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I encourage watching Storyful’s video about processing vicarious trauma as we cover horrible news.

In my community of Baton Rouge, journalists this summer have covered fatal shootings by and of police officers as well as a widespread natural disaster. Other journalists cover war, terrorism and mass shootings. Even if you don’t witness death and destruction yourself, interviews with survivors can be difficult for journalists. The Storyful video focuses on the impact of dealing with graphic images of traumatic news.

The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma provides helpful resources for journalists, both for effective and sensitive coverage of traumatic news and for dealing with the secondary trauma that journalists may experience.

Related posts

Digital First Media newsrooms collaborate on trauma coverage, peer-support program

Tips for reporting on traumatic news

How do you ‘steel’ yourself to ask tough questions

Scott Blanchard’s advice on asking tough questions

 

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Donald Trump’s revocation of credentials for the Washington Post and other critical media is reprehensible and cowardly. And it’s really stupid.

The appearance is that Trump is bullying the media, and that certainly is Trump’s intent. But access to candidate events is a punishment, not a privilege.

The best watchdog journalism doesn’t happen in the pack following candidates and reporting every ridiculous and racist statement Trump makes. Besides, Trump is as likely to make news in his tweets (which are available to anyone) as he is when he speaks (and it’s not tough to find out what he’s said; lot’s of media cover that).

In fact the Post story that set Trump off didn’t result from access to a candidate event. It came from watching an interview on TV and accurately reporting the candidate’s obvious implication (he hates that).

Watchdog journalism doesn’t require access. That’s for mouthpiece journalism. The least significant part of the New York Times story about Trump’s plundering and blundering in Atlantic City was the interviews with Trump. The candidate’s refusal to do an interview had no impact on the Post’s story on Trump collecting huge bonuses as his company’s stock tanked.

You know which Washington Post reporters didn’t have or need access to the actual president? Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Also recommended:

Donald Trump Picked the Wrong News Editor to F*ck With

 

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Thanks to all who joined today’s Online Media Campus webinar, Interactive Storytelling Tools.

The tools I demonstrated during the webinar were Storify, Google Maps and Infogr.am. The tool Elaine Clisham mentioned in her tweets (below) was Tableau. Elaine (a friend from our days at the American Press Institute together) made some of the same points I did, about how easily and quickly you can learn to use a new tool.

Examples I used during the webinar:

Holiday lights map

Fireworks map

Carrie Jewell Dugo Atavist story

Chasing the Beast

Here’s the link from my 2015 Interactive Storytelling Tools class, with my students’ tutorials on various tools and examples of how they used them.

Here is an earlier post with more examples of interactive stories:

Examples of stories using interactive tools

Here are my slides from the webinar:

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Einstein

One of journalism’s oldest clichés is that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I had the desired initial reaction to the letter above, rejecting Albert Einstein for an associate professor position: I thought how cool it was that some pompous science professor with a Ph.D. after his name had been so condescendingly dismissive of the greatest modern scientific thinker.

And it was about when I was reading the last line, about Einstein’s thinking being artistic, rather than really about physics, that I wondered whether a Swiss professor would really be writing a German colleague in English. Snopes quickly provided the answer: No.

I’m not going to bother to embarrass the colleague who posted this on social media by naming him. He clearly has enough company that Snopes felt the need to check out the letter’s authenticity.

I recommend reading the debunking by Dan Evon. It’s a nice illustration of the various paths to verification you can use in any story. He found that the hoax was based on an actual fact: The University of Bern did reject Einstein’s initial application for a doctorate in 1907. But everything else was phony: the professor’s name and title, the letterhead, the language, even the image of a modern Einstein stamp.

You can repost interesting stuff like this on social media without checking if you want. And I’m not going to claim that I thoroughly vet every fun thing I’ve posted on social media. But social media, even personal accounts, are also good places for journalists to practice the skepticism that is the core of good journalism.

Especially if something seems too good to be true.

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Finding local stories in national and international news isn’t always easy. But many big stories have local angles, and the news organizations that make the effort can tell important local stories that the community will be talking about.

The local people with personal ties to these stories don’t appear in the places you routinely find news: You won’t hear these stories on the scanner or see them on agendas or police blotters. But they are the biggest news of the day, sometimes the biggest of the year, in small circles of your community. And you often can learn of the stories with a few calls or social media inquiries. And the stories are worth the effort.

