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AJR home pageWhen I first became aware of the Washington Journalism Review, it was a local magazine aspiring to a national profile in the narrow niche of journalists writing about other journalists.

Before long, WJR became AJR, the American Journalism Review. It remained based at the University of Maryland, but it did achieve that national profile. Along with the Columbia Journalism Review, Editor & Publisher magazine and perhaps a few others, it was a key place where journalists turned to read investigative stories, analysis or other sorts of coverage about our own profession and the businesses that supported it.

As digital publishing presented opportunities for other voices in the business, the field of journalists-covering-journalists grew and the magazines became less important, even though they all developed strong websites and didn’t simply publish their stories weekly or monthly.

Poynter and Nieman Lab became institutional leaders in the field, and individual bloggers, such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Margaret Sullivan (and earlier New York Times public editors, but Sullivan has been easily the strongest digital voice), Mathew Ingram and, I hope, yours truly, grew the field even further. Even late-night comedy became an important source of media commentary, with Jon Stewart’s regular mocking and commentary on journalism’s failings. (more…)

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NYT marriage front page

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

Fifteen years ago, a story I wrote about gays in the ministry was illustrated by a photograph of a former Lutheran pastor kissing his male partner.

It was the second installment of a three-part, page-one series, “Testing Faith,” so lots of editors read the stories and looked over the photos before publication. But when the first edition of the Monday paper rolled off the press Sunday night, an editor I won’t name here had a fit. We had a photo of two men kissing in the newspaper!

That apparently would be too much for Iowans to handle, in the view of this editor, and other editors had to tear up the front page, move a nice photograph from the front-page display (an excellent portrait of the former pastor) inside, place a standalone wire photo on the front page and kill the photo of men kissing, which had anchored the jump page. The before and after pages are below: (more…)

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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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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen has a thoughtful take on “Good Old Fashioned Shoe Leather Reporting,” the “single source of virtue” in American journalism.

It feels like hyperbole when Jay writes about shoe-leather: “There can never be enough of it. Only good derives from it. Anything that eclipses it is bad. Anything that eludes it is suspect. Anything that permits more of it is holy.” But Jay documented the veneration of shoe-leather reporting with quotes from Tom Friedman and others. And I have to agree, too many in media have exaggerated or forgotten the role shoe leather used to play and should play in journalism.

I wore out many pairs of shoes in my reporting days, 10 years for the Omaha World-Herald, more than two years for the Des Moines Register, several months for the Kansas City Star and a few years (scattered around and during my college education) for the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel. And I’ve peppered in a little reporting here are there since then, including on this blog and others.

I spent at least as much time as an editor, and told many a reporter (long before the Internet was available) to get his or her ass out of the newsroom and go to the scene of the news we were covering or go knock on a door and ask someone the question we needed answered.

Nearly all the best stories of my career came in whole or part because I was out of the office, interviewing people face-to-face, digging through courthouse records, seeing disaster damage myself, showing empathy in a way that persuaded people to trust me with their intimate stories, seeing important details in the setting where the story took place.

I believe in the importance of shoe leather.

But I also know that shoe leather is just one of many paths to a good story. Smart, hard-working reporters also use: (more…)

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Charlie Meyerson

Charlie Meyerson

One of my interviewing tips drew some criticism from veteran journalist and teacher Charlie Meyerson.

Charlie, news chief at Rivet News Radio, and I disagree a bit about whether using “uh-huh” in interviews is good or bad.

Here’s what I said in Thursday’s post, an updated version of an old handout for a workshop on interviewing:

Uh-huh. Move the interview along with responsive questions and statements that basically tell the character to keep talking: ‘Uh-huh.’ ‘Really?’ ‘What happened next?’ ‘How did you react?’

I think I was using “uh-huh” and other short verbal cues to keep talking back in the 1980s (or possibly 1970s), long before I first connected with Don Fry, one of the best writing coaches in journalism. But Don says, “The most powerful interview technique is nodding your head and saying, ‘Uh-huh.'” So, if I didn’t learn the technique from Don, he at least reinforced my belief that it’s an effective way to keep someone talking in an interview.

