Archive for May, 2015

American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. (more…)


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New York Times story on John Nash's deathI saw a bit of sexism on display by media and Twitter users in noting the deaths of John and Alicia Nash, the couple whose lives were portrayed in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.”

The Nashes died in an accident Saturday while riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Two people died in the crash. Admittedly, one of them was a Nobel Prize winner whose mind was immortalized by Hollywood as “beautiful.” But the other passenger killed in the crash, was also a powerful character in the same movie, her portrayal by Jennifer Connelly winning an Oscar. But Alicia got no mention in the headline, tweet or lead of the New York Times:

As you can see from the screenshot above, Alicia Nash was in the photo the Times used and did get a mention in the second paragraph.

Clearly John Nash was the more famous half of the couple. He did have the “Beautiful Mind,” and his death was absolutely noteworthy. But isn’t an elderly couple dying together newsworthy in itself? Don’t lots of couples hope they will die together, rather than leaving one to mourn the other? Her death is an important part of this story.

And, oh, by the way, she was an outstanding and memorable character, too, in that movie. Wouldn’t her death, if she had died alone, have been worthy of a New York Times obituary (even with the gender imbalance of Times obits), headline and tweet? If she were the brilliant mathematician and Russell Crowe had won an Oscar for portraying her husband (he was nominated for an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind”), I think we can be pretty sure they would have shared mentions in the headlines and tweets.

And if you want to defend leaving her out, don’t use Twitter’s character count or the tighter counts of headlines as an excuse. Alicia is six characters, wife is four. Add a comma or an ampersand to either of those words and you can add an important newsworthy person and element to your tweet or headline for less than 10 characters. I’d like to hear a defense if you have one, but not that one.

While I single out the Times because it’s the most prominent newspaper, it was not alone in its focus on a single death from the crash:

Note that the New York Post uses a photo of Russell Crowe, but not Alicia Nash.

These media tweets didn’t mention Alicia Nash, but the accompanying headlines did:

This media tweet didn’t mention Alicia, but the cutline with the photograph did:

To be fair, some media outlets and journalists did mention Alicia Nash in their tweets about the crash, rarely by name:

Update: Here’s a tweet, called to my attention in a comment, that gave Alicia her due:

I’ll be inviting response from New York Times editors and will add it if they send anything. If you wrote one of the tweets above and would like to respond, I invite your feedback in the comments or on Twitter (I’ll add your tweet to the post if you mention me).

But let’s close with a little recognition for Alicia Nash, who died with her husband, John, in a crash Saturday:

Update: Tom McKay tweeted at me that he mentioned Alicia Nash in his headline.

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An editor at a mid-sized newsroom asked me some questions about digital productivity expectations for reporters:

We are banging our heads against the wall about this: How much content should reporters be required to write each day online? … Some feel they produce way more than others. So how do you even the playing field?

My quick answers:

  1. Everything any reporter produces should be published first online.
  2. Content is not all equal. You don’t measure reporters’ productivity or performance by counting widgets or credits.
  3. Expectations for reporters vary by beat and over time. Reporters should meet the expectations of their jobs.
  4. Running a newsroom isn’t like parenting. Your expectations for different reporters vary according to beat, experience, skill, news flow and a variety of other factors. You don’t even the playing field and I have little patience with whining about reasonable facts of life.

I’ll elaborate on those points in order: (more…)

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Digital First Media logoAnything I have to say about Digital First Media today is speculation or observation but I will speculate and observe.

(I’ll explain in some detail at the end of this post what I used to know about DFM operations and strategy, and what I don’t know now.)

A tough sell

My first observation: Selling this scattered company and its diverse properties has probably been much more difficult than anyone thought last year when executives decided to pursue a sale. My first knowledge of plans to sell the company was that they would likely sell it in pieces. I think the difficulty of that job led to an effort to sell it in one piece, as Ken Doctor reported last year. That led to a pending $400 million purchase by Apollo Global Management. Ken’s speculation – more informed than mine, but probably not coming from DFM sources – is that the deal fell through over price.

