Wick Communications

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Making internships matter

In Management on June 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm

This week, we have a new face in the Half Moon Bay Review newsroom. She is Luz Gomez, and she is the best thing to happen to us since Dunkin’ Donuts opened down the street.

Luz will be a 10th grader in the fall at nearby Pescadero High School. She comes to us by way of a social services program in her community. I was more than happy to be included in the project: The agency paired high school students with businesses that interest them. Before she showed up for work, Luz had a week’s worth of training to learn appropriate behavior in an office environment and even CPR. She has been a jewel since the moment she walked in the door.

Normally, I get a summer intern from Stanford. These tend to be highly qualified, journalists-in-the-making. Some already have their bachelor’s degree and are working on a master’s from one of the world’s pre-eminent colleges.

Good as Luz is, she hasn’t had that kind of opportunity yet. So, it’s incumbent upon me as a manager to find appropriate, stimulating, fun and useful things for her to do. That, if you’ve ever managed interns, is often easier said than done. Consequently, some places treat interns as cheap or free labor. Interns are made to do the digital equivalent of 21st-century filing. Too often, interns are engaged in brainless activity that does nothing so much as convince them that the last thing they want to do is work in that field upon graduation.

Please don’t do that. For one thing, the school or organization that sends you the intern will hear that feedback and stop sending you interns. More importantly, though, you would be violating a sacred trust. We have an obligation to sell this business of ours to promising young people. Journalism is a calling and we have to help the next generation to hear it. … Read the rest of this entry »

See the Medium

In publishing on June 22, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Have you used Medium?

If the answer is A) No, or B) What the heck is that, click here. You really should play around with Medium, if for no other reason than to understand this seamless, easy publishing platform that is available elsewhere for your readers and advertisers. In a way, it is competing for eyeballs, but it also represents an opportunity. I bet if you give it a try, you’ll like it.

Medium is a newish blogging platform that I find easier to use than WordPress or other similar things. All you have to do is create a free account, type up some thoughts and drag over a photo or two and you are publishing. I’ve used it to share silly things, to drum up interest in our Half Moon Bay Review coverage, and even to reflect on a plane crash.

This week, the Nieman Lab notes the success The Economist is having with Medium as a way to share insider information and to be more transparent with super-readers of the magazine.

One of the lessons the team at The Economist learned about Medium was that it is qualitatively different from Facebook or Twitter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Medium is a place where sophisticated readers go for quality content. Should that be important to us? … Read the rest of this entry »

Finding a new niche

In Marketing, publishing on June 22, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Have you seen Task & Purpose? Perhaps it’s as well known as it should be in communities like Sierra Vista that have a lot of young servicemen and women, but it was a revelation to me.

It is a news and culture site that knows its audience well. It was created out of a job site called HirePurpose that was designed to match veterans with employers and ease some of the troubles we all know are all-too prevalent for returning soldiers. It’s simply spectacular. It is a collection of veteran/writers doing journalism like this piece about deported American military veterans being “conscripted” by the drug cartels. What a story!

The site was originally meant as a marketing asset for the job site, but it’s so much more than that now. It has great content, a defined and valuable audience… and revenue.

I guess it’s a reminder that, as we go about our regular work, we should be alive for new niches like this. It’s possible the Immigrant Project some of us have been working on could go in this direction.

Clay

When the shooter is a neighbor

In journalism on June 15, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Among other things, here’s what readers of the Belleville, Ill., News-Democrat learned about their infamous hometown killer in the wake of James T. Hodgkinson’s violent outburst at a suburban Washington, D.C. baseball diamond:

“The Hodgkinsons’ foster daughter, Wanda Ashley Stock, killed herself at the age of 17 in a brutal manner: Ashley doused herself with gasoline and set herself on fire inside her car on a rural road south of Belleville.”

And this: “Then, in December 2002, the Hodgkinsons assumed legal guardianship for their 12-year-old great-niece, Cathy Lynn Putnam. Cathy’s biological parents’ rights had been revoked, and she had been in foster care or with the Hodgkinsons since she was 4 years old. Her name was eventually changed to Cathy Hodgkinson.”