But Charlie has a lot more radio experience than Don or I have, and he sent me this note, disagreeing with my advice:

‘Uh-huh’ is a bad habit I’m still trying to kill among my students and staff. It ruins a lot of audio and video (makes excerpts unusable — a bad thing in this era when multimedia is an invaluable asset for digital journalism). It also makes the reporter seem sympathetic to an interviewee, compromising a sense of objectivity. My counsel: Ask good questions and get the hell out of the way, nodding (silently!) once in a while if needed to encourage someone to keep going.

Charlie sent along a link to his guide to interview techniques, which I heartily endorse. But I wasn’t going to give up right away on “uh-huh.” My response (Charlie got to the point more succinctly than I did): (more…)

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A Pew Research Center study of three U.S. media markets has lots of interesting fodder and lessons for journalists and newsrooms.

In Local News in a Digital Age, Pew studied local news coverage and consumption more thoroughly than any local news study I’ve seen. I encourage reading the full 160-page report, which provided detailed studies of the news environments in Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa.

The study includes a survey of people in each community, asking extensive questions about their community involvement and news consumption, as well as a detailed study local news providers, including all the content during one week (last July) and a computer analysis of Facebook and Twitter content and engagement with local news providers.

I’ll present my thoughts on the Pew study in three sections:

  1. What the study says about media and lessons we can draw from it.
  2. My evaluation of this study (or opportunities for future studies). I was sharply critical of Pew’s 2010 study of Baltimore’s local news market, so I think I should address what I see as strengths and weaknesses of this study. This project leaves plenty of opportunities for further study of local media, but I find it far more thorough and credible than the 2010 study, which was so biased I said it was useless.
  3. My Denver and Sioux City experiences (neither of them a big conflict, but both worth disclosing).

Findings & lessons from the Pew study

Pew’s story up high presents the obligatory disclaimer:

These cities are not meant to be representative of the United States as a whole, but rather serve as detailed case studies of local news in three specific, unique areas in the U.S.

Yeah, but …

Pew did the study because the data from these three specific, unique areas would have value to others in the media. And I see several areas where the study reveals or confirms facts that will be helpful beyond the communities studied: (more…)

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This photo of an airplane fighting a 1990 fire led a Flashback photo gallery for the Hamilton Spectator on the 25th anniversary of the fire.

This photo of an airplane fighting a 1990 fire led a Flashback photo gallery for the Hamilton Spectator on the 25th anniversary of the fire. Used with permission.

My blog post on ways to generate more value from newspaper archives drew two responses about newsrooms using old photos in projects they call Flashbacks.

Joan Walters of the Hamilton Spectator explained the first project in an email, which I’m using as a guest post, with her permission:

We’re posting Flashbacks from The Hamilton Spectator’s pool of archived photos at least twice a week – using news events (snow storms, local controversies, major anniversaries such as the recent 25th anniversary of the Hagersville Tire Fire, which remains the biggest environmental disaster in Ontario history).

The focus for us is to relate the Flashback material directly to our website, thespec.com. We don’t post archive photos unless we can relate the post somehow to thespec.com with story links to the web at the top of each blog post.

A  simple example is Jon Wells’ long read on the weekend about The Way we Shopped, which carried only a handful of  available photos on the website. So we cross-linked the web story to the Flashback blog post, where the link to Jon’s story was also placed.

We have an Omniture tag on the Flashback blog to make sure we benefit from traffic, which has been good.

When we post on Flashback and it’s not directly related to a current story, we place a click-through to the blog on our website carousel, using the best photo.

High levels of commenting on some of the posts teaches us what’s popular, what works, and what doesn’t.

For instance, a post on a long-gone ski hill and winter sports park soared during a local controversy over banning sledding and readers went crazy over a simple I Remember post on a popular restaurant-motel.

It’s early days yet but it’s working for us.

The other Flashback example came in a tweet, so it didn’t offer as much detail:

The Herald’s Flashback feature mostly features galleries on topics relating to Miami culture — such as South Beach and beauty pageants — but also looks back on incidents in Miami history — such as a visit from Winston Churchill and another historic fire.

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