In First Amendment on March 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm
Be a beacon of sunlight.
Today marks the end of Sunshine Week. I had planned on using last week’s Kicker to suggest you spend this week giving the powers that be holy hell in the name of sunshine, but events conspired. I didn’t get around to an update last week. So here we are.
The good news is that this good fight never ends. Consider next week Sunshine Week as well, and the week after that. And the week after that.
There is some law of physics that holds: People will seek to control information in direct proportion to their relative need for power. The nice people who run your local nonprofit are likely to ask that you keep their fundraising totals under wraps, but here’s guessing they are a lot less difficult than your average dictator. The corollary to the law is that faceless individuals are most likely to deny you information. You know this to be true if you have ever emailed some state bureaucrat somewhere to ask for an innocuous document only to get something in which every line is needlessly redacted. Small people simply love to have a secret.
When people say no to your curiosity, they are also saying no to the thousands of people who count on you every day. Keep that in mind and your battle won’t feel as daunting nor as lonely. You will be made to feel like a prying jerk if, say, you ask how much everyone is paid at city hall. Just remember that money belongs to your readers and you will sleep well at night.
Here are some resources intended for Sunshine Week. Please take a look and find a dark place to shine some light.
In journalism on March 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm
It won’t come as any surprise to journalists that access to documents, elected officials and the legions of minions who (supposedly) work for us is not what it should be. Thanks to Wick CEO Francis Wick, I now know it’s only likely to get worse.
Francis alerted me to this study released this week by University of Arizona journalism professor David Cullier. He interviewed 300 journalists and freedom of information types and found great pessimism when it comes to access to government. Among his findings:
- About half of the experts said access to state and local government records has worsened during the past four years. They said things were just as bad under President Barak Obama when it came to the federal government.
- Survey participants reported long delays in getting information, documents that had been overly censored, high copying fees, out-of-date government technology and public officials not knowing the laws.
- Nearly nine out of 10 predicted that access to information will worsen during the next four years under the new presidential administration.
Cullier was clear: American government has become more closed over long decades. This isn’t a partisan issue. Experts, he noted, suggest we should all be taught how to file a FOIA request in school as part of our basic civics lessons in an effort to combat this creeping secrecy. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Business on March 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm
This week I was struck by something Jed Williams said in the February edition of Editor and Publisher magazine.
Williams is the chief innovation officer at the Local Media Association, which counts Wick Communications newspapers among its members. For the magazine’s Wise Advice column, he was asked a single question: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?”
“Be customer obsessed, not competitor obsessed.”
He goes on to say that “obsessed” is not “focused.” It’s … obsessed. It is the reason you come in to work in the morning. He says you have to actually solve problems for customers, be they readers who need timely information or advertisers who need to move the needle on their businesses.
Williams says the key is empathy, which is something I’ve said again and again even as I understand it’s easier said than achieved. Believe me: I’ve failed repeatedly in various quests to empathize with our customers. I’ve failed to follow through with some design-thinking ideas. I’ve failed the obsessions test in dealing with Half Moon Bay Review customers who walk through the door with a problem. If you’ve ever walked past someone at the front counter who wanted to buy a newspaper or talk to an ad rep or ask how to get an event covered, you too have failed to be obsessed enough with our customers. Welcome to the club.
Ultimately, our success or failure will be found in relation to our ability to solve customer problems and that requires empathizing with their individual problems. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Design on March 3, 2017 at 9:13 am
I love the newly redesigned A2 and A3 in the New York Times so much that I dropped the paper and sat down to tap this out. If you are looking for a constructive way to fill space when your AP contract runs out, read on. This is it.
The idea, according to a note that appeared on the day the new look was unveiled, was to provide a “a quick and engaging roundup” of what is found in the Times that day.
Page 2, at least today, includes the masthead, a table of contents, a “This Date in History” pulled from past editions, and a 400-word column called “Inside the Times,” which tells some inside baseball.
Page 3 is one-paragraph summaries of inside stories, a quote of the day, a look at the most viewed stories online, something called “spotlight” that might be a couple paragraphs about something you posted on Facebook with a photo, and a small bite called “Here to help.” It is a tip riffing off something in the news. (Today, it’s a suggestion that you watch the film classic “All about Eve” in advance of a new television series about the acrimony between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.)
I could do something like this for our paper in an hour. Once the template was in place, I could paginate it in 45 minutes (because I’m slow.) … Read the rest of this entry »
In Photography on March 3, 2017 at 9:07 am
As you know, immigration is a hot topic. The spectrum of public opinion ranges from throw the bums out to complete amnesty for those who crossed our border illegally.
Though many of our newsrooms are in communities with many undocumented immigrants, some of us struggle with covering that segment of our community. Sometimes it is a language barrier. Sometimes people who are here illegally don’t see the wisdom in advertising that in the local newspaper. Sometimes, I suspect, we merely have a cultural divide.
I’ve been thinking of ways we might bridge that gap and satisfy our call for a new editorial project in the second quarter of 2017. I have an idea: What if you gave a few immigrants disposable cameras for a week and then used the results as a basis for a feature story or a string of Instagram posts or a once-a-day Facebook post?
Doing so would solve a couple of problems. It would bring home a national story. It would put a face on people you might not be covering well. It would add photos to your newspaper. It would attract the participants (and their friends and relatives) to your paper. It might even give you ideas for more stories down the road. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on March 3, 2017 at 9:02 am
“I think you have to really just listen to everything, and then pick out what you believe and what you think is really truthful.”