The national newspapers and the network television outfits had video from the scene and stand-up interviews with congressmen. It was compelling … but the local paper had insight into the mind of a killer.

Poynter talked to editors at the 30,000-circulation McClatchy paper. They explained the entire staff put down what they were doing and picked up the Hodgkinson story just as soon as they heard about the shooting. As a result, they found a host of tidbits that they were uniquely positioned to find. A DUI, a charge of resisting arrest. The time his shotgun was confiscated after an altercation. … Read the rest of this entry »

News from home

In Media on June 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm

This week I returned from vacation. My girlfriend and I took a cruise. It was fantastic.

I mention it here only because of what I learned along the way about news and its consumption.

Wi-Fi on the ship is expensive. Most people either do as I did and eschew online activities for the duration or seek some Internet café at each port. That doesn’t mean people have given up on news entirely.

The Times Digest was must-read material every day on the ship. The digest is created by a company called KVH Media Group. It distills the top stories from the New York Times every day — including weather, sports and crossword — and presents them in a letter-page booklet format. I think each one might have been 12 pages.

Virtually everyone talked about getting these news summaries. In fact, some days there was a bit of a line at the kiosk where they were distributed at 10 a.m. each day.

Here’s what I made of it. Travel can be an untethering experience. We are positioned in this universe in relation to the things we recognize. People who don’t normally read the Times were drawn to it in the same way I think of soldiers craving “news from home.” It’s a reaction to missing home, but also simply a matter of finding something solid upon which to hang amid the unreal experience of being on a cruise ship. … Read the rest of this entry »

To be ‘Fair and Balanced’

In journalism on June 15, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Now comes word that Fox News plans to drop its storied “Fair and Balanced” motto. The television network rode the tagline through the Clinton/Bush/Obama years to the top of the ratings. The intimation was that others, well, weren’t. That Fox was staking out true north while other national news organizations were lost in the woods of partisanship.

Well, obviously, it was never that simple. I think most folks would agree that Fox News has long been a right-of-center news organization. So what did it mean to be “Fair and Balanced?”

In his story in New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman suggests that former Fox Chairman Roger Ailes used the slogan for unfair and unbalanced purposes:

Ailes invented the slogan when he launched the network in 1996, and over the years it became a quasi-religious doctrine among Fox’s anchors and viewers. The effectiveness of Fox News as a vehicle for conservative ideology depended on it. “If you come out and you try to do right-wing news, you’re gonna die. You can’t get away with it,” Ailes once told a reporter.

Inside Fox, Ailes held “Fair & Balanced” seminars with staff members. “He would call a group of senior producers and make you watch the channel and he’d point out stuff, like a banner that’s slightly liberal,” a senior producer told me. “He would say, ‘The news is like a ship. If you take hands off the wheel, it pulls hard to the left.’” Ailes also used “Fair & Balanced” when making hiring decisions, such as saying a job candidate “wasn’t ‘fair & balanced,’” because the person went to a college he didn’t like…

Is that fair and balanced? I don’t know. Ailes is no longer here to defend himself. For all I know, he thought his televised child lived up to the sloganeering. … Read the rest of this entry »

Keep your chin up

In Deadlines on May 11, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Keeping a positive mindset is incredibly difficult to do when the pressure to succeed feels like the open ocean around you.

Those are the words of Julie Zhuo, one of my favorite bloggers and an all-around interesting person. She is the VP of design at Facebook, among other things. Last week, she was addressing morale and how to keep going when things are hard. When is that not a relevant topic?

Zhuo has three suggestions and none of them are groundbreaking, but all of them bear repeating: Accentuate the positive, step back when it feels like you are rushing forward, and ask for support when you need it.

