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Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Rapids Gazette’

This continues my series on professional networking.

I credit my skills and hard work for most of the success I’ve achieved professionally. But my professional network has helped tremendously, too.

In this post, I’m going to run through the jobs I’ve landed and explain how my network helped me get most (but not all) of the jobs in my career:

Because my mother read the newspaper …

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

Chuck Offenburger, right, gave me my first job in journalism back in 1971.

I was on a canoe trip in the summer of 1971, between my junior and senior years of high school, when my mother read a notice in the Evening Sentinel that Sports Editor Chuck Offenburger was looking for a sports writer. I didn’t know Chuck, and had no network connection to him. But Mom called the notice to my attention. I applied and I got the job (and Chuck and I remain friends).

But the network connection that mattered here was my mother. I’m not a fan of nepotism or family interference, which didn’t happen here. Mom didn’t even know Chuck. But she tipped me off to the first job of my journalism career. And Mimi has alerted two of our sons to opportunities that led to jobs for them. Listen to your mom. (more…)

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I was the keynote speaker last night for the Future of Student Media Summit hosted by the Post, the student print and digital news operation at Ohio University.

Below is the blog version of the prepared part of my session, interspersed with tweets from the participants and hyperlinked. It’s not exactly what I said because I wasn’t reading a script. At the end of the post, I’ll explain how I prepared the speech and post and why they’re not identical. (more…)

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Contact information on a news site is certainly a matter of customer service. I’d argue that it’s also an essential form of community engagement. But what about journalism ethics? Is easy access to journalists a matter of ethics? I think so.

Whatever factors you think should motivate contact information, I hope you’ll agree with me that many news sites make it difficult to contact them. And nearly all should do a better job.

Before I make some recommendations and examine some news sites and report on how easy it is to find out how to contact someone in the newsroom, I’ll make the case that accessibility is a matter of ethics:

Correcting errors is one of the basics of journalism ethics, mentioned in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist and Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics. We’ll correct more errors if we learn about more of our errors. And if we’re easy to reach, we’re going to be more likely to learn about our errors.

The New York Times study of the Jayson Blair case revealed that people who read his fabricated stories didn’t bother to contact the Times because they didn’t think anyone at the Times would care. As much as I believe in corrections and accuracy, I don’t bother to request corrections about every error published about news I’m involved in (and my most recent request was ignored anyway). I think news organizations need to invite access and requests for corrections, or they won’t become aware of many of their mistakes.

I think if you tried to reach many news organizations through their websites today, you might come to the same conclusion: that no one there cares. Readers and viewers shouldn’t have to work to call our errors to our attention. (more…)

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This week I saw a post from a Digital First Media newsroom in my Facebook news feed, and was surprised to see it there. I “liked” dozens of DFM newsrooms during my time there, but don’t particularly care to follow their news that much now.

So I decided to unlike the page. And, while I was at it, I went into the list of pages I liked and decided to unlike a bunch more — at least two dozen, maybe three (it was probably an oversight that I didn’t like all 75 DFM dailies and some weeklies). And most of them, I had no idea I was even following because, well, they never showed up in my news feed. In fact, I’m not sure how that one showed up the other day because I hadn’t seen it in ages. I only recognized two or three of the ones I dropped as occasionally showing up in my feed.*

That illustrates a problem for news brands. I know every one of those newsrooms I unfollowed has staff members faithfully posting all of their stories, or several stories they think have the most appeal, to their Facebook pages daily. And most of their “fans” never see most of their posts.

The most recent estimate I’ve seen of the percentage of fans seeing a typical post was 16 percent, and that was in 2012, and the figure has certainly dropped as Facebook has made several algorithm tweaks, all designed to make it harder for non-paying brands to get their posts seen.

Maybe the number is something like 10 percent these days, but it will frequently be many of the same people, and probably 70 to 80 percent of your fans almost never see a post. They’re surprised when you show up in their news feed, as I was when my former colleagues’ post showed up this week.

But Facebook traffic is growing in importance for news sites. Parse.ly reported last August that Facebook drives 70 million page views a month to news publishers, second only to Google and more than twice as much as Twitter.