“If I don’t see it on social media, I’m not going to hear it.”
“Even if it’s factual, it may be sort of tainted.”
“I’ll believe your [citizen-captured] video before I’ll believe [one from the media]. Because they will tamper with theirs.”
These are representative responses gleaned from a new study called “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape,” released from the Data & Society Research Institute. The scientific study used focus groups of teenagers and young adults in three big U.S. cities.
The one over-arching message was that young people, in other words, our future consumers, express “widespread skepticism” about the news media and think most of it is biased.
Young people are more likely to trust user-generated content than things they get from a traditional news source like a newspaper. Why? Because they themselves share newsy nuggets and they trust that mechanism. These findings join a cascade of evidence that people of all ages have less trust in the news media than ever before.
Young people have a much wider definition of news than old-school newspaper editors might have. A friend’s new car, a presidential appointment, a new song from Drake — It’s all news. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on February 23, 2017 at 4:40 pm
X High School students suspected of armed robbery.
That suggested headline gave me pause the other day. The story concerned the arrest of two 16-year-old boys who had been arrested for robbing a younger teenager of his watch and some other stuff. The suspects, who by California law were not named because of their age, were charged with armed robbery because the victim said he saw a knife and the handle of a firearm during the commission of the crime.
The writer handled all that stuff well, I thought. It was a legitimate news story. … I just couldn’t get past naming the suspects’ high school. Ultimately, I deleted reference to it, and I wanted to mention it here in case my reasoning is useful to you.
So why did I delete reference to the school? Why not give readers all the information you have? What’s wrong with specifying where these charmers take classes? Wouldn’t mentioning it help parents take precautions that could keep their families safe?
I don’t think so. There are three relevant points for me:
First, the incident did not take place on the high school campus. The affiliation was incidental to the crime. If they were plumbers, say, would we run a headline reading “Jake’s Plumbers employees arrested for armed robbery?” If they were prominent, you might be more specific. If they were the highly recruited star football players, perhaps, or if they were two assistant principals, say, I might feel differently. I don’t think juvenile students at a local high school meet that measure. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Books on February 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm
I’ve been reading a lively story by a dead guy named Charles Willeford. That’s the book cover up there. As you can probably tell, Willeford and his publisher were not political correct.
Please bear with me while I attempt to make him relevant to you and your work today.
“Pick-Up” is about a suicidal drunk named Harry Jordan who attempts to strangle that lush up there and, as a result, finds himself being interviewed by a jailhouse psychiatrist. The good doctor asks Jordan about his sex life and Willeford’s character doesn’t care for that line of questioning. “I was as high-keyed and ill-strung as a Chinese musical instrument,” the protagonist thinks to himself.
That phrase literally stopped me. I mean I loved it. I dropped the book and scribbled it into a notebook. It struck me as incredibly evocative and I instantly knew exactly how that character felt. I was completely mesmerized by that image of the “ill-strung” Chinese instrument. I could actually hear that feeling.
The next day I thought it might be a little racist. Is it OK to compare your own dissonance to the sound of another culture’s music? The day after that, I concluded that the phrase was just right for that book at that time, but perhaps wouldn’t work in any other context. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on February 23, 2017 at 4:18 pm
Steve Gray is a former publisher of the Christian Science Monitor and a former director of the API’s Newspaper Next project, which some of you will remember. He began at newspapers much like our own. His first job in the business was as a darkroom tech at his family’s newspaper, the Monroe (Mich.) Evening News.
These days he keeps a blog called MediaReset. Last week, he offered an idea that would be an interesting one for us to try. Those of you looking for a new editorial project in the second quarter, might consider it.
Gray says in the early 1990s he was concerned about some small-town shenanigans in Monroe and he hit on an idea.
I started to think about who really pulled the strings in our community. Who operated behind the scenes? Who could apply pressure or persuasion and get things done — or stop them?
I didn’t really know, although I had some ideas. I’d heard that this or that individual was quietly powerful or influential, but the only people who were routinely visible as decision-makers were the elected officials. … We came up with the idea of doing it with a survey. We decided that the best way to conduct it was to send it to a list of people we were certain had power or influence, asking them to name others who did. …
Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on February 16, 2017 at 6:37 pm
When I asked last week for each newspaper to come up with a single editorial project in the second quarter of 2017, I knew that it was a simple ask that would prove hard for some of you. That is because we are all consumed by doing what we do every day and sometimes the daily grind obscures vision.
So today I wanted to offer a couple of ideas. Both of them I stole, fair and square. One was an exhaustive project in the Washington Post that examined the “life” of a single Baltimore block due to be demolished. It ended up telling the story of the city. The other is simpler imagine: telling a story through a series of Instagram posts.
Both are fun. Remember fun? Trying something new is often the most life-affirming part of any day or week. Trying something new is often its own reward — even if it doesn’t increase the bottom line.
And that is another thing to remember about this assignment. The vast majority of America’s workforce is engaged solely in the quest of making more money for shareholders the workers don’t know. How freeing is it that your bosses have asked that you follow your passion and produce something you can be proud of, regardless of whether it makes a red cent?
Take a look at the ideas shared today. And then think outside the box.