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Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

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 »

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 »

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

Whitman, Ala.

In journalism on July 6, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Let me ask you a question: What is news? What is the definition of the term? Does it have to have a beginning and an end? Is the inverted pyramid necessary?

Now I’d like to take you to Whitman, Ala. It’s a fictional place invented by a filmmaker and the Alabama Media Group and it’s designed it to tell you something about the people of the state. It’s beautiful. It’s stunning. It’s the kind of thing I want to be doing. And I think it’s both newsworthy in its own right and “newsy.” Here is how the producers explain it:

This is an experiment in using documentary and poetry to reveal the threads that tie us together—as people, as states, and as a nation.

For two years, filmmaker Jennifer Crandall has crisscrossed this deep Southern state, inviting people to look into a camera and share a part of themselves through the words of Walt Whitman. The 19th century poet’s “Song of Myself” is a quintessential reflection of our American identities.

Who is America? The question will always be a difficult one. But if you listen to Alabama’s many voices, you may hear some of the answer.

“For,” as Whitman says, “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

I hear you now. Great, but who has time for this? I have to cover a town council meeting in an hour and Lambert wants to talk to me about a 52-part documentary centered on a poem. This isn’t what I do…

Let me ask you another question: If you don’t have time for something great like this, how are you spending your time? Do all those town council stories add up to the story you see here? Does this not tell us who we are? Isn’t this an exercise in community? Shouldn’t we do things like this? … Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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 »