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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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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 led a webinar today on digital approaches to enterprise stories. It mentioned these links as advice and examples:

Questions to help newsrooms unbolt enterprise reporting from the ‘Sunday story’

Five Satins: A ‘Sunday’ story published digitally the Monday before

‘In the Still of the Night’: Five Satins recorded biggest hit in New Haven church basement

Sunshine Week project showed digital-first enterprise approach

Sunshine Week project

Denver Post’s Chasing the Beast

Denver Post’s The Fire Line

Nola.com’s then-and-now Hurricane Katrina photos

ProPublica Patient Harm Facebook group

Gettysburg 150 app

Here are my slides from the webinar:

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

Daily news meetings are an important place for editors to emphasize priorities.

If a morning meeting focuses on the next day’s newspaper, that will be the focus of the staff’s energies. A Digital First editor should place the focus, especially in a morning meeting, on plans and results for digital content. Don’t critique the morning paper (or, if you must, critique it briefly at the end of the meeting). Instead, you should discuss what’s resonating this morning with your digital audience: What’s getting strong traffic? What’s generating comments on your site or your Facebook page or on Twitter? Do you have plans (or should you make them) for advancing those stories through the day?

If you have projection capability in your conference room, show the site and/or your Facebook page and/or your analytics page(s) on the screen to aid in the discussions.

Discuss digital coverage plans for the day: What video are you shooting? What stories might you be able to supplement with YouTube videos? What stories provide good crowdsourcing opportunities and how should you pitch them to the community? What are photo gallery opportunities, and are you planning to shoot them (and/or to seek community photos)? What events will you be covering live this day (and the next)? Will you be livetweeting them, liveblogging, livestreaming or some combination? Are you planning a live chat about an event or timely issue (or should you?)? Discuss what you’re promoting (or will promote later in the day) on social media. (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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Tom Barstow

As I’ve been suggesting new ways for Digital First journalists to work, I’ve been aware that my advice for copy desks has been incomplete. I made some suggestions for copy editors earlier this year, but I’ve been pondering something more meaningful for copy desks. Now I know what to say: Check out what the York Daily Record/Sunday News is doing.

A recent email listed the work done in the past week by the YDR’s Night News and Digital Desk. I asked for some elaboration and received multiple responses (lightly edited) from Tom Barstow, News Editor, Night News and Digital:

As you know, the YDR hasn’t had a copy desk in more than a year now. Instead, we are the Night News and Digital desk with multi-platform journalists on the staff. That nomenclature change has been important to re-define what we do daily beyond traditional page production and copy work. (more…)

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NewsVroom ready for gametime Friday night

Randy Parker, center, interviews sports writer Steve Navaroli as GametimePA producer Matt Goul shoots video for a livestream.

I’ll be blogging tonight from the launch of NewsVroom at Panther Field in York, Pa.

NewsVroom is the mobile community newsroom/classroom of GametimePA, ydr.com, Smart magazine, FlipSidePA.com and the York Daily Record. But tonight it’s a GametimePA van, carrying tents, digital equipment, ice, water, coolers, freebies, tables and chairs for journalists and the public as Central York and West York launch the high school sports season.

Managing Editor Randy Parker is leading the crew here and has headed planning for the NewsVroom launch since Digital First Media greenlighted this project earlier this year. Visual Editor Eileen Joyce is shooting the game for a livestream video. (more…)

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