I think DFM CEO John Paton, Chief Operating Officer Steve Rossi (who will become CEO take over the company’s reins in July) and whoever is making decisions for Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that owns DFM, have decided that some individual parts of the company will attract higher value separately. I think they’ve decided the higher values of some individual pieces will be worth the trouble of operating and eventually selling or shutting down the properties that would be more difficult to sell, or possibly operating a reduced company after selling the most attractive parts.

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LSUreveilledotcom logoI don’t know whether this is a measure of how often I change jobs or how long I’ve been blogging, but this is the fourth new job I’ve announced on this blog that’s less than seven years old. But it’s the first new job that doesn’t involve changing employers.

reveille logoI start work right away as Director of Student Media for LSU. When I came here almost a year ago, I was accepting a one-year job as Lamar Family Visiting Scholar. But Dean Jerry Ceppos and I were always interested in exploring long-term opportunities. This one looks like an excellent fit. Thanks to Jerry for another excellent opportunity, and to the search committee and faculty who aided in this decision.

KLSU logoStudent media face many of the same challenges I’ve helped professional media address for the last decade and more in various positions: Developing new revenue streams; developing new products; finding, adjusting and maintaining the right mix of digital and legacy media. And it involves additional challenges I’ve enjoyed in the past year: Teaching and preparing students for media careers.

legacy logoI think and hope that I am well-prepared for these challenges. But I expect to learn a lot more about LSU’s Student Media operations in the next few weeks before the retirement of my friend and predecessor and the incumbent until he leaves, Bob Ritter. And maybe I’ll learn more by phone, email or over lunch after he retires. I also expect to learn a lot from the professional staff of student media and from the student leaders.

Tiger TV logoI come into the job with student media experience going back to 1972, when I wrote my first stories for the Daily Skiff, student newspaper at TCU, when I was a freshman. I later became editor of the Skiff for the spring semesters of 1975 (yes, 40 years ago) and 1976, and also worked briefly for KTCU, the student radio station, and Image, the student magazine. All three products continue today, along with several more. More recently, I have consulted with TCU and several other university student media operations as they seek to transform for the digital age, the very challenges LSU student media face. I’ve been a speaker at seminars for student media leaders hosted by Iowa State University and the University of Georgia, as well as conferences of the College Media Advisers/Associated Collegiate Press and Western Association of University Publication Managers. And I think my extensive experience in professional journalism as well as my teaching experience will be valuable in this job.

Gumbo logoFor all that experience, I’m still learning, and I’m interested in learning from you. If you’ve been involved in student media, what have you learned from your successes and mistakes? How do you think someone in my position should guide student media through the changing media landscape? What are some goals we should pursue, some traps we should avoid?

My blog posts on student media

I’ll be blogging a lot about student media in the coming months and years. Here are some things I’ve already written on the topic:

Student media need to pursue a digital-first approach

Students already consume news digital-first; student media should follow suit

Digital-first journalism workshops for TCU student media

Digital-first workshops for student media at the University of Texas-Arlington

My keynote for student media leaders: You will shape journalism’s future

Posts on other new jobs

Pursuing a new opportunity in Washington

Another extraordinary opportunity: this time Journal Register Co.

My next adventure: teaching at LSU

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Michelle Rogers

Michelle Rogers

I asked Michelle Rogers to share some links that show the work of the Redding Record Searchlight under the Four Platform Newsroom.

Michelle Rogers was a colleague of mine at Digital First Media, and I’m pleased she has found a new home as Content Editor at the Record Searchlight. In a companion post, her editor, Silas Lyons, answers some questions about the Four Platform Newsroom. Here are the links Michelle shared with me:

Shaping Our Future portal

Facebook group for Shaping our Future

Get Out portal

Facebook group for Get Out

Buttry comment: Facebook groups are great places for engagement about topics or within niches. I belong to several Facebook groups that include some of my most meaningful discussions on Facebook. For an excellent example of a newsroom using a Facebook group to improve its journalism and engagement, read about ProPublica’s Patient Harm group. Back to Michelle and her links: (more…)

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Silas Lyons

Silas Lyons

This guest post from Silas Lyons, editor of the Redding Record Searchlight in California, continues my discussion of the Four Platform Newsroom program at Journal Media Group. I blogged Wednesday about the Digital Leads report that reviewed the newsroom transformation efforts of the former E.W. Scripps Co. newsrooms. Friday I blogged the answers of three JMG editors to some questions I asked about the program.