This post was prompted by Howard Owens. In an argument on Twitter yesterday that was mostly about other matters, Howard made this statement:

I knew that Howard’s statement was bullshit because for five years, a major part of my job was localizing national stories, and it was important work in other jobs as well. Localizing big stories produced lots of good stories for my newspapers, with lots of real local angles. But good localizing isn’t always easy, and some journalists or news organizations move on too quickly, missing good stories. (more…)

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If you were a journalist and you stayed up to the end of the Oscars ceremony, you had to feel uplifted by the Best-Picture Oscar for “Spotlight.” After seeing the film in November, I wrote two posts on the movie about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting on sexual abuse by priests. Those links are at the end of this post, but first a few fresh thoughts on the “Spotlight” win:

    • As I noted on Twitter after the win, many East Coast newspapers (and probably even some in Central Time) have deadlines too early to get the newspaper movie’s win into their morning editions today. (The Advocate, our local paper here, did get the Best-Picture results in a story on Page 5A and a page-one reefer.) I sure hope the Globe was able to hold its print edition long enough to trumpet the news to its print readers.advocate spotlight
    • While the much-deserved praise for the Globe’s journalism is welcome balm to a weary profession and industry, equally big news for the Globe the past few months has been its difficulty delivering the print edition to subscribers. Cost-cutting at many newspaper companies has prompted outsourcing of functions such as delivery and customer service. And often that goes badly. The Globe’s delivery issues have drawn the most attention, but I know dozens of newspapers that have dealt with similar problems, alienating loyal print readers while still struggling to make money with weak digital products.
    • However much disruption the media business endures, we need to maintain our commitment to investigative journalism. Like the Globe, news organizations need to tell untold stories and hold the powerful accountable.
    • Sunday night was a great night of recognition for sexual abuse survivors, who usually struggle privately and silently. Joe Biden’s introduction and Lady Gaga’s stirring rendition of “Til It Happens to You” were probably the highlight of the show, even though the song didn’t win an Oscar.

Here are my two posts from last year after I watched “Spotlight”:

‘Spotlight’: a generation-later echo of ‘All the President’s Men’

Responding to ‘Spotlight’: Advice for investigating sexual abuse by clergy

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This is an updated version of a handout for a reporting workshop I used to present more than a decade ago. I have updated it for my Advanced News Gathering class this semester at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. Many of the tips here came from my World-Herald colleagues, Paul Goodsell, Joe Kolman, Nichole Aksamit and Cindy Gonzalez, with whom I collaborated on the original workshop. Other colleagues, perhaps most notably former Digital First Media colleagues Tom Meagher and MaryJo Webster (who will address my class remotely Thursday), taught me things I used in updating that old handout to use now.

No competent reporter would consider doing the job without knowing how to interview or take notes or to dig for records. In 21st-Century journalism, using data is not a specialized skill. It’s an essential skill.

Even if you haven’t mastered high-level analysis and visualization skills (just as some reporters are better than others at interviewing or working sources), every reporter needs to use data at least at a basic level to find answers and tell stories. Whatever your level of ability, you should seek to learn more about the data sources on your beat and how to access and use them.

Ask for electronic records. When an agency you cover releases a report or some annual statistics, ask for the report in a digital format. We can incur significant expenses when we ask public agencies to sort data for us (though often much less than they might tell you initially). But every report already exists in an electronic file that should be easy and cheap to obtain. Whether you use the data immediately or not, you should have it on hand electronically.

Pursue the data. Ask for data as aggressively as you insist on access to any other public record. You must not be intimidated when it comes to asking for electronic information. When someone cites facts in an interview, you already are used to asking, “How do you know that?” and asking for copies of any reports the source is citing. Ask for an electronic copy as well. Often the source would rather e-mail you the report rather than find an envelope anyway. Don’t ask just for the report itself, but for the raw data on which it was based.

Consider different uses. As you learn about data sources, consider what stories you might pursue based primarily on this data. Consider how you might use this data for information to support other stories you might do. Consider how you might use the data routinely. Consider how the data might be useful to colleagues on other beats.