In addition, Parse.ly reported this month that stories with a higher Facebook referral rate have a longer shelf life, attracting traffic over more days than stories that don’t get strong engagement. Higher Twitter referral rates also help shelf life, but not as long as on Facebook.

So Facebook is an important source of news-site traffic, but engagement on Facebook is more complicated than simply posting links there (since most people don’t see them). (more…)

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I can’t believe it’s been five years since I left Iowa. In some ways, my adventure at the Cedar Rapids Gazette seems like it was only a year or two ago. In other ways, it seems a lifetime ago. But it ended five years ago today.

My departure from the Gazette was awkward. More on that later. But the circumstances inhibited me from reflecting at the time on lessons from a job that was simultaneously one of the most rewarding and frustrating experiences of my career. But maybe distance gives you better perspective on those lessons anyway. So here are those belated reflections.

I want to keep the focus positive here: sharing lessons that I learned or relearned in challenging times. Because the lessons are not all positive, I want to make one thing clear: I have no regrets about the Cedar Rapids experience and I applaud my CEO there, Chuck Peters, for attempting innovation at a time when most of the newspaper business was shamefully timid.

I’ll share my lessons in these categories: career, newsroom leadership, disaster response, leading innovation, managing upheaval. (more…)

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The Bloomington Pantagraph's first "Scoop," a Waco "90" biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

The Bloomington Pantagraph’s first “Scoop,” a Waco “90” biplane, pictured in 1929. Reprinted with permission of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

In the way that one idea leads to another which leads to another, this post is a flight of fancy. We start with an old family story about the ride my Uncle Pleas took 85 years ago on a plane called Scoop, then to some other stories I found from a bygone era when newspapers could afford their own pilots and planes, then to some flying stories from my career.

My mother, Harriet Buttry, was a tireless archivist of family writings before Alzheimer’s took over her mind. A shelf in her home displayed books by authors in the family, and notebooks collected magazine articles and other writings, including too many of my newspaper stories, columns and blog posts.

After helping Mom with a recent move, my brother Dan thinned the collection a bit and sent me some boxes of family writings. Most were my old newspaper stories. I was surprised how faithful I had been sending clippings to Mom, but not at all surprised how faithful she was at filing them away. But Dan sent me more than just my own work. The collection included The Great Depression: True Stories of Trials and Triumphscompiled by the McLean County Home and Community Education Association in Illinois in 2006.

That book had three family connections: My cousin Mary Lou Lawson was one of the editors, and a story toward the back of the book was written by my uncle, Pleasant J. Buttry (we called him Uncle Pleas and he also went by Pat). His sister (Mary Lou’s mother and my aunt) Minda was a key character. Here’s Uncle Pleas’s story: (more…)

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Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen

Jay Rosen may have overstated when he told journalists to quit their jobs if they can’t understand their organization’s business model. But Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan way overstated in telling journalists not to listen to Rosen.

I highly recommend reading both pieces. Rosen’s post is full of good advice for understanding the path your business is taking and contributing to making progress along the path. Nolan’s post is fascinating, the kind of scornful dismissal of Rosen’s visionary digital thinking that I normally expect from those clinging to legacy media, not one of the digital upstarts that the troglodytes are so scornful of.

Jay made 15 points that I recommend reading. I’m going to address seven points, somewhat repeating and overlapping with his:

  1. Journalists should absolutely try to understand your organization’s business: how you deliver value and how the company plans to make money from that value.
  2. Business models change, sometimes with little warning, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. You won’t always be informed immediately of the changes.
  3. Colleagues need to understand and believe in the value you provide.
  4. We can protect our integrity and still discuss and understand the business.
  5. Learn the language; you always have.
  6. Leaders are critical to the success of a changing organization.
  7. Business model issues are worth changing jobs over, but I recommend trying to change the organization before quitting it (and finding another job first, too).

I’ll elaborate shortly, but first I’ll defend Rosen against Nolan’s anti-intellectualist insult. Noting the New York University professor’s brief career at the Buffalo Courier-Express before joining academia, Nolan said Rosen “makes money by producing proclamations about journalism rather than by producing actual journalism.” (more…)

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

Newsroom strategy needs to be bold. But you also need to know what digital audiences value.