Today I have two responses from Redding, Calif. Lyons sent his answers to my question after I published Friday’s post. Michelle Rogers, a former colleague of mine at Digital First Media, is Content Editor at the Record Searchlight and sent me links showing some of the Redding newsroom’s work.

I asked: “How did you choose and develop your franchise topics?”

Lyons: We learned the most from this part of the process. The smartest thing we did early on was to listen to Knight Digital’s advice to be very ambitious about outreach to people in our community who truly represented the personas – they were between 25 and 50 years old, professional, had kids or a mortgage or both. For a small newsroom (under 20 people including me) and a smaller Four Platform team (8), we put a huge effort into those interviews, netting close to 40 people and developing a very solid basis of data.

While not professional market research, it was better in some ways because the responses were very real to the people developing the plan. They didn’t just ask which topics would interest the personas, but where the interview subjects get that kind of information now, what they feel is missing, what kinds of devices they use to access different types of news and information, what kind of real-life situation they’re in when they’re using those devices. (more…)

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As I was working on Wednesday’s post about the Four Platform Newsroom program of Journal Media Group newsrooms, I emailed some of the editors asking for more details.

Below are the answers from three editors, Mizell Stewart III, Managing Director/Content of Journal Media; Mark Tomasik, editor of TCPalm.com and Treasure Coast Newspapers; and Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Here are my questions (in bold) and their answers (with some links added by me):

You seem to have managed the right balance between a corporate imperative to change and local initiative in how to change. Too strong a corporate imperative results in one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t work and too much local initiative allows people to decide they don’t need to change (or that a little tinkering will suffice). What do you think were the most effective things you did to achieve and maintain this balance?

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III

Mizell Stewart III: From my own perspective, corporate’s role is in creating a sense of urgency within each newsroom around digital transformation, setting priorities and making targeted investments. In the 4P project, we invested in consumer research and created a structure, with the help of the Knight Digital Media Center, to engage front-line and mid-level journalists in driving the change.

My observation is the typical corporate approach to newsroom change is to hammer on the top editor to make things happen or take away so much control that the editor feels powerless. We tried to strike a balance between those two extremes. By enabling the staff committees and putting the editor in the role of facilitator, we tried to create a process in which everyone is learning and growing at the same time. Investing in tools and training showed folks that we were serious. That opportunity for local initiative created the sense of ownership that helped us make great progress.

Mark Tomasik: The most effective things done to achieve and maintain this balance were:

  1. Corporate promised and then provided the unwavering training, the framework and the support (including financial support for market research and ongoing training). The local property had the freedom to choose the topics and the timing as well as how to utilize staff. The ability to customize to fit our market and our staff was a difference maker.
  2. Local decision-making was done largely by a Four Platform property-level newsroom committee (with support from other functions) that was comprised primarily of non-managers. Senior newsroom leaders, such as myself, attended all the meetings, but the role of senior newsroom leaders was to guide and support. The committee itself was empowered to make key recommendations and/or decisions and choices. So, for our staff, the changes felt like they came from them, from within, and not mandated by corporate.
  3. Because audience engagement and feedback was encouraged and baked into the equation from the start, the overwhelmingly positive responses we got from the audience, especially the personas, excited and inspired all of our staff, serving as a motivation to continue with the changes, and the early successes created an atmosphere of positive, progressive change rather than change for change sake.
Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy

Jack McElroy: Thanks for continuing the conversation on our 4P initiative. Regarding your question, I think the key was that Mizell (corporate) imposed a process but left it to local properties to execute the process and find the solutions that fit locally. The process was very deliberate, and it moved with its own inexorable logic. First came the research, followed by creation of local teams charged with dissecting the data and developing plans focused on the research. Training then followed based on the plan. Then came execution. We are now in a reiteration phase, examining results and making adjustments.