Use the Internet. Visit the Web sites of public agencies and private organizations on your beat and learn what data sources are available readily online. Learn what reports and statistics are posted online. Learn whether the agencies post searchable databases online or pdf files that are more cumbersome to use online. (Various tools can help you extract data from pdfs, and a pdf can also identify electronic records you could obtain to sort and search yourself). Browse the databases to learn what information they offer and consider how that information might be useful in stories.

Get budgets. Obtain the budgets and spending records of public agencies in electronic form so you can use a spreadsheet to look for trends, changes, irregularities.

Get directories. Learn what sort of basic information the agencies on your beat might have in electronic form: personnel rosters, payroll records, government board rosters.

Get an updated version of the payroll records periodically — say quarterly — and you’ll have a good way of tracking government raises. It’s searchable and, thus, a nice way to double-check a name spelling and job title and salary, a good way to know who’s been with the city the longest and who’s a newbie, an easy way to access a list of the city’s highest and lowest-paid employees. It’s particularly useful when a public employee makes other news — gets arrested or fired or wins an award — or when you are just searching for an employee who might have been around during a particular time period or has experience in a given area.

Listen for data behind statistics. When sources tell you they are tracking or studying something — a certain kind of complaint, the condition of city roads, housing code violations, etc. — chances are they are working from a database or a spreadsheet. Ask “How do you know that noise complaints have risen or that 65 percent of the streets are in good condition?” and then ask to see their work, which may prompt other stories. In most jurisdictions, the data should be public record, and you should ask for it.

Interview the data. Think of data as another source that you interview. Do you want to know how many single mothers of a particular race or age group live in a particular community? You could probably call a number of people and get some vague answers and some anecdotal sense of whether the number is growing or declining, but why not ask the Census Bureau? Think of questions you could ask the data on your beat: What bar has the most liquor-law violations? What school has the best (or worst) test scores? What intersection has the most accidents?

Study the data first. Reporters are at a great advantage when they go into an interview knowing at least something, and sometimes a lot, about the information the source deals with. If you can find some data online or in a database you already have acquired, check that before you interview a source. It helps you ask better questions and helps you catch the source in mistakes or lies.

Organize with spreadsheets. A spreadsheet helps you understand information. You spot relationships, trends, reversals, gaps. You can use a spreadsheet for something as simple as a source list or chronology, or to analyze thousands of pieces of data.

Enter data yourself. Sure, it’s nice to get data e-mailed to you, but don’t forget that you can enter data yourself. Often an afternoon at a courthouse or government office searching through paper records yields a notebook full of information you can analyze and understand better if you take a few hours to enter it in a spreadsheet.

Use Census data. Census data are not just the basis for Census stories, but provide helpful information about families, housing, economics and communities for a wide range of stories. The Quick Facts section of the site provides data about any state, city, parish, county, town or zip code in the country. For instance, you can quickly learn demographic, business, housing, income (and much more) for the city of Baton Rouge.

Census download shot

A download button at the top right of Census search results lets you download the data in various forms for analysis or display.

BLSSeek federal data. If any federal agency has jurisdiction on your beat, it probably has some data available. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a “data tools” tab that opens a number of opportunities for information on employment, productivity and other economic topics. The Bureau of Justice Statistics offers similar data sets on crime, courts and prisons. Data.gov gives a guide to federal data on a wide range of topics.Datagov

Seek state and local data. Access to data and quality of data that you can access online or through public records requests varies by state and local jurisdiction, as laws and compliance with laws varies. Sometimes you have to search for data by agency. Other times a government jurisdiction, such as the City of Baton Rouge, will provide a portal to data from all agencies. Sometimes media organizations and public interest groups have already acquired data sets and made them easily accessible online. Louisiana Sunshine, a project of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, makes many state data sets easy to access.  

Think critically about data. Former World-Herald reporter Joe Kolman had this quote from Dick O’Reilly of the LA Times taped to his desk: “The most important lessons in CAR are not which keys to push on the keyboard, but how to think critically about data. People who learn to think that way will learn which keys to push because doing so becomes fundamental to their quests. People who only learn what keys to push really haven’t learned anything.”

Other resources

National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (lots of databases and how-to instructions for members of Investigative Reporters and Editors).

 

 

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