Wick Communications

The big unlearning

In journalism on April 20, 2017 at 11:39 am

I don’t know about you, but I have put decades of my life into newspaper reporting and editing, so I would like to feel that I have gotten better at it. That things like writing inverted pyramids, editing for AP style and proofing pages have become second nature and are meaningful.

It hurts a little to think that very expertise might be holding me back. However, I have a niggling feeling that may be the case.

Kristen Hare at Poynter has put together a fascinating series of interviews with local journalists about changes in the profession. This week, she asked a radio producer and a reporter for the interesting local journalism start-up Billy Penn an intriguing question: What sorts of things did they have to unlearn to be viable journalists in the second decade of the 21st century?

She framed it like this: “I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve seen newsrooms let go of, and it seems like they fall into three basic categories. One is stagnant culture. Two is a sense of confusion about our audiences and what they want, and three is just practices — how we do our jobs now.”

The journalists mentioned several things they had to stop doing. Perhaps the one that resonated the most for me had to do with deadlines and ownership of stories. Anna Orso of Billy Penn said that when she was a newspaper reporter, she filed a story by a particular time and was usually done with it. Someone else edited it and moved it into queues for print and web. Now, she loads it into WordPress, embeds video and engages readers of the work on Facebook and Twitter.

They also talk about giving up on the old inverted pyramid and “objective” writing. These are things that I want to hold on to, and I’ll tell you why. The point of the inverted pyramid is so busy people can give up on stories quickly and still get the gist. Why would we let that go? Are people any less busy or less distracted now than they were, say, 30 years ago? I don’t think so. …

Making the most of archives

In journalism on April 20, 2017 at 11:33 am

Crimetime augments its work with stuff from the Providence Journal archives.

What opportunities do your archives present? Might I suggest they are an under-utilized treasure trove that can add context to stories, enlighten new residents, thrill longtime neighbors and perhaps even become a — dare I say it? — revenue stream?

I got to thinking about this after reading Ken Doctor’s post on Nieman Lab.

Doctor, who writes extensively on the media, tells us of the symbiotic relationship between a podcast called Crimetown and the Providence Journal. He says the producers of Crimetown leaned on the Journal morgue for documents and research that it ultimately presented in a newsletter and on its website as extra goodies for fans of the podcast. (The podcast, by the way, has been downloaded 16 million times.)

From the piece:

“Local newspapers are an undeveloped resource,” (said Crimetown co-creator Marc) Smerling, who was nominated for a 2003 Oscar for Capturing The Friedmans. “There is a tendency for newspapers to hold tightly to their libraries. The Providence Journal was smart to recognize that sharing what they’ve collected over so many years was a way to broaden their audience and take ownership of the stories we are telling. It gives them another thing to offer their subscribers and it promotes a forward-thinking development of their brand.”

He’s certainly right about that. I routinely shoo people away from our print archives, which go back to about 1960s. I just don’t know that I want folks rummaging through our history like that. Why? Hell, I don’t know. But when I answer my own question like that, I know I should think again. …

In defense of structured hiring

In Hiring on April 20, 2017 at 11:27 am

Photo courtesy Ashley Fisher https://flic.kr/p/5oeFVd

All of us have interviewed for jobs, but remarkably few of us have been the subject of a rigorous, standardized, thoughtful approach to the hiring process.

I’m thinking about this today, in part, because I’m hoping to hire a new reporter myself, but also because of something I saw on Twitter. Stacy-Marie Ishmael was the Financial Times’ first vice president of communities and BuzzFeed News’ managing editor for mobile. In a recent blog post, she says she has interviewed dozens of candidates and has found that the kind of idle chit-chat that can be the most telling stuff for witless managers is not indicative of the best hire. In fact, she and others argue persuasively that that stuff might lead you to hire people you like or who have similar hobbies rather than those who are best suited to the work.

That last part is particularly important. We’ve all heard tech companies (and really it’s true of most industries) lambasted for hiring for “culture.” Too often what that means is that men hire other men with similar characteristics. That creates a boring, homogenous “culture” that is less agile, less able to respond to all of your customers, including those who don’t look like us.

Through the years, I have taken some pride in my hires at the Half Moon Bay Review. We have had reporters leave our paper for Google, the Wall Street Journal and the Seattle Times, among other places. Truth is, these are successful people who would have done well without yours truly. I have indulged in magical thinking from time to time. I thought of hiring as more art than craft and assumed I was just good at it for some mysterious reason. Well, that’s BS. I’ve been lucky and I’ve benefitted from representing a wonderful place that is its own advertisement. …