Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

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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Spotlight” may become this generation’s “All the President’s Men,” a riveting movie based on real-life journalism that uncovered abuse of power.

The similarities, both in the journalistic stories and in the movies, are plentiful and probably not coincidental. The Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate break-in and its cover-up has inspired investigative reporting ever since. The Globe editors and reporters who investigated the Catholic sexual abuse scandal walked in the footsteps of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and other Washington Post journalists of the Watergate era.

Parallels between the journalism stories and the movies abound (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few):

  • Both films depicted interviews with people scared to talk about what they knew.
  • Both movies depicted successful working of powerful sources with inside information.
  • Both depicted the value of teamwork, including conflict and different personalities, in successful reporting, both at the reporter and editor levels.
  • Court records provided key information in both stories.
  • Each film includes a riveting scene of a fearful reporter running in the dark.
  • The two movies used similar cinematic techniques and scenes to depict the tedious use of directories and old newspaper stories to track down important details and make connections.
  • Both films effectively portrayed the difficulty of persuading reluctant sources to talk and the painstaking task of tracking down sources and getting turned down by those who won’t talk.
  • The movies both deal with the complicated personal connections that play into journalism, however much we strive for objectivity.
  • Both stories included a Ben Bradlee as a key character: Senior as the executive editor of the Washington Post, portrayed by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning performance and Junior as deputy managing editor of the Globe, portrayed by John Slattery.
  • Both movies accurately portrayed the rumpled look of many journalists, the newsroom banter, the look of newsrooms of their times. (As much as we hate clichés in copy, we become easy clichés on the wide screen.)
  • Both films accurately portrayed the tension between editors and reporters, each pushing from different perspectives to perfect the story.

The most important parallel between “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” is that each portrays one of its generation’s best journalism investigations, each shining a light on shameful cover-ups of criminal activity, each succeeding in bringing down powerful figures.

Companion post: In a separate post, I share advice from my own experience covering sexual abuse by priests.

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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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In one of the emails wishing me success in my job search came some questions from a young reporter. I enjoy few thing more here than answering journalists’ questions, and I much prefer that to writing about myself.

So here’s the question:

How do you think journalists can network with other reporters effectively in the digital age?

For instance, I’m interested in working at a number of different outlets in the future, from alt-weeklies to dailies to online media. I’d love to connect with reporters and editors at those outlets, but it’s harder to ask that reporter to chat with you over coffee when you’re miles and miles away.

Do you have any advice for how to cultivate that digital relationship with other journalists?

Yes, I have advice for cultivating digital relationships with journalists: (more…)

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Journalism isn’t narcissism, as Hamilton Nolan noted correctly in his Gawker headline. But as Nolan elaborated, I heard an old theme that I think has misguided lots of journalists. Journalism also isn’t machinery. Journalism is practiced by humans, and journalists and journalism professors who deny their humanity diminish their journalism.

Nolan found fault with a New York Times piece by Susan Shapiro, an author and journalism professor he dismissed as “teaching a gimmick: the confessional as attention-grabber.”

Shapiro encourages her feature-writing students to “shed vanity and pretension and relive an embarrassing moment that makes them look silly, fearful, fragile or naked.” Nolan counters that journalism students instead need to be taught to write other people’s stories:

Your friends, and neighbors, and community members, and people across town, and across your country, and across the world far and wide are all brimming with stories to tell. Stories of love, and war, and crime, and peril, and redemption. The average inmate at your local jail probably has a far more interesting life story than Susan Shapiro or you or I do, no matter how many of our ex-boyfriends and girlfriends we call for comment. All of the compelling stories you could ever hope to be offered are already freely available. All you have to do is to look outside of yourself, and listen, and write them down.

I believe both journalists are right. Journalists need to tell the important untold stories of their communities. Most journalism should be outward-looking. But personal insight can and often should be part of the process of listening and writing down other people’s stories. (more…)

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Thanks to Tim McGuire for his recent “This I believe” blog post, spelling out his core values and views about journalism, newspapers and the future of media. I think it’s helpful, especially in turbulent times, for journalists (or people in any field) to reflect occasionally on what we believe — core values as well as our beliefs about where our profession and our industry are going. I promised earlier this month to blog a response.

