editors are absent or on vacation; planning multimedia packages, informing op-ed pieces, etc.

Time frame: Have meeting or send out survey in next two weeks.

I asked Jenn for an update: 

We have not done a formal survey. At 10:15, Monday through Friday, we have what we call “morning meeting.” Prior to each meeting, I also send out a weekday email to connect with people, share some kudos, discuss issues and give friendly reminders about deadlines or style changes/issues. This, along with our new Training Tuesdays initiative have become venues to address these issues.

For example, several reporters have done stories on Obamacare and Massachusetts Health Connector issues. When someone files a budget line via email or shares their story idea in person during our meeting, we tend to talk it out on the spot or come up with a communication plan. Someone might say, “That’s a great story idea, you should talk to…” or “Hey, I think Jim might be working on that. You should check in with him.”

By attending each meeting, managing editor Tom Tripicco or VP Kevin Moran will also chime in with their insight, since they have a bigger picture view of what everyone’s working on.

By being around to hear story budget lines, photo editor Ben Garver can then prioritize what to shoot and what multimedia packages to make.

Jen Huberdeau also tends to chime in about how people might be responding to a news story on Facebook, which guides us on how to address ongoing coverage of an issue. We also communicate a great deal through email, our internal chat system, phone calls and text messages about things like reporter absences, if someone has to run out or has a questions about story coverage, etc.

We include our Northern Berkshire bureau by having conference calls and group emails. People have been pretty responsive and communicative using the above methods. 

  • Create and post in the newsroom, perhaps on the bulletin board, a definitive work flow schedule and daily deadlines, staff roles and responsibilities. Also determine daily checklist priorities. Buttry question: Is the bulletin board actually used? Should this be shared digitally either in addition to or instead of posting there?

Jenn’s answer: 

Kevin Moran shares our weekly schedules through Google Docs, and also on a physical bulletin board. Any daily deadline changes are communicated through a news staff email, usually in the morning one I send out, or through something Tom or Kevin sends. Kevin is also composing and distributing and meeting with individuals or small groups about roles and responsibilities. Generally, everyone tries to file budget lines by 11 a.m. We also now talk about best practices and responsibilities during Training Tuesdays.

  • Establish and encourage an internal culture of sharing each other’s work, promoting content like “Behind the Beat” blogs, and helping each other find ways to get involved in community activities in the context of sharing their work (i.e.- community panels and forums, radio shows, volunteering, etc.), respectful to the level of agreement, comfort and interest of the staff member.

Time frame: Effective immediately.

Update from Jenn:

Yes, this is happening. News staffers tend to tweet and RT blog links, and we share them on our Facebook page. Sports staff Howard Herman and Matthew Sprague and I regularly participate in local radio shows. As community engagement editor, I attend a lot of community panels, presentations and lead newsroom tours. Jen H. recently served as a panelist on a school public speaking contest and participated in a community reading day event. I’m hoping to continue to network and get more staff involved in things like this.

  • Develop and implement an internal system where people can solicit feedback, share concerns about conflicts of interest in coverage, and where people can stay informed of Eagle, NENI and DFM developments, from Unbolt rollout to technology and software updates like the laptop and Saxotech rollouts.

For our community

  • Promote and share “Behind the Beat” and “Unbolt” blogs. Advertising side can also help do this. Create tandem Facebook pages for the “Behind the Beat” blogs for North County, Central County and South County to foster more reader interaction.

Time frame: Currently practicing.

Time frame: TBD.

Conversation

  • Practice more crowdsourcing for public opinion for stories, i.e.- medical marijuana issue, hotel wars, upcoming elections and politics, school budgeting issues, etc. Facebook seems to be the leading place to do this.

Time frame: Effective immediately. Work with Jen H. to establish how staff members can create crowdsourcing posts on Eagle Facebook and Twitter accounts as needed.

  • Take inventory of social media sites currently used by individual news staff members. Ensure everyone is as least on Twitter and Tout.

Time frame: Effective immediately.

  • Ask each staff member to become an expert/regular user of at least one additional digital social medium, i.e.- blog, Pinterest, Storify, Facebook, Google+, Instagram… Any stars? Any less prominent social media represented: Quora? LinkedIn?

Time frame: Get individuals to identify and articulate commitment on at least one platform by end of week of March 9. Jenn Smith works with Jen H. and Kevin to create a quick sheet of options and descriptions of potential platforms.