At each step, corporate resources were provided. Magid did the research. Knight Digital facilitated the examination of the data, the development of the plans and the training. Corporate webinars shared successes and best practices. We soon will be launching the use of the American Press Institute’s Metrics for News to study results. But throughout, the ownership of the initiatives was local.

In the past, we’ve sometimes seen solutions imposed from on high, or we’ve seen local properties seek solutions autonomously, without much corporate guidance or resources. This change process provided structure and momentum at the corporate level but gave local newsrooms ownership of what that change ultimately would be.

I’m interested in exploring the development of franchise topics and what they mean. Some of the topics are fairly general areas that a single media outlet can’t “own” (the language the report uses in defining the franchise topics) exclusively, such as local entertainment or Tennessee sports. Even if your local newsroom is the best in the community at that topic, alt weeklies (in the metro areas at least) cover entertainment, too, and everyone in Knoxville covers the Vols. Other topics were important local topics that others probably don’t cover much or well (water in Wichita Falls being the best example). So I want to understand franchise topics a little better: Does this just reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities? Or did you start out saying the franchises should be a mix of those must-have topics that everyone covers, but we’re committing to be the best and those undercovered topics that are important to the community? Can a newsroom really “own” a big community topic in a competitive market? Or did each newsroom come up with different definitions of franchises that might not have revolved around ownership?

Stewart: I describe franchise topics as public-facing news brands that ground digital transformation in the pursuit of quality journalism. Sure, everyone can cover entertainment – but only Treasure Coast binds entertainment and things to do to social media and crowdsourcing through their pursuit of the #TCPalmSocial franchise. It does reflect how different newsrooms interpreted the franchises and the needs of their communities, and we fully expect those topics to change over time.

We talked more about franchise topics as not being a rehash or a relabel of existing work. They could incorporate existing beats and topics in a fresh, multiplatform way. There is no question that a lot of news organizations cover local government and politics, but I believe franchise is all about the approach rather than the specific topic. InforMemphis is a unique framework, in my opinion, for coverage of local government. That team didn’t restructure the newsroom to add a reporter about craft beer – but it did hold a forum for mayoral candidates that featured craft beer and barbecue for more than 100 participants from the community. Our news organization can own a specific approach to government and politics or college sports, for example, that sets it apart from other local news sources.

Tomasik: We made the choices based on two factors:

  1. Using market research that showed what topics potential readers would be willing to pay for.
  2. Matching any of those potential topics to staff skills. We focused on the topics in which we were certain we had the staff expertise and skills to produce consistently good content with the potential to grow it.

How did you choose and develop the personas to guide reporting of interest to target demographic groups?

Mark Tomasik

Mark Tomasik

Tomasik: We used a combination of the market research and staff on-the-street interviews with potential customers to develop personas. Using the personas was critical to making content decisions. For example, for our #TCPalmSocial franchise, the persona is a married woman with a child. So, if we had our choice of covering a family-oriented air show or an upscale art show in the same community on the same day, we followed the persona and chose the air show, knowing our use of resources had a greater chance of reaching the target audience.

What was the role of live coverage in your transformation?

Tomasik: Live coverage transformed into, first and foremost, a social media/audience engagement opportunity rather than a traditional text narrative opportunity. So, when President Obama visited the Treasure Coast in March, all our journalists used multiple social media platforms as their most effective storytelling device. The engagement with audience was constant and informative. The community used our social media posts for everything on how to avoid traffic snarls caused by the presidential visit (we had interactive maps of his route on mobile) to sharing celebrity sightings (Jay Leno, Ahmad Rashad) related to the visit. The audience demanded and expected information (including visuals) in that format and on those digital platforms; not waiting for narratives on dot.com or print.

This was a lot to undertake in normal times (if those even exist any more). But the corporate restructuring had to present a huge distraction during this process (and probably some skepticism about whether the initiative would survive the merger). How did you manage that external (to the newsroom) upheaval that you couldn’t control at the same time that you’re trying to cause upheaval to reach important goals?