This I believe about journalism and the future of media:

I believe journalism plays an essential role in our democracy.

I believe journalism plays an essential role in community life. (more…)

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The “5 W’s” of journalism are the building materials for web writing. Most journalists learned these fundamentals our first day in a newsroom or a journalism classroom. But we occasionally need reminding and refreshing.

These questions can guide your reporting as you interview, observe and research to gather the facts for your story. They can guide your writing, whether you are live-tweeting an event, writing a brief summary or a video script or crafting a long narrative. They can raise ethical issues to consider. They help you find links to add context or visual content to illustrate. They guide you to possible visual content for a post. I will address each of these possibilities for each of the fundamental questions:


Reporting. Accuracy and verification are the heart of good writing. Make sure you get the names spelled right. Ask a person to spell his or her name for you (even if it’s a common name), then spell it back and/or show what you wrote in the notebook. Get it in writing: from a business card, web bio or other source. If the written version doesn’t match what you have in your notes, resolve the conflict directly with the source. Who is more than a person’s name. Your research should uncover a person’s title and role in your story, the relationships, experience, perspective and motivation. (more…)

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I will be leading three Twitter workshops for journalists in Ottawa next week, and I’d like some help from journalists using Twitter.

Please share your best stories (with links, if possible, to tweets/stories) about using Twitter as a journalism tool in the comments here:

  • What’s been your best experience using Twitter to connect with sources on a breaking news story? (more…)

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As I was making plans to lead a webinar on Twitter for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, I asked for advice from other journalists. Andria Krewson of The Charlotte Observer sent the most helpful response. An edited version of her answers to my questions follows:

Here are some thoughts to your questions about using Twitter for journalists. I’m working on a similar topic for a project for a graduate-level online class through the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, and I’ve been using Twitter as an individual and as a journalist at The Charlotte Observer unofficially for awhile.

I’m a design team leader, lower management. Our newsroom use of Twitter has been generally unofficial, from the bottom up. We have one upper-level editor, Steve Gunn, who is working on strategies for using Twitter, Facebook and other tools. And our top editor, Rick Thames, has tweeted as @rthames.

While our use has been mostly unofficial, I do think I can add some thoughts to your research. I’d love to hear more about what you find, and perhaps it will help me in my class work. Thinking and writing up notes for you has helped me in that work as well, so I appreciate your good, thoughtful questions.

How have you used Twitter to get suggestions for story ideas?

Looked for local people to follow, listened for their events and breaking news, such as planning for a local Charlotte Wordcamp (which we ended up providing space for), Pecha Kucha nights (which Observer photographer @garyobrien covered with a slideshow) or art gallery crawls.  

How have you used Twitter to gather information for breaking news coverage?

Keep the web application for Twitter up while at work. Generally use my @underoak account because of a larger base to listen, but broadcast work-related items on the smaller professional account, @akrewson.

How, if at all, have you verified information you gathered using Twitter?

Go to real sources or respected websites. Especially if information is from @breakingnews, find local newspaper or TV websites to verify information. Use ScanAmerica to verify reports of plane “crashes” or other local emergencies. We did this on a Saturday night in Charlotte after a plane slid off a runway and caused minor injuries; at first, @breakingnews tweets called the incident a “crash,” which put the people working in the newsroom that night into high alert; luckily, this one turned out to be not so serious, and we found local websites and ScanAmerica to help verify that.

 How have you used Twitter to connect with sources?

Sought out local people on Twitter. Listened to their tweets. In Charlotte, by simply establishing a presence and being open in the profile and in tweets about where I work, I gathered a large number of real-estate agents and public relations and marketing followers. In this town, real-estate agents clearly seem to be seeking new ways to connect with the media and with potential customers.

How, if at all, have you verified identification of sources you found on Twitter?

In-person meetings or the checking of other online sources. Traditional reporting techniques are in order.

How have you used Twitter feeds on your blog or web site?