  • Update berkshireeagleblogs.com listing. Make sure staff bios on berkshireeagle.com include photos and social media account info.

Time frame: Ongoing

Curation

  • Make and internally publish checklist of area websites, blogs, social media sites and other places that The Eagle can curate content from, including sister and competitor sites; local schools, businesses, law enforcement, etc.

Time frame: Start Google doc week of March 9, which staff can edit and contribute to.

Update from Jenn:

Still working on the doc but I’ve been communicating with Tom, Kevin and Jen H. about new news sites, content, etc. We have a few staff members who do this too. A couple of local radio stations credit The Eagle when they read the news. We do the same when we curate content from other reporting sources.

Interpersonal connections (aka Hangout)

  • Staff training on Google Hangouts and YouTube livecasting.

Time frame: March and April. Training includes setting up accounts.

  • Though The Eagle is a Digital First newsroom, its staff also recognizes that many audience members also prefer, and that there’s no replacement for face-to-face and one-on-one conversations and personal interactions. Brainstorm ways that each individual staff member can have regular connections with their primary audiences (take cues from politicians who do this and, as a result, become embedded in a community). Hypothetical examples: Regular South County coffee shop hours for John Sakata; a weekly Tout from Jeffrey Borak on upcoming theater performances; a monthly blog of editing and grammar tips from the Style Cop; a regular golf weather/course conditions commentary from Richard Lord.

Time frame: Spring 2014

Update from Jenn:

We’ll be doing more interactive things as the Berkshire tourism season kicks in. We also do community engagement through community generated photo galleries and have had some minimal success with contests.

Networking and proactive outreach

Time frame: Spring 2014, planning only.  

  • Identify current media and community partners. Create a list of potential media and community partners and brief descriptions on how we might sustainably cross-promote each other.

Time frame: Spring 2014, planning and strengthening existing networks.

  • Create and develop a protocol and procedures with local schools and emergency responders on who to contact at The Eagle to post emergency notices, from snow days to pipe bursts, violence or natural disasters.

Update from Jenn: 

We don’t have anything in formal writing/handbook form, but we do have an ongoing morning protocol of communication via email about breaking news, and are working on a weekend structure. Jen H. and I work on things like closings and emergency notices. Clarence Fanto also does a great job contributing to this in terms of weather.

Jenn was joined on the committee by reporters Richard Lindsay, Philip Demers and John Sakata and visual journalist Gillian Jones.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

Berkshire Eagle’s plan to unbolt coverage and storytelling

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

How the Berkshire Eagle plans to update and uphold standards

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

 

 

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the fifth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to update and uphold the Eagle’s standards. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics. 

What are “standards”?

Standards establish the baseline of our credibility at The Eagle. Standards are our accuracy, ethics and integrity that build our brand as The Eagle and entrust us as the No. 1 news source with our readers. Our high standards differentiate The Eagle from the competition.

How do we apply Unbolted standards?

We adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. We aim to avoid errors, and we correct errors as soon as we learn they have been committed and after verifying the accuracy. We may offer explanations as to how the errors were made and how the correct information now affects the context of a news story.

Buttry comment: I’ve blogged about how the SPJ Code of Ethics needs updating and how the first draft of an update is disappointing. I recommend one of two approaches: adhering to Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist, which have been updated, or developing a few Berkshire Eagle additions or amendments to the SPJ Code.

The notebook

  • Create one binder/notebook for all staff members that will include materials discussed in this committee and the other Unbolt committees. Also, we need to create a “digital” notebook as well. An internal WordPress blog? Buttry: I like the idea of a blog on ethics. You need to handle it carefully, discussing issues without embarrassing staff members who have made mistakes (unless they are egregious offenses such as plagiarism or fabrication). While I see the value of an internal blog, where you might be able to be more candid, without causing embarrassment, I also encourage occasional public posts about ethical matters. I think we build credibility by telling the public about our ethical decisions and standards and our commitment to ethics.

Digital consistency

  • Put a person in charge of coming up with web uploading standards and making sure they are communicated to all staff. Create a web upload checklist (put in notebook)
  • Let’s write these down, be specific, give examples of the proper way to slug, SEO headlines (put in notebook) and make sure ALL STAFF are trained.
  • Feedback when doing web uploading wrong. Have a weekly “state of the web” email sent out to let people know when updates to protocol have been made.

Eagle style

  • Someone needs to be in charge of updating our Eagle stylebook. This person needs to be given time to do this.
  • Updated style guide put into notebook and also online where staff can access it (blog, webpage?).

