Wick Communications

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

Mind. Blown.

In Ideas on April 27, 2017 at 4:44 pm

It’s been a generally mind-blowing week for me. Consider the explanations of news bots over at NiemanLabs, for instance. But the thing that set my hair on fire the most was Jimmy Wales’ plan to reinvent journalism as a symbiotic relationship between journalists and everyone else. If you think a crowdsourced news site is something that has been tried before (and failed), consider Wales’ Wikipedia. It wasn’t so long ago that people thought there would never be a crowdsourced encyclopedia that could compete with, say, Encyclopedia Britannica, and when is the last time you reached for that shelf of books your mom bought in the 1970s?

He’s calling the new venture Wikitribune and you should really read about it yourself. In a nutshell, the idea is to have subscribers hire journalists who will then work on stories the crowd wants to see. The results would be vetted by the community. They hope to hire 10 journalists and launch in September.

The key here is a role for professional journalists who can ask questions, take the story where it goes and provide appropriate context. The crowd will, presumably, call out bias, check the facts and basically wiki the heck out of it.

To be sure, there are questions. How do you keep the thing working in real time, when the crowd can pivot before a story ever develops? How do you keep it civil? What if the community is more interested in the Kardashians than Afghanistan?

We shall see. I highly recommend keeping an eye on NiemanLabs. It will keep your world spinning with new ideas.


SaaS and what it means to us

In Innovation on April 27, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Ever seen the funny-looking acronym SaaS? Last week, I read a fascinating post by David Skok that explained those four letters might be the future of our business. I figured I had better get up to speed.

Skok is on the board of directors of the Online News Association and is formerly of the Toronto Star and Boston Globe. He’s been a Harvard Nieman Fellow and is one of the thought leaders of digital news. SaaS normally stands for “Software as a Service” and refers to companies that license and deliver their software on a subscription basis. Think of the way you can pay for the Adobe suite monthly, for example. (Tech geeks also talk of Platform as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service and other such things.)

Skok wants us to think of Stories as a Service. In fact, he says that describes the current era, one that supplanted the “social media era” that he says sort of ended in 2015.

From his piece:

Those who own the relationship between the story and the reader will be at a distinct advantage over those who own the production and platforms of newsgathering and distribution.

This journalism era, paid for by readers, for readers, will result in quality journalism, trustworthiness and the building of new communities. For almost a century, journalism — in all its forms — has been funded by advertisers, and not by consumers. By having readers pay for their own journalism and using the data publishers have to listen to what their readers really want, news organizations can focus on accountability metrics like loyalty, retention and churn in ways that resemble SaaS instead of a singular focus on CPMs…

He suggests that traditional media companies like ours are now positioned to disrupt the disrupters who earlier provided platforms and search capability. What they did was amazing, but we own the relationships. … Read the rest of this entry »

Satisfaction in the scoop

In journalism on April 27, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Green Valley News Facebook page

This week, the staff at the Green Valley News hit one — or two — out of the park. As often happens, the local newspaper was at its best when something terrible happened in the community.

In this case, it was the Sawmill fire in southern Arizona. At this writing, the fire was only 20 percent contained and had consumed 40,000 acres. It has cost taxpayers $1.6 million to fight so far. The fire is big news throughout the region. Hundreds of firefighters were involved at the scene and smoke and fire was on the mind of people from Tucson south to the border.

There are a number of ways to cover something like this and Wick newspapers in Green Valley, Sahuarita, Sierra Vista and Nogales (that I know of) did it all. Reporters went to the scene. They diligently reported on press releases from authorities who marked the progress of the fire. They took eyewitness accounts and photos from readers. And they worked longstanding sources. This is where local news organizations have the upper hand when big news breaks at home. And this is where Dan and Danielle and the entire GV News team kicked some butt.

Several sources confirmed to the Green Valley News that the fire was started by a target shooter aiming at explosive targets. (As an aside, if that doesn’t sound like a fire waiting to happen, I don’t know what does.) The sources said the target shooter was a man and that he called in the fire and turned himself into authorities. Within 24 hours, Wick’s Arizona newspapers were reporting that the suspect was an off-duty Border Patrol employee.

Official sources were saying none of that. Initially, at least, all they would say is that the fire was “human-caused.”

As a result, we had the extraordinary pleasure of being the source of information for the Arizona Daily Star in the region’s biggest city: … Read the rest of this entry »

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. … Read the rest of this entry »

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. … Read the rest of this entry »

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. … Read the rest of this entry »

The seven-paragraph sports story

In sports on April 13, 2017 at 12:44 pm

Here’s another revelation from our regular editor conference calls: A template for sports stories.

