Wick Communications

Archive for 2017|Yearly archive page

The photo I didn’t run

In Photography on August 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Last week, there was a murder in Half Moon Bay. Only it wasn’t a murder. And that last part further complicated an already difficult decision about whether to run a photo I knew would upset some people.

Some explanation is in order.

We don’t have many murders, thankfully. Maybe four in my dozen or more years here. So when arts reporter Sarah Greigo Guz called me one evening to say she stumbled onto a crime scene and the scuttlebutt was that there had been a murder, it was a big deal. We scrambled a news reporter and I made some social media posts, of course.

I also got a call from a local photographer, who said he had photos from the scene. I asked for them and he sent them, and my actual text back to him at the time was: “Wow.”

That is the most impressive photo above… Except I cropped out the “wow” part. Which is an unnatural act for a newspaper editor and required a lot of soul-searching on my part.

What you don’t see, off to the left, is a body under a white tarp. At the time, I was convinced I would run it full frame. That conviction changed over time.

First, I sent the photo around to Wick editors. I would say most people, about 60 percent of those who provided feedback, said they would run it for the same reasons I thought I would. It was big news, it occurred in public, there were likely already photos like it on social media. It wasn’t particularly gory. … Read the rest of this entry »

Can you teach writing?

In Books on August 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm

There is a fascinating discussion of the art of teaching young students to write on the New York Times website at the moment. It’s prompted by the fear that young people are worse writers than young people of the past. Among the startling figures: three-quarters of both eighth- and 12-graders lack proficiency in writing, according to one educational study.

Not that this concern is anything new. The Times story asserts that more than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874.

The question is how to promote better writing, particularly at a time when there is so much distraction and seemingly so little attention span.

Some suggest working at the sentence level. Line editing with students. To me, that feels like advanced work and not much fun for people who aren’t really all that invested in being better writers.

The Times story opens with a teacher trying to get student juices flowing by reading Anne Lamott’s classic writing inspirational “Bird by Bird.” You could do worse that that. If you haven’t read it, you really should. As another teacher says, “You hope that by exposing them to great writing, they’ll start to hear what’s going on.”

There is a certain osmosis that goes on when you read. You could read all of Dickens’ work and never create your own “Great Expectations,” of course, but I bet your expectations would be greater nonetheless. Reading gives writers a sense of rhythm, a look at proper grammar, a feel for storytelling. Reading might not make you a great writer, but you won’t be a great writer unless you read. … Read the rest of this entry »

White House, blue language

In Language on August 3, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Hey, remember when the White House employed a communications director named Anthony Scaramucci? I know. It was a long time ago. Way back last week. It seems things change pretty quickly these days, doesn’t it?

Well, if the name rings a bell, you probably remember the rant that apparently got him fired. While talking to a reporter for New Yorker magazine, he used what he later described as “colorful language” to describe his feelings about some fellow White House denizens. Colorful as in suggesting that one coworker was really, really mentally ill and another gentleman was doing something elaborate in service to his own interests… only way more colorful than that.

That left those in the mainstream media to decide whether to do what I just did and tread politely along the euphemism boulevard or to simply print what the man said, even though it was vulgar.

This time, some of the big print outlets printed words their editors likely never thought they would print. The New York Times was among them. Later, it offered a very short explanation of why top editors chose to use the profane words. In short: The newspaper thought it newsworthy.

USA Today, chose a different tack. Here is how it described Scaramucci’s comments about White House rival Steve Bannon:

Scaramucci used an explicit sexual reference to accuse Bannon of doing more to blow himself up in the media and build his own brand than to serve the country.

Huh. It’s fun to write with a wink, but personally, I agree with the New York Times on this one. … Read the rest of this entry »

What to do with rumors

In Ethics on July 27, 2017 at 2:17 pm

This week, a local gadfly emailed me and others around town with a scandal. He says a member of the city council cheated on his wife, got caught and moved out of the city. Even if it’s true, I’m not sure it’s as scandalous as someone making this stuff his business and spreading the rumors.

The question is this: Should the local newspaper care one way or another?

In this case, there are two separate issues and I tried to handle them separately. Hopefully, thinking about this one will help with your next such scandalous email.