Corrections policy

  • Who does the reader contact with a correction? (Make sure that person’s contact info is easy to find on the web and in print) Suggestions for policy:

o   All corrections from every department should run in the same spot in the paper.

o   All corrections should be slugged the same. Example: (Section)CORRECTION(date) and filed into B2/B3, along with an email sent to Tom and the night desk editors that a correction has been filed.

  • Online corrections: Ask online editor Jen Huberdeau to correct the error online ASAP and include an editor’s note in italics at the top of the story explaining the correction and date and time the correction was made. The editor’s note should be included online only when the correction is a factual error (i.e. spelling of name, incorrect information, wrong date, place, time) not for punctuation errors. Those should just be fixed.
  • All online corrections should also go in one place online. One suggestion is a live blog of editor’s notes (similar to what AP Breaking news does) that Jen would update after the correction is made in the story. Buttry: The New Haven Register, another of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, has a corrections blog.

Accuracy checklist

Goal: Create one to print out and put in notebooks

  • Remember: Who, what, when and where
  • Spell names correctly; check with that person in person and verify place names. Do a quick Google search on the name, or even check Facebook, especially when the name is a questionable spelling.) Before hitting send, check the names one more time!
  • Check phone numbers (Google search)
  • Check web addresses
  • Double check locations (Everyone should have a map of their coverage area. Also, someone with local knowledge should put together a “common mistakes” list when it comes to local streets/places to help new reporters.) Is your sense of direction correct?
  • When writing about an event: Time, date, place
  • Any red flags? Don’t just take the police report/coach’s word for absolute, final truth. Does something seem fishy? Ask. Does a name or city street name look different? Ask.
  • Get another read before sending to the web, or putting it on the page. No editors around? Ask a fellow reporter.
  • Know your own weaknesses. Do you have trouble with numbers? Triple check your work. Are you terrible with commas? Ask an editor or reporter to double check your punctuation.
  • SPELL CHECK!

Buttry: I’m an advocate of accuracy checklists. As Craig Silverman notes, they have proven to prevent errors by other professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, and journalists should use checklists, too. Craig and I have developed checklists, but I encourage newsrooms or journalists to develop their own checklists, improving on ours.

Social media/blog standards

  • Live by the rule: “The standard is the standard.”
  • Before posting on Twitter, Facebook, blogs run through the accuracy list above.
  • Appoint a point person to do a nightly check of what our reporters/editors are tweeting/posting. Is it meeting our standards? Is someone doing a great job — and have they been told that lately?

Buttry: I pumped my fist at the suggestion of telling people that they’re doing a great job (if they are). I have noted before that praise is one of the most important and effective management tools.

Code of Ethics

  • Make sure everyone has a copy and at least one is posted in the newsroom and posted online — our readers should know the code of ethics we follow.
  • Possible additions: A reminder that these ethics apply to all platforms of journalism: Print, web, mobile, tablets and social media.
  • Respect for others in the newsroom/your co-workers. Is your space clean? Avoid using language that offends others trying to work. Buttry: These are good points, but I don’t see cleanliness or foul language as matters of ethics. Might want to change the heading or give that point its own heading.

Communication

  • Email should be a back up. Phone or face-to-face is best. Buttry: Excellent point for most important communication. Email is valuable, though, for repeating or reminding of the points made face to face, and can be efficient if people are working different hours or someone is in the field.
  • Similar to the meeting we had to roll out Unbolt, let’s have a quarterly meeting to go over large initiatives.
  • Departments should have a “huddle” once a week to go over changes, check in to see how everyone is doing, discussions about what worked and what didn’t. The “huddle”  should be quick, efficient.
  • Editors should come up with a way to encourage staff who have gone above and beyond. Maybe a monthly wrap-up of what went well? (Similar to the “Strokes and Pokes” newsletter Charles used to create.)
  • Praise goes both ways and across departments!

Buttry: I’ll repeat my praise for including praise here.

Features Editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh led the standards committee, assisted by Entertainment Editor Jeff Borak, sports writer and columnist Howard Herman, Sports Editor Richard Lord, Berkshires Week Associate Editor Maggie Button, community news coordinator Jeannie Maschino and editor and paginator David LeClair.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

Berkshire Eagle’s plan to unbolt coverage and storytelling

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

The Berkshire Eagle’s plan for stronger engagement

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

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