Wick Communications

Count to 10, slowly

In Communication on October 16, 2014 at 4:04 pm

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Say you just spent most of two days writing a story on, oh, I don’t know, the local high school volleyball team. You took time to talk to the coach, the athletic director and a couple of the players. You added some background on the history of the team and, because you did your homework, perhaps you mentioned that one of the players is being recruited by elite college programs. Maybe you played the game yourself back in the day and as a result you know a thing or two about the volleyball.

The next day the paper comes out. Your editor goofed up the headline and somehow you got the terms “kills” and “digs” mixed up. It makes you so crazy you could just pull out your hair.

Now, let’s say you open your email, and you see something like the image above.

It happens. Sometimes we screw up, and sometimes our readers are, let’s say less-than appreciative of our services. Sometimes that’s true even if we get all the details right. One thing I know: You can count on getting emails, phone calls and letters of complaint that are both fair and completely unfair. It’s a part of the job we share.

You can’t control that. But you can control your response to the vitriol.

I mention all this because if you let your temper get the best of you, your egregious response to a complaint can get you fired. You are a representative of the company at all times, and that is perhaps especially true when you hit send on an email that carries your news organization’s name. Your ability to keep cool, even in the face of unfair criticism, is critical to your ability to do the job. There is simply no excuse for lashing out at those with complaints.

So what do you do with an email like that? …

When photography is ignored

In Photography on October 16, 2014 at 3:55 pm
Some bar band that Charlie Russo shot on assignment for the Bay Guardian

Some bar band that Charlie Russo shot on assignment for the Bay Guardian

I’m about to make a generalization that is not entirely fair:

One among many challenges that forced two good alt-weeklies out of business this week was a lack of good art. I’m not saying it was the primary reason, only that it represented a denial of sorts of the visual nature of the media today. The lack of good photography in many alt-weeklies may be partly due to the lack of available landscape in the tabloid format, but it’s also due to a lack of respect for photos and photojournalists.

That is a vast overstatement and, again, I don’t mean that crummy photos doomed the Metro Pulse in Knoxville, Tenn., and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. These are challenging times for all media for myriad reasons that readers know all too well.

But I do think, precisely because of those challenges, we need to be visual in a time when the media is dominated by Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms that exist primarily as photo-sharing vehicles.

This isn’t my unique observation. In fact, I probably first considered the importance of photos in the alts in conversations with Charlie Russo. Charlie was a photographer for us at the Half Moon Bay Review and did at lot of freelance for the Bay Guardian on the side. He’s one of the best photographers you’ll ever meet. It was Charlie’s observation that alt-weekly editors seemed to value long-form, word-rich journalism above all else. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but if you want anyone to read it, you have to concern yourself with design, photography – even typography. …

Revolving around a new sun

In Innovation on October 16, 2014 at 3:41 pm

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The South Florida Sun-Sentinel let slip this week that it would no longer put its newspaper at the center of it’s sunny south Florida universe. The world now revolves around a digital star.

The plan is to make almost everyone serve the digital product first. A select, small group will be assigned to transform all that digital content (a dismissive term denoting commodity rather that quality which I continue to dislike) into a newspaper. Everyone else is reporting for the online news site. The organization is no longer hiring newspaper reporters, per se.

Does it matter? Is that a meaningful shift?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. It’s not the first time a news organization has sought to change the nomenclature surrounding its business model in hopes of making plain its digital intentions. It’s only been three years since the venerable Journal Register Company announced the creation of Digital First Media. You can’t make your intentions any more plain than that. I guess you would have to say that change didn’t completely change the fortunes of a legacy media company.

I’m sure that spinning terms alone isn’t sufficient to make change. It may be true, however, that tinkering with our processes is necessary to chart a profitable course in the long term.

The changes in south Florida represent an evolution. It used to be that digital departments operated as standalone stepchildren at places like the Washington Post. They were seen as experimental and technical and more akin to an engineering enterprise than the core mission of journalism. Sometimes they weren’t even in the same building. …

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