Stewart: Fortunately, the initiative was well underway before the transition to Journal Media Group began. We worked to manage the upheaval by incorporating the transition into our in-house learning and development programs, such as conducting sessions for top newsroom leaders on what it takes to lead through change. It also validated our focus on baking the initiative into the newsroom.

During the rollout of the initiative, we had top editor changes in several newsrooms. In nearly every case, the newsroom committee continued their work on the rollout of local franchise topics while the search for a new editor was underway. This demonstrated to me that engaging leaders at every level is critical to achieving sustainable change.

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Scott Blanchard

Scott Blanchard

Thanks to Scott Blanchard, Sunday Editor at the York Daily Record and York Sunday News for this guest post. Scott is a former Dart Center Ochberg Fellow, whom I invited to respond to my post on advice for steeling yourself to ask tough questions. I added some links to his email response and edited lightly:

I totally co-sign your post and the tips in it. Here are a few things your post made me think of:

  • Listening means being present to the person you’re talking to. Gavin Rees, director of Dart Centre Europe, says that in every interview, there are two conversations: The one in the foreground that you’re having with the other person, and the one in the background that you’re having, in your head, with yourself. When the background conversation overcomes the foreground one, the interview derails. That background conversation needs some room, but don’t let it dominate or distract you from being present with your interview subject. (Gavin has a great chapter in a book on trauma journalism; it’s embedded here.)
  • In terms of accountability questions, I think journalists need to make sure they know what specific question they asked when the subject gave a particular answer. It might make a difference in whether/how you are able to publish/frame the response — especially if the answer includes a pronoun. E.g. if you come back with a quote from an official who said, “No, I didn’t know about that,” you have to be able to say that response was to this specific question, so you understand exactly what “that” refers to.
  • I think it’s a good idea to make best practices for trauma coverage be part of news orgs’ orientation for new staffers (there’s a bunch of great material in your post for such an effort); and it’s a good idea for news orgs to make a point of bringing staffers together to have peer-to-peer discussions about what worked, what didn’t and what can be learned from their work in both trauma journalism and accountability journalism. We’ve been doing both since beginning a relationship with the Dart Center, and we believe those efforts have been productive. More on those efforts here.

As far as the question in the hed of your blog post (how to “steel” yourself to ask tough questions): Because I’m an editor, most tough conversations come to me now — if someone who is upset with us calls — as opposed to me going out on a story. But whether I have to call someone to ask tough questions or just field questions after I pick up the line:

  • I think about a survivor who might want to tell his or her story (as you noted).
  • I draw strength from my colleagues — for example, reporters and photographers in our newsroom — who face these situations far more than I do.
  • I draw strength from my Ochberg Fellowship friends. I know what they’re out there doing. Their support makes a difference.
  • I draw on Dart Center knowledge and our newsroom’s commitment to ethical journalism and to treating people like human beings. I feel as confident as I can that, although someone might rebuke me or us for our coverage, we are acting from a solid foundation and making the most well-grounded decisions that we can.

I welcome other guest posts on this topic: What are tips from your experience asking tough questions?

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Digital LeadsI am cheering on the Four Platform Newsroom transformation efforts of the Journal Media Group newsrooms. And I encourage you to read a new report, published today, about the project in newsrooms of the former E.W. Scripps Co.: Digital Leads: 10 keys to newsroom transformation.

I have some experience with newsroom transformation efforts. As editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008-9, I led a local effort to change how a newsroom worked. As digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, I led a companywide transformation effort, first an informal effort involving visits to 84 newsrooms, then helping hire and mentor new editors and finally Project Unbolt, focused on four pilot newsrooms shortly before I left the company last year.

I wouldn’t describe any of those efforts as a complete success, and I know none of them was a complete failure. However much we succeeded, I learned a lot and blogged a lot about what we did.

Michele McLellan, one of the Scripps consultants on the project, knew of my transformation efforts and gave me an advance copy of the report, so I’m going to share some observations here.

