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Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

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 »

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 »

The principal has been schooled

In journalism on April 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm

Incidentally, I couldn’t find the Booster Redux stories online or I would have linked to them.

Ever heard of Corllins University? A group of gutsy Kansas high school students hadn’t either, and they ultimately got their new principal to resign when they started asking questions about a college that was mighty hard to find.

The staff of the Booster Redux at Pittsburg High School intended to simply write a feature introducing their new principal to readers. When the principal couldn’t answer basic questions about her background, the journalist-students ran a story noting that she was boasting of advanced degrees “earned” from a diploma mill.

Amid the congratulations for some real journalism, the kids themselves are asking how the adults — including school board members and professional journalists — missed what they had found.

“They were at a loss that something that was so easy for them to see was waiting to be noticed by adults,” adviser Emily Smith told the Washington Post.

Well, I have a theory about that.

Corllins stood out to the students, perhaps, because high school kids are focused on college and getting into the right one after their prep days are done. They are told that college is the most important decision ever and so they expect a degree to mean something. Adults, meanwhile, are sometimes cowed impressive-sounding degrees. Who am I to question a Ph.D from Corllins University? Besides, that was a long time ago. Who cares about her college years? … Read the rest of this entry »

I did this thing. Please cover it.

In journalism on April 6, 2017 at 11:23 am

Why didn’t you cover my (insert thing you didn’t cover here)?

Virtually every day for the 5,363,982 days I’ve been working for a newspaper, someone has come in wanting free publicity. What do you tell these people?

For my part, I always try to be respectful and offer some avenue for a win-win. Granted, sometimes folks just won’t take no for an answer and I have been known to be less than saintly in these conversations. But nine times out of 10, we can figure out some way to share the information in a way that makes sense, and sometimes that means advertising.

The first trick is determining whether this is newsworthy on some level. Has it been done before? Is it interesting to a wide audience? Does it merit staff time? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” all parties are about to be happy. This looks like a story for the print newspaper and your website.

That’s fine if the circus is coming to town, but what if it’s smaller than that. What if it’s a kid’s Cub Scout matriculation or word of a new insurance agent? What do you do with that stuff?

My rule of thumb is this: If it’s a non-profit or an important event in the lives of real local people, I try to find a place for it. It may be a brief on a community page or even simply a post and picture on Facebook. Social media is great for stuff like this and frees up your time for bigger things in the paper. If, however, it’s commercial — like the insurance agent — I’m likely to suggest an advertisement. After all, as my wise former publisher Debra Hershon would say, “Editorial is something you pray for, advertising is something you pay for.” If the reason you walked into the newspaper office was to drum up business, you want an advertisement. … Read the rest of this entry »

Public access likely to get worse

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.

Thanks, Francis!

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 »

Young people and us

In journalism on March 3, 2017 at 9:02 am

cause-for-concern

“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 »