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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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New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet sent his staff a detailed “Charting the Future” message to the Times staff that I call to your attention.

Public Editor Margaret Sullivan posted the note Monday, not long after I posted my call for Baquet to get angry about the Times’ use of unnamed sources. I didn’t notice it until today, but I want to call it to your attention if you also missed it.

I’m not going to go through the note in detail. It’s a comprehensive look at the year past, the Times priorities and the business and journalism challenges facing the Times newsroom. Baquet covered them all well in the note. Read it and you can understand why he leads journalism’s most important newsroom. This point particularly resonated with me:

Don’t allow the turmoil in the news business make you forget just how good we are, and that we are here to break big stories and ask hard questions of the powerful.

The message didn’t address unnamed sources (and perhaps that wasn’t the place to address it). I still hope Baquet will address that issue, which Sullivan has documented extensively.

But since this strong leadership statement became public so soon after my call for stronger leadership, I wanted to share my applause for Baquet’s vision for the future of the Times. I wish him success in leading the Times in pursuit of that vision.

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Walter Cronkite Memorial

A large banner at the Walter Cronkite Memorial in St. Joseph, Mo., honors his famous sign-off line.

By coincidence, my travel schedule this month took me on consecutive weekends to two universities with exhibits honoring Walter Cronkite.

My family did not have a television when Cronkite made his debut as CBS anchor in 1962. One of the biggest stories of his career — the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy — finally made Mom and Dad cave and buy our first “idiot box” (Mom called it that before we got one and through the years as she became a loyal watcher). So of course, we missed Cronkite’s announcement of Kennedy’s death:

The Cronkite exhibits at Missouri Western State University and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University both take note of the importance of the Kennedy coverage in the anchor’s career: (more…)

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It would be hard to overstate what Ben Bradlee contributed to American journalism. Bradlee died Tuesday, and I join the parade of journalists saluting him as maybe journalism’s best editor ever.

Journalism’s proudest achievement of my lifetime was the Watergate reporting of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which uncovered unconstitutional and un-American power abuses by the White House, including President Richard Nixon himself. The many abuses by presidents and their staffs since Nixon still do not match his arrogance in trying to manipulate an election and interfere with the execution of justice.

Many others played roles in exposing Watergate and bringing down Nixon: Judge John Sirica, Senators Sam Ervin and Howard Baker and their Watergate Committee colleagues, John Dean, Alexander Butterfield (who revealed the White House taping system), special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, Woodward’s “Deep Throat” source Mark Felt, the Supreme Court, Peter Rodino and his House Judiciary Committee colleagues. But no one played a bigger role than Woodward, Bernstein and their Post editors, led by Bradlee.

As recounted in Woodward and Bernstein’s book All the President’s Men and portrayed by Jason Robards in the movie, Bradlee was a sterling model for editors: challenging his reporters to nail down their facts, find better stories and make every story better; reporting the truth fearlessly; holding the powerful accountable, then standing by his reporters when they came under fire.

I never approached Bradlee’s perch in journalism, but as a mid-level editor for the Des Moines Register and Kansas City Star and Times, I saw his influence in some of the top editors I reported to. And I tried to ask the same kinds of tough questions of the reporters who worked for me.

As a top editor of the comparatively insignificant Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, Minot Daily News and Cedar Rapids Gazette, I never flattered myself that I was anywhere near Bradlee’s stature. But I damn well knew from his model what my job was: To make my newspaper the best it could be, to set and uphold standards and to protect our newsroom’s integrity. I never became as intimidating as Bradlee (or the Robards version of him). But they were somewhere in the back of my mind every time I told a reporter he or she didn’t have the story and needed to try one more source, verify or debunk one more report, push harder for a source to go on the record.

“You don’t have it,” might be an editor’s most important words to reporters, words that weren’t spoken often enough then and certainly aren’t today. But every time I spoke them, I knew I was echoing Bradlee.

I know I’m not alone in viewing Bradlee as the standard against which all editors are measured. I probably describe the experience of a generation or two of editors. We all aspired to be like Bradlee and we all fall short. I salute him for setting the standard so high. I’m not the one to measure how high I reached in journalism, but I know I reached my peak (or will) in pursuit of his example.

I never got to meet Bradlee, but I sat behind him in 2012 when Woodward and Bernstein headlined a 40th-anniversary panel discussion of Watergate reporting at the American Society of News Editors conference. Bradlee wasn’t on the panel but joined the discussion as his reporters deferred to him on a few questions. He was in his 90s then and you could see that he was fading. But he’ll never fade as an example to journalists.

As my former Omaha World-Herald colleague Ken Freed pointed out when I saluted Bradlee last night on Facebook, Bradlee himself was powerful, with close ties to the Kennedys. I’m not aware of any way that the Post, on his watch, went soft on the Kennedys. All media gave President John F. Kennedy a pass on reporting about his personal life, which was standard procedure in that time (and had been for Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower). And Kennedy’s presidency was before Bradlee took over the Post newsroom in 1965.

But I “liked” Ken’s observation anyway. Skepticism and pointing out something that might be unpopular seemed a fitting way to remember Ben Bradlee.

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Ivan Lajara

Ivan Lajara

You owe yourself a laugh today. So start it by reading Ivan Lajara’s glossary explaining news jargon.

Some highlights for me (many more than this; just read it yourself):

Circulation: An arrow going down.

Conflict of Interest: White House Correspondents Dinner.

Cover Story: The one story that had art.

Editor: Angry White Man.

Freelancer: Reporter without health insurance.

Reefer or Refer: A column by Maureen Dowd.

Speaking of the Maureen Dowd column, start your day with a second laugh: Read Sarah Jeong’s post on four other Times columnists and Malcolm Gladwell writing while high.

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