On the boldness scale, I give a little credit to the editor (and/or corporate executive) who decided to cut the entire photo staff of the Chicago Sun-Times. While I oppose and mourn every cut in newsroom staff, I have said news organizations need to decide what to stop doing. If you have to cut, I think I’d normally have more respect for leaders with the guts to make a strategic cut — such as cutting an entire department — than those who just helplessly erode the whole newsroom across the board.

As I read the outpouring of outrage, sympathy and support for the Sun-Times photo staff in social media yesterday, the part of me that loves bold leadership and recognizes that sentimentality and affection can’t guide business decisions wanted to defend this decision. But I can’t get there.

This strategy overlooks what the audience values.

Most top editors come up through the writing and editing ranks, not from the photo staff, so our default settings favor paragraphs over photographs. But our users engage more deeply with visual images. They always have. (more…)

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I found myself agreeing again and again with Post-Industrial Journalism, a report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism. But I disagree with this statement, which received lots of attention when the report was released last month:

The effect of the current changes in the news ecosystem has already been a reduction in the quality of news in the United States. On present evidence, we are convinced that journalism in this country will get worse before it gets better, and, in some places (principally midsize and small cities with no daily paper) it will get markedly worse.

I just Googled the part of the second sentence before the comma and got 321 hits, so lots of commentators have repeated this point in their responses to the report.

First, I must praise the report’s authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky. They have written one of the most insightful reports about journalism that I have ever read. One of the reasons I have taken so long in responding is that I am in large agreement with them and didn’t want to write a post just summarizing and echoing.

I will deal separately with the questions of whether the quality of news has fallen and whether it will get worse before it gets better. And I will also address a broader question that the report raised. But first, I want to dispute the notion that the quality is more vulnerable in midsize and small cities with no daily paper.

I have worked in cities of varying sizes, from the small town of Shenandoah, Iowa (current population just over 5,000), to the big town of Minot, N.D. (42,000), to the small city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa (metro population 258,000) to the largest metro areas in two states, Des Moines (570K) and Omaha (865K) to two major metro areas, Kansas City (2 million) and Washington (5.6 million).

I have trained and consulted in newsrooms all along that spectrum of community sizes in 44 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces as well as several other countries. I have judged journalism awards recognizing work from large and small newspapers. My current company, Digital First Media, operates in a similar range of communities and I have visited most of our daily newsrooms and several weeklies.

Of all the journalism topics I have addressed in this blog, I may be most qualified to address the question of how the size of a community relates to the quality of the journalism. And I can say emphatically that the size of the community and frequency of print publication do not dictate the quality of the journalism. (more…)

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Note displayed at APILike a drawing on the Etch-a-Sketch that is so popular in politics now, my journalism past has pretty much been shaken clean. Almost everywhere I worked has been shut down or sold:

  • Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal. Newspaper carrier, 1968-70. Citizen-Journal died in 1985.
  • Shenandoah (Iowa) Evening Sentinel. Sports reporter, 1971-72; intern 1975; reporter, editorial page editor, managing editor, 1976-77. The Tinley family sold the Sentinel to Park Newspapers in the 1980s and the Sentinel died in 1993. (more…)

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The St. Petersburg Times is planning to rebrand itself as the Tampa Bay Times.

Here’s the primary reason I think you shouldn’t waste time, energy, focus and money rebranding a newspaper: Print newspapers are a declining business, and news organizations should spend time, energy, focus and money on building a successful digital business for the future, not trying to rebrand the product of the past.

I’m a longtime fan of the St. Pete Times and the Poynter Institute, the non-profit organization that owns it (and depends on Times profits for its prosperity). I wish the Times well in its rebranding effort. I hope it reaps in great profits that fund growth of Poynter’s programs.

However, I think MediaNews Group (my colleagues in Digital First Media) made the right decision in reversing a move toward a regional brand, retaining the established local brands, including the Oakland Tribune, a name with a long and distinguished history. (more…)

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