First, I decided that what was going on in a local city council member’s perfectly legal home life was most likely not newsworthy. Divorces, affairs, arguments… This isn’t the president; I think local people who are all-but volunteers deserve a measure of privacy, even if they are public figures. I know the line is difficult. Perhaps it helps to think of it in terms of what is legal. If the city councilman was busted for smoking pot, which is still illegal here, I would likely run that. An affair is not a criminal matter.

The second issue is potentially newsworthy. If a sitting city council member moves out of town and continues to hold office, that is worth checking on. My first call was to the city councilman himself to say I didn’t care about the rest of it, but wanted to ask point-blank whether he continued to live in town. Then I emailed city hall to find the rules. For all I knew, it was legal for a member of council to move and continue to serve so long as he was a legal resident at the time he qualified to run for office. (The answer here is sort of complicated and involves the definition of “domicile.”) … Read the rest of this entry »

Quality for subscribers

In journalism on July 27, 2017 at 2:07 pm

If you are looking for encouragement in the 2017 media landscape, look no further than the subscriber model. There is reason to believe, 20 years into our little internet experiment, that readers will pay for quality journalism.

Well, some will. What becomes of the rest of us remains to be seen.

The latest good news comes in the form of “The Athletic,” which must be the worst name for a journalistic enterprise in the last decade or so. It is the spawn of the Y Combinator. It is a Silicon Valley start-up engine that often leads to big funding for good projects. (Reddit, Wufoo and Airbnb are just a few of the companies that emerged from the incubator.)

The Athletic promises premium sports coverage for the discriminating sports fan… meaning someone with the means to pay for it. So far, it’s opened bureaus in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Toronto with more to come. The start-up enterprise has raised lots of money and is poaching some of the best sportswriters in the country to cover stuff. The sites are beautiful. The Athletic wants $39.99 a year for access. …

I have always thought the best model would be the free model. We reach as many people as possible with fine journalism and advertisers feel obliged to pay for those eyeballs. Such a model has the distinct advantage of being democratic. You want as many people as possible to have the benefit of your work.

I was slow to see the benefit of paywalls. I hate the idea that good information is only available to the privileged. Besides, stopping potential readers with a paywall invites them to search for other news outlets and that can reduce a brand that was once ubiquitous. … Read the rest of this entry »

A new take on take-downs

In Online media on July 27, 2017 at 2:02 pm

By now, I’m guessing all the editors at Wick properties have been asked at one time or another to “take down” or remove from the website an old story that is an inconvenient truth for some unlucky reader. We’ve been talking about what to do about these requests ever since we started publishing online. (The Kicker first addressed the issue seven years ago, for what it’s worth.)

Perhaps the most typical case is something like this: A guy was arrested for a DUI in, say, 2005, and it continues to come up when he searches his name on Google. He thinks, perhaps with some reason, that the old arrest is figuring into his trouble getting a job. He may even tell you that the case was ultimately dropped.

So what do you do?

Time was, the police blotter appeared in the print newspaper one day and that was it. It didn’t follow you around like a virtual puppy dog intent on peeing on your leg every so often. Obviously, we couldn’t “unpublish” something that appeared in the paper 10 years ago. But, theoretically, we could take it off our website.

It would be very rare for me to recommend you do that. And I was heartened by some legal advice that appeared this month in the California Newspaper Publishers Association quarterly.

CNPA legal counsel Nikki Moore said that there is no legal obligation to honor such requests, unless a court orders you to do so and that is vanishingly unlikely. … Read the rest of this entry »

Once upon a time…

In Writing techniques on July 20, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Have you ever wondered at the enduring quality of, “Once upon a time?” Has there ever been a better way to begin a story?

I got to thinking about the way we begin a story after reading Eric Petermann’s superb yarn about the “kissing bug” in the Sierra Vista Herald. Eric learned there was this woman in Bisbee, Ariz., Lee McElroy, who was driving the effort to learn more about an infestation of these particular bugs in the canyon where she lives. The bugs bite in the night and can cause Chagas’ disease and you don’t even want to think about that!

Anyway, Eric knew the story of the bug as vector for disease was important… but the story of Lee McElroy was better. Much better. So he told it that way, leading with McElroy and her layman’s search for scientific information about these bug bites she was getting.