During the Scripps project, a corporate restructuring resulted in a merger of the Scripps newspapers with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to create Journal Media Group. Since the Journal Sentinel wasn’t involved in the Four Platform Newsroom project, I will refer to the group here as Scripps. The company consulted with the Knight Digital Media Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Today’s Digital Leads report was produced and released by KDMC.

I have visited only one of the eight Scripps newsrooms where the transformation is considered to be working, and that was just briefly years ago. So my knowledge of the changes at Scripps is based solely on reading the report. As a result, I’m not going to praise or criticize specifics of what Scripps newsrooms have achieved or attempted. Instead, I’m going to summarize the 10 keys of the report, with some highlights from the report and advice for other newsrooms undertaking their own transformations: (more…)

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Page one, Omaha World-Herald, June 15, 1997I wrote this story in June 1997 for the Omaha World-Herald. At the time, President Bill Clinton was trying to focus the nation’s attention on addressing its racial divide, through a program called “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.”

We can argue here how much Clinton’s own sexual scandal and impeachment sidetracked any progress he might have made, and how much the election of Barack Obama 11 years later (and re-election four more years after that) advanced race relations and heightened the racial divide. But, as racially tinged police relations explode in city after city, and commentary about race is as polarized as ever, the racial divide is again our nation’s most pressing issue.

I present this story as a model for any journalist examining today’s racial divide. I think it was an excellent story at the time, though it had little impact. I hope you might have more impact with an updated approach, and perhaps a broader digital reach or a bigger microphone today.

This was a long story (actually, a package of multiple stories), made longer by my updating notes. If you’re considering a deeper examination of the racial divide, I hope it will be worth your time to work your way through it.

I will present the story as we published it in 1997, interspersed with recommendations today for data reporting, engagement, interactivity and updating to address how the issues have changed (if they have). The paragraphs from the Omaha World-Herald will be presented in plain text. My notes will be introduced in bold as a “Buttry note” of some kind, with the note following in light italics, either a few words or a few paragraphs.

I have posted the 1997 graphics with the relevant parts of the story. Doing it today, interactive data visualization would be an essential part of the story. At the end of this post, you can see how it was displayed 18 years ago. Sources were cited in a large block of type included with the graphic package.

From Birth to Death, Racial Gap Persists

Originally published June 15, 1997, Sunday, Pg. 1A, Omaha World-Herald



Starting before birth, a black child faces longer odds against survival and success than a white child. (more…)

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A reporter’s email asked for advice on “steeling oneself to ask the tough questions? I ask as someone who tends toward introversion when the going gets tougher.”

Effective tough questions (and good answers to them) result from a combination of:

  • Outlook.
  • Preparation.
  • Control.
  • Setting.
  • Recording and photography.
  • Setup.
  • Delivery.
  • Listening.
  • Follow-up.
  • Advance review.

That combination doesn’t necessarily make tough questions easy. They’re tough and introverts need to learn how to ask them if they want to succeed as reporters. But I’ll provide some tips in each area.

Another aspect of tough questions deals with confidentiality. I address that topic extensively in a separate post: Anonymous sources: Factors to consider in using them (and don’t call them anonymous).

Tough questions seem to fall into two categories (unless I’m overlooking one):

  1. Accountability questions. These are the potentially confrontational or contentious questions about possible failure or wrongdoing by the person you’re interviewing, often a public official, but maybe a criminal suspect, business executive or other target of investigative journalism.
  2. Emotional questions. These are questions about emotional personal issues, where you fear that the person might break into tears when answering or become angry and refuse to answer. Often the interview subject here is not used to dealing with the media — perhaps a disaster, crime or accident victim (or a family member of the victim). Or you may be talking about an experience such as war or fleeing a dangerous situation.

For those emotional interviews, I recommend that you browse the resources of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and attend a Dart Center seminar (or invite them to train in your newsroom) if you can. My tips here will repeat some that I offered in connection with a Dart Center program that Digital First Media offered last year. (more…)

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