Wick Communications

Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

Is Tom Petty dead?

In journalism on October 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Tom Petty died this week. Then he came back to life, for a while.

CBS News, among others, reported that he was dead about mid-day on Monday. Shortly thereafter, one of the most respected names in news reported that he hadn’t, in fact, died. There are a lot of misdemeanors committed in journalism, but to be wrong about a death is pure felony. It’s extraordinarily hurtful to family and friends. It puts a cannonball-sized hole in your credibility. And it will make you the butt of jokes for years to come. (“The report of my death is an exaggeration,” Mark Twain told a newspaperman after another periodical actually printed his obit. That was 1897. The fact that you’ve heard that story before is all the proof you need that these stories stick around…)

The initial erroneous reporting on Petty’s death came from something someone at the Los Angeles Police Department said, apparently in an off-the-cuff discussion with a reporter. My guess is LAPD was on the scene when the famed musician was taken to the hospital, but did not file an official report as it wasn’t really the department’s case. Cops are people too and sometimes they gossip.

So, here’s the challenge: If you can’t believe the police, who can you believe?

Good question. Ordinarily, I would say if you get a news tip from a man or woman in blue, you are golden. For one thing, they tend to be tight-lipped. If they are telling you something, it’s probably true. Most likely. Almost always. … But not always. … Read the rest of this entry »

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Going undercover

In journalism on September 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

There has been a lot of ink given this week to a man named Patrik Hermansson. The Swedish graduate student went undercover in the European and American alt-right for an organization named Hope Not Hate. He says he spent hundreds of hours with people most of us wouldn’t want to encounter at all. He surreptitiously taped these encounters and is presenting them in various forms.

Is it journalism?

I would argue not, although it is certainly interesting. (I’m talking about the Hope Not Hate undercover work, not the NYT report, which I think is perfectly within the bounds of what we know as journalism.)

There is much to be gained from learning about people we might find repugnant. We have pulled ourselves so far apart over issues of race that it’s hard to know what our “enemies” really think and how they operate. It’s interesting to see Hermansson meeting these particular kinds of leaders in a local coffee shop, even as they plan and say terrible things.

Having said that, journalism requires of us a certain kind of integrity. I don’t believe that undercover taping meets that threshold. In fact, in many places, like the state of California, it’s illegal. … Read the rest of this entry »

New survey of local journalists

In journalism on August 31, 2017 at 2:52 pm

The last 10 years have not been kind to journalists and the newspaper profession.

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism offers that simple statement to explain the the backdrop for a very interesting survey of local journalists like those working for Wick Communications. You can read all about it here, and you really should. You will see yourself in the results. (And shout out to Dan Shearer at the Green Valley News, who brought this to my attention.)

The survey itself was pretty straight forward. Several hundred mostly editors and reporters at newspapers with circulations smaller than 50,000 participated. By and large, they see themselves as hard-working and optimistic even though they are concerned about their job security and ability to recruit and retain good colleagues. Your peers use an array of digital tools in their jobs, but may be somewhat slow to adopt new digital tools at least in part because they lack the resources to do so.

The report chronicles a shrinking business. Twenty-thousand journalists have lost their jobs in the last 10 years. The profession is said to have shrunk 10 percent in 2014 alone. Last year one online entity called “newspaper reporter” the worst job in among 200 listed. Why? Low pay and long hours, to name two reasons. Many or most surveyed said they work more than 50 hours a week. One poor soul said he or she works 116 hours a week. Another, when asked how many hours he works, replied, “all of them.” … 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 »

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 »