Several of us were discussing how to report sports in the modern era. Most people who care about the games know the result from friends on social media or phone alerts before we get the story online or in print. The day of the regular sports gamer has pretty much come and gone.

Jonathan Clark at the Nogales International shared an ingenious invention that is essentially a sports game story format. It’s a recognition that these things can be pretty rote (in fact, there are now computer programs using machine learning to write high school gamers in the blink of an eye) and that some of us are using inexperienced sports reporters who didn’t grow up at the ballpark.

The format is really a seven-paragraph template designed to get a reporter in and out of the story in a matter of minutes. It could be really helpful when all you know about a game is what a coach tells you on the phone. Simply ask him questions that would fill in the format.

So here it is. It’s not gospel. There is no rule that a quote come in the third paragraph. You can change it. Move up the stuff about upcoming games or format that into a box. Just recognize that it’s a good idea, one that you might manipulate for city council meetings or anything that requires a novice to cover something for the first time. Read on to see the format: Read the rest of this entry »

The immigrant project

In journalism on April 13, 2017 at 12:39 pm

That smiling woman up there is Petra Polakovicova. When I met her several years ago, she had just achieved the title advanced sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers. It is a very rare distinction and makes her one of the world’s true wine experts. She is also an immigrant from Slovakia.

Which is why I mention her here. You see, immigrants like her might not come immediately to mind in the current debate over immigration.

Last week, during a pair of conference calls with editors, I heard again and again about Wick editors who were planning in various ways to highlight immigrants in their communities. That would probably be a worthwhile effort at any time, but these efforts come in a particular context. Immigrants and immigration generally are probably the enduring hot topic in the nation today.

Those discussions got me thinking. What if we did something epic?

Here is what I propose: An endless series of profiles, interviews, portraits, recordings and videos of immigrants in our communities. Frankly, we are going to do this at the Half Moon Bay Review whether anyone wants to play with us or not, but it will be so much more interesting if we work on this together. … Read the rest of this entry »

Pulitzer Prizes for the rest of us

In journalism on April 13, 2017 at 12:30 pm

As always, the New York Times and the Washington Post and the other big boys hauled in their share of Pulitzer Prizes when they were announced on Monday. If you look at the list of winners, you will see a lot of serious 50-something white guys wearing ties and sport coats trying their best to look like award-winning journalists. But if you look closely, you will also see this guy.

His name is Art Cullen, and he just won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He owns the 3,000-circulation Storm Lake Times in Northeastern Iowa along with his brother, John. Wife Delores is the photographer and his son, Tom, is the reporter. Think you can’t do great work with a Spartan staff and a family newspaper?

Cullen won because he has the audacity to call a spade a spade, or if you are in that part of Iowa, to call agri-business what it is.

Anyone with eyes and a nose knows in his gut that Iowa has the dirtiest surface water in America. It is choking the waterworks and the Gulf of Mexico. … Anyone living in Buena Vista County can see it. Even a county supervisor could, if he weren’t so afraid of agri-industry. Just drive over the Raccoon River. Someday, the politics will catch up to the people. …
Read the rest of this entry »

Better planning…

In journalism on April 6, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Let me ask you a philosophical chicken-and-egg kind of question: Does planning save time or chew it up?

This week I spoke with editor candidates who had entirely different views on that question. One went so far as to say that planning more than a week at a time was just about impossible. Things happen too fast for that. Things change. Of course, that is true, and you can spend all your time in meetings and suffer from paralysis. That’s no good either.

I’m of the view that you need a loose structure and story plan, understanding all the while that it’s bound to change, or you won’t be able to do your best work.

I’ve always thought about planning for what we do as three separate tasks: Planning your day, planning your week, and planning your year. In fact, I was so enamored with this idea several years ago that I created a blog devoted entirely to the concept. If you are with me so far, you might want to click the link and consider this is a bit more depth.

To plan my day, I often create a list. Here are three or five or 10 things that I have to do today. Sometimes I list them in order. I cross them off as I get them done. It keeps me focused and gives a feeling of accomplishment when I see the list crossed off. This is hardly ground-breaking stuff, I know.

The weekly plan is the most important for us, I think. I think a weekly staff meeting for everyone in editorial is crucial. It’s so important that I make it sacrosanct at the Half Moon Bay Review. It is almost always at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, and it almost always takes 45 minutes, give or take. We discuss vacations and scheduling things, we make sure we have a plan for the next couple of magazines, and then we go around the room and everyone floats story ideas from their beats. We benefit from the wisdom of the crowd. Often someone has a good source for a colleague’s story or something to say about a photo angle. From this we derive a weekly budget of stories, their length and when the can be expected, and art ideas. All of it is subject to change, but it’s a plan. Without it, I would have zero confidence on deadline day. … Read the rest of this entry »