She cautions us against overdoing what I call urgency mandates. “Good, creative work doesn’t come out of fear of failure or pressure to perform,” she writes. “In fact, you tend to favor more conservative ideas and make compromises that water down the soul of what you are trying to do.”

Deadline pressure can be helpful, in the right context. It’s great to have a goal and to know that your work is important to the overall effort. This work we do is our livelihood. We can’t afford less than your best. However, it is unhealthy both personally and to the organization if you are overwhelmed by the pressure of the job. Unrelenting pressure to perform might work when you are shipping widgets or manufacturing thingamajigs, but it will not motivate people in creative professions like journalism. … Read the rest of this entry »

Alexa, tell me the news

In Innovation on May 11, 2017 at 2:13 pm

I don’t have a voice-activated device like Google Home or Amazon Echo. In fact, I live in Silicon Valley and I’m not sure I know anyone who has one. That said, these things are coming and they may well turn out to be useful home appliances and not simply parlor toys.

That is why some smart organizations — including Gatehouse Media — are experimenting with producing audio news reports that can be read on these things. The idea is that you might tell Amazon Echo to read your local news and it might deliver a news summary from your local newspaper. NPR has secured the default placement with Amazon and now a familiar human voice reads that news rather than the weird robot voice you would expect from these things.

The potential is huge; the known is nil.

Gatehouse Media’s Bill Church told Rick Edmonds at Poynter: “It’s product first, then audience, and monetization later.” Hmmm… where have we heard that before?

I have a bias against audio reports of the news. I find print, video or photo presentations a lot easier to skip through and past. I open a newspaper and I get clues by placement, headline and photos about whether the gatekeeper thinks this is important for me to know or whether it’s something of lesser importance. I listen to NPR for hours on end in the car, but that’s because can’t do much else. When I hear a podcast, it is an immersive experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have time nor inclination for too many immersive experiences. What about you? … Read the rest of this entry »

The future is collaboration

In Innovation on May 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm

When I got into the business 1,426 years ago, “cooperation” was a cuss word and “collaboration” was just plain blasphemy.

When newspapers were fiefdoms that had a monopoly over the means of production of news, we were knights of the realm. We jousted with competitors. We donned our figurative chainmail armor and we sought to tame our rivals. We beat the other guy — to the source, to the document, to the story. We wanted scoops and exclusives. We (often wrongly) thought that readers appreciated this fighting spirit. It was a whole lot of fun.

Those days are largely over. It’s still fun to score a scoop, as the Green Valley News did with the source of the Sawmill fire. But it’s not the burning core of our business model. More and more, we will be collaborating to accomplish things we can’t do alone. That is because we don’t have the resources we once did and also because everyone is a publisher. No one is waiting for us to get around to tell his or her story.

Media consultant Tim Griggs does a wonderful job laying out the opportunities and challenges of the cooperative ventures we need in his longish post at Nieman Lab. If you do nothing else, scroll down to the part about localization. I say that because that is an age-old concept that doesn’t really require cooperation, but would enrich our papers bigly. Add context. Use a national story as a springboard for your own. Localize the data. … Read the rest of this entry »

Unpublic records

In First Amendment on May 4, 2017 at 12:56 pm

Many thanks to Christianna Silva at the University of Arizona for this report on the state of public records in her state. Sadly, it won’t surprise anyone engaged in the daily struggle to pry public records from public agencies.

Here’s her lede:

PHOENIX – More than a month ago, 19 Arizona agencies were given simple public record requests seeking data on the numbers of those requests those agencies received in 2015 and 2016. Less than half responded.

Of the 19 agencies requested, nine responded, three on the same day it was sent.

Only one agency — Arizona Attorney General’s Office — provided everything requested. Officials there explained they did so because their response was required by law.

So to recap, only one of 19 public agencies in Arizona followed the law when given a very simple public records request. Most didn’t even acknowledge the request, even though it came from someone at the state’s flagship university and not some trouble-making news organization.

If ever there was cause for alarm in the populace, here it is. Again, from Christianna’s terrific piece. … Read the rest of this entry »