I have not used Twitter feeds on my personal blogs. My newspaper has used a simple Twitter feed during the Southeastern U.S. gas crisis. We used a feed of posts with the hashtag #cltgas, borrowing the idea from Atlanta’s Twitter community, which used #atlgas. We encouraged readers to tweet when they found gasoline at available stations and to use the hashtag, then displayed the results on our website. Some local tweeters, of course, tried to game the system to leave “graffiti” on our website, and you can search the tag even now to find tweets that satirize Charlotte’s crisis response during the gas shortage. Please note: The tag developed organically outside the newspaper’s urging, before its use at the newspaper was envisioned, as a way for individuals to help others find gas. A news organization needs to join the tweeting that’s going online, not try to direct the use of hashtags too strongly. And beware the “graffiti;” some individuals get a feeling of power by gaming the use of hashtags to get their tweets on to a main-stream media site; the results can be ugly, obscene or perhaps libelous. (Some newspapers have used the same technique, but labeled the feature as coming from an outside source outside of their control. This seems wise.) The use of the hashtag and reuse on a commercial website should clearly be for the good of the community and not just for commercial purposes, in order to get tweeters to avoid that kind of graffiti.

How have you used Twitter to attract audiences for content you have produced or edited?

Several staffers regularly send out links to good content aimed at their Twitter followers from charlotteobserver.com. See users @akrewson, @eyecharlotte (tweeting personally as @crystaldempsey), @garyobrien, @entereseCLT, (tweeting personally as @romustgo) @rthames and @sgunn. Because tinyurls are not easily accessible within our firewall, the learning curve on using shortened urls seems to be steeper than at most places. Some posters simply send readers to our main website, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/, but others prefer to use deep linking to specific stories to ease clicking for readers.

How else have you used Twitter?

Gathering contacts and resources locally and meeting them in person at tweetups. Listening to journalism discussions among professionals and students. Keeping in touch with news in Chapel Hill, where my daughter goes to college.

What problems or challenges have you encountered using Twitter as a journalist?

Corporate media distrusts new systems where messages cannot be totally controlled. In addition, it seems that many people in power in traditional media are still looking for broadcasting methods that will drive huge numbers. Twitter offers tools for listening to what people are saying, gathering information, and targeting specific stories to specific, smaller audiences than mass media has attracted in the past. In that respect, its value is underestimated by those with traditional media thinking.

What ethical issues concern you as you use Twitter and how have you addressed those issues?

Deciding on the “persona” to use. If one is using Twitter for business as a journalist, it seems the persona needs to have a strict, professional unbiased profile, but that takes much of the fun out of connecting with friends on Twitter. Solution: Two Twitter accounts, one personal and one professional. In addition, this separation allows users to “own” their personal accounts; when an account is used primarily for business, it can be problematic if a separation occurs between an individual “brand” and a company “brand,” something that is quite common in these turbulent times. Some of the thinking about “personal branding” came from Twitter users that I followed; the public relations and marketing people helped clarify my thinking with links to branding and marketing stories and blog posts. In addition, some journalism students these days are also using the split- personality “branding” on Facebook; several have chosen to create professional Facebook accounts separate from their personal accounts. This splitting of audiences seems to be a valid answer to social media these days.

A caution: By being labeled a “journalist” on Twitter, you immediately become a target for marketing and PR people. Marketers use the list of journalists just as they once used hard-copy contact lists for editors at newspapers and magazines, to pitch stories and ideas. Many reporters and editors are leery of Twitter and its openness, perhaps because of the workload issues that such openness can thus bring. They are already handling large quantities of email in many cases.  Perhaps the solution is like an ombudsman, or publisher, or reader representative, like Chicago’s @coloneltribune, one persona who can be the conduit for that kind of openness and pitching that will happen whenever a journalist puts themselves out in the open. Reporters who want to “lie low” on Twitter and just gather information should be respected for their choices in how they spend their time. Twitter shouldn’t become a requirement for them; however, its usefulness as an information-gathering tool for searching (which does not even require an account) should be encouraged and taught widely among reporters, as simply another reporting tool.

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I am glad to see the Journalist’s Toolbox has completed its move from the American Press Institute web site to the Society of Professional Journalists.

I helped make this match earlier this year when I was still at API. I heartily recommend it to journalists. It’s well-organized, with topical material on subjects you might report on, both timeless material that would be helpful on your beat and timely material on issues of the day (current links deal with covering the inauguration or the Obama administration).

Kudos to Mike Reilley, who developed the Toolbox years ago as his own product and has continued to update and expand it as it moved to API and now SPJ.

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