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Scott Blanchard

Scott Blanchard

Thanks to Scott Blanchard, Sunday Editor at the York Daily Record and York Sunday News for this guest post. Scott is a former Dart Center Ochberg Fellow, whom I invited to respond to my post on advice for steeling yourself to ask tough questions. I added some links to his email response and edited lightly:

I totally co-sign your post and the tips in it. Here are a few things your post made me think of:

  • Listening means being present to the person you’re talking to. Gavin Rees, director of Dart Centre Europe, says that in every interview, there are two conversations: The one in the foreground that you’re having with the other person, and the one in the background that you’re having, in your head, with yourself. When the background conversation overcomes the foreground one, the interview derails. That background conversation needs some room, but don’t let it dominate or distract you from being present with your interview subject. (Gavin has a great chapter in a book on trauma journalism; it’s embedded here.)
  • In terms of accountability questions, I think journalists need to make sure they know what specific question they asked when the subject gave a particular answer. It might make a difference in whether/how you are able to publish/frame the response — especially if the answer includes a pronoun. E.g. if you come back with a quote from an official who said, “No, I didn’t know about that,” you have to be able to say that response was to this specific question, so you understand exactly what “that” refers to.
  • I think it’s a good idea to make best practices for trauma coverage be part of news orgs’ orientation for new staffers (there’s a bunch of great material in your post for such an effort); and it’s a good idea for news orgs to make a point of bringing staffers together to have peer-to-peer discussions about what worked, what didn’t and what can be learned from their work in both trauma journalism and accountability journalism. We’ve been doing both since beginning a relationship with the Dart Center, and we believe those efforts have been productive. More on those efforts here.

As far as the question in the hed of your blog post (how to “steel” yourself to ask tough questions): Because I’m an editor, most tough conversations come to me now — if someone who is upset with us calls — as opposed to me going out on a story. But whether I have to call someone to ask tough questions or just field questions after I pick up the line:

  • I think about a survivor who might want to tell his or her story (as you noted).
  • I draw strength from my colleagues — for example, reporters and photographers in our newsroom — who face these situations far more than I do.
  • I draw strength from my Ochberg Fellowship friends. I know what they’re out there doing. Their support makes a difference.
  • I draw on Dart Center knowledge and our newsroom’s commitment to ethical journalism and to treating people like human beings. I feel as confident as I can that, although someone might rebuke me or us for our coverage, we are acting from a solid foundation and making the most well-grounded decisions that we can.

I welcome other guest posts on this topic: What are tips from your experience asking tough questions?

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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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One of a news organization’s most important jobs is helping voters make informed decisions before they go to the polls. We try to do that with lots of coverage during the election campaign: stories about stump speeches, horse-race stories, issue coverage.

But the fact is that lots of voters aren’t paying attention, particularly in the down-ballot races. They might be following the presidential campaign or races for Senate or governor. But a congressional race usually doesn’t command as much voter attention. Sometimes, especially with House races and local races, voters just want some help right before election. Historically we have tried to meet that need with voter guides readers could scan through, getting a quick look at candidates’ bios and their stands on key issues.

The York Daily Record offered readers a helpful tool in deciding how to vote in Tuesday’s primary races to choose the fall candidates to replace incumbent Todd Platts in the 4th Congressional District. With seven Republicans and three Democrats, voters had lots of candidates to follow, and a poll showed that two-thirds of registered voters were undecided as the primary approached.

The Record offered a quiz, asking voters’ opinions on issues, then showing them which candidate most closely reflected their views and priorities. The quiz, powered by GoToQuiz, asked what kind of experience voters valued, whether it mattered where a candidate lived, and about views on positions such as tax cuts, health care reform, climate change and the war in Afghanistan. You choose which statement most matches your position and the quiz awards points to the candidate whose position you chose. (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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