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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Plotkin’

I have some advice for Larry Kramer and Gannett on running a nationwide network of newsrooms as a single operation.

Ken Doctor speculated yesterday that Kramer, publisher of USA Today, might lead Gannett’s editorial operation as a single unit.

As Gannett separates its newspaper properties from its broadcast and digital properties, Doctor tried to parse what Bob Dickey, CEO of the print operation, which will keep the Gannett name, meant when he said he would be “uniting our different news businesses into a single, nationwide news powerhouse.”

Doctor observed:

If Gannett’s journalists were to be centrally directed, they would comprise 2,700 journalists, the largest single journalistic workforce globally.

Gannett logoGannett gives a lot of corporate direction to newsrooms. Currently the Newsroom of the Future is the Gannett wave, but earlier thrusts have emphasized Information Centers (2006, after the Newspaper Next report), First Five Paragraphs (2000 or so, when I was a Gannett reporter) and News 2000 (that was the priority when I interviewed for a Gannett job in 1992). And I probably forgot a few. Remind me, if you recall one I missed. Update: I forgot ContentOne (2009).

The company also is consolidating print production in regional Design Studios, a trend throughout the industry.

But, as Doctor noted, Gannett editors don’t work for a national corporate editor:

Those editors now report solely, within a traditional newspaper structure, to their paper’s publishers. Gannett senior vice president for news Kate Marymont (“My job is to elevate the journalism across Gannett’s local media sites,” says her LinkedIn job description.) leads editorial planning and strategy. Like her peers in similar positions at newspaper companies, she may act as an editorial advocate, but doesn’t have line authority.

I worked for nearly three years at a company where the newsroom editors did report directly to a corporate editor. Early in the formation of Digital First Media, I was on a conference call with all the publishers when CEO John Paton told them their editors would report to Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady. Publishers would still be in charge of the local budgets and the local operation, but for all journalism matters, Jim was in charge.

I was one of a handful of editors who reported directly to Jim, and I visited 84 newsrooms, including all DFM dailies, so I suppose I’m as qualified as anyone but Jim to share some lessons from our brief experience trying to run a single journalistic workforce.

I will neither boast of our successes here nor criticize our mistakes (mine or others’), though I will make passing references below to my DFM experiences. The lessons below are my own observations and advice to Kramer and Gannett (if Doctor’s speculation is correct), based on successes and mistakes at DFM and many experiences that were a mix of both. And I suspect some other companies might seek to better unify their news efforts.

Here’s my advice for Kramer and others who may lead national news operations: (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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When traumatic stuff happens in a community, journalists are some of the first on the scene, along with the cops, fire fighters, paramedics and other emergency workers.

These tragic events that end and disrupt lives can propel a journalism career forward. The phrase “great story” invariably slips from some journalist’s lips (usually out of earshot of those for whom the trauma is evident). We often cover these stories, though, without a full understanding of what trauma is, how it works and its impact on those who experience trauma, including the journalists who cover it.

At a workshop for Digital First journalists this month in West Chester, Pa., Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, led an exploration of the uncomfortable issues of how we get great stories from tragic events and how we process the trauma that we experience.

Scott Blanchard and Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record journalists, organized the workshop and helped Shapiro lead it. They proposed this training to me after attending a Dart program as winners of honorable mention for a Dart Award for their coverage of the lasting impact of a violent, traumatic event. I supported their suggestion and Claire Gaval, Digital First Media’s Vice President of Learning and Organization Development, helped make it happen.

Scott blogged about the workshop yesterday. I was able to attend only the first of two days of training, and Bruce told participants the workshop would be off the record, to encourage people to talk freely. So I won’t blog much about the workshop itself (though I encourage others to consider holding similar workshops).

What I will do here is share some of my advice from years of reporting and editing on stories about disasters, murders, sexual and domestic abuse and other traumatic situations.

Some of these are tips or anecdotes I shared during the workshop. Others I thought of during the discussions but kept to myself because I thought it was more important for others to talk. I’m not on the front lines of our coverage of traumatic news, and the point of the workshop was to get those on the front lines talking, so they could learn from each other about covering these difficult events and about dealing with the personal impact of that coverage. (more…)

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This is a guest post from Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News (speaking in my crooked Twitter photo above). I’ll post more about the training tomorrow.

In December 2012, dozens of journalists from Digital First Media newsrooms came together in Newtown, Conn. to cover the mass shooting there for news organizations across the country.

Many returned deeply affected by what they had seen, heard, written and photographed.

The following spring, photojournalist Jason Plotkin and Sunday editor Scott Blanchard of the York Daily Record/Sunday News — which had sent seven staffers to Newtown* — asked Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma executive director Bruce Shapiro if Dart could work with DFM to create something that would be a first for a U.S.-based news organization: A company-wide peer-support program for journalists who cover conflict and violence in their communities. (more…)

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Jason Plotkin's new Cover.

Jason Plotkin’s new Cover.

Journalists should go to extraordinary lengths to protect our integrity. But when a courtesy or kindness doesn’t threaten our integrity, we should say “thank you.”

Jason Plotkin, an extraordinary (Emmy-winning) visual journalist for the York Daily Record, blogged recently about a marine giving him his “Cover” (“The Army wears hats. The Marines wear Covers,” the marine explained).

Jason wrote about all the gifts he had given away over the years, or passed on to a YDR charity auction, guided by the ethical imperative to maintain independence from sources. His colleague, Buffy Andrews, called the dilemma to my attention, asking what I thought.

Here’s what I think: We should absolutely – and insistently, if necessary – politely refuse gifts of significant value that could threaten our integrity, if only by appearance. But journalists don’t have to be assholes. Our jobs too often force us to annoy – asking difficult questions, refusing pleas not to publish embarrassing information, intruding on grief and other private situations. I defend (and have practiced) all of those actions and many other unpopular things journalists need to do. But we don’t have to insult people who are being kind in ways that don’t threaten our integrity.

(more…)

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Front page tease to "Finding Their Way Out" package in York Daily Record.

For most of my career, I’d need to wait until Sunday to read and write about a big newspaper enterprise project. But I read the York Daily Record and Sunday News’ “Finding Their Way Out” on Friday afternoon.

It’s an outstanding package by reporter Bill Landauer and photojournalist Jason Plotkin, designed by Samantha K. Dellinger. They examine the lasting impact of a local act of school violence. It underscores some old-school principles of journalism:

  • Reporters and photojournalists need to knock on some doors and develop good relationships to get many of the best stories.
  • Reporters and photojournalists should work together on big stories.
  • Editors should give reporters and photojournalists time to work on major enterprise stories.
  • Professional journalists bring genuine value to their best work.

The project also underscores some principles of digital journalism:

  • Digital journalism is first and foremost about doing good journalism.
  • We no longer wait until Sunday (when web traffic is slow) to publish our best work. Publishing the story online Friday and in print Sunday fits our company’s Digital First approach.
  • We build on strong reporting and photojournalism with strong interactive elements.
  • We promote and explain our work on social media and blogs.

I asked the York team some questions by email. Sunday Editor Scott Blanchard, lead editor on the project, answered, along with Editor Jim McClure and Assistant Managing Editor/Visuals Brad Jennings: (more…)

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