The first words Eric employed were these:

The story starts just over 10 years ago when Lee McElroy was living in the area of Zacatecas Canyon in the Old Bisbee district of this eclectic mountain community.

Hooked yet? I was. I am a sucker for stories that begin with an everyday Jane whose everyday world is about to be turned upside down. Perhaps that is why I love fiction so much. (“Our story begins” is so good as a literary device that the great Tobias Wolffe even named a short-story collection just that.) … Read the rest of this entry »

Teasing weekend events

In journalism on July 20, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Last week, we at the Half Moon Bay Review attempted something that the Frontiersman already does in a much more effective way: Tease upcoming weekend events. So, this week, I just copied the Frontiersman format.

We had a social media roundtable in Half Moon Bay the other day that involved folks from throughout our building. We emerged thinking that, while we have long embraced social media and regularly post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Linkedin on occasion, our social efforts were scattered at best. We’ve sort of let whoever was interested post and sometimes that works … and sometimes it doesn’t. (One advantage of that approach is that there is more than one person responsible and it isn’t much of a burden. The disadvantage is that it’s no one’s job and that means it’s no one’s job.)

We wanted more regularized thinking around our social efforts. One quick idea we had was that it would be nice to have a piece that comes out, say, on Thursday that teases weekend events and such, perhaps in a more narrative way than a simple calendar listing.

Well, I made up something and slapped it on Facebook. But it didn’t give us much bang for the buck. A few hundred views, and it couldn’t really be formatted on that platform.

It turns out Jacob Mann at The Frontiersman in Wasilla, Alaska, has already got it figured out. The newspaper’s “5 things to do in the Mat-Su: Weekend of July (Whatever)” is brilliant. There is a conversational voice to it and each listing is a few paragraphs. There are three photos attached to this one to keep people clicking. I assume this is either right out of the paper or repurposed from the print product in some way. And The Frontiersman posted it on Facebook to redirect to our website. … Read the rest of this entry »

New Google News

In Online media on July 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm

We all have go-to spots on the web for news and one of mine is Google News.

I appreciate what to me seems like an honest curation of the top stories of the day and the fact that I can sample many sources in one place. There are channels for top stories and sports and whatever else interests you and you can even set it to find your particular interests.

Recently, the crew at Google redesigned the interface. I guess the sweet spot with such things is to tweak them for better usability without completely upsetting the virtual apple cart, and by that standard I would have to say it’s a success. (Though, truth be told, I don’t think it’s much better than the original, which worked for me just fine. Do you think the “card format” is easier to read than the old blue headers? Perhaps you do.)

There are a couple of things I do like. Google is now tagging stories as “Local Source” when that is the case. Seems like that would be good to know as we all know that local media sometimes has a different and more grounded perspective on some stories. And it’s pretty breathtaking in some instances to click “full coverage.” Doing so can bring you dozens of stories on a topic, related video and tags that can bring you deeper into a story. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to Google.

One last thing: If you aren’t already setting Google alerts to send you emails of stories that mention your town or beat… you should. If you can’t figure it out, lemme know.

— Clay Lambert

NPR’s ‘Miranda rights’

In journalism on July 13, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Have you ever had a “driveway moment?” That is the goal of any radio producer. It’s that moment when you are so engrossed in something on the radio that you turn off the car in your driveway, but just sit there like an idiot listening on to the song or the interview on the radio.

I spend a lot of time in my driveway with Audie Cornish. She’s one of the dulcet-toned hosts of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” And last week, she offered some of her insights on interviewing and sound-producing for a podcast sponsored by CJR and Maximumfun.org. (There appear to be some really great interviews as part of this series, including talks with Mark Maron and Susan Orlean.)

I wanted to point out Cornish’s version of the Miranda Rights. She tells interview subjects that their conversation will be edited down and if they aren’t comfortable with an answer they are free to start over.

I think that’s fair. You could argue that newsmakers shouldn’t be allowed to do that in the same way that your print sources shouldn’t take back accurate quotes. But the producer is editing things… It only seems right that sources should have some control over what they say.

Cornish talks of trading on intimacy. That is an interesting concept for an interviewer and definitely not reporting 101. It’s an advanced concept, but all the best stories reveal something about the writer. Don’t you think?

I hope you’ll take a look at this series.

Clay