Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

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.


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 »

Better phone interviews

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Alexander Graham Bell placing the first New York to Chicago phone call in 1892.

Last week, I introduced Luz, our summer intern at the Half Moon Bay Review. Predictably, she’s been teaching me more about myself, our newsroom and our business than I could ever impart to her.

Today, she and I were talking about an unsuccessful phone interview she suffered through. She called a world-renowned science museum looking for information about the whale migration that is making its way off our beaches. It didn’t go well.

As we talked about why that might have been, Luz guessed it was because she wasn’t confident enough and therefore didn’t speak up with her questions. The result was that the expert on the other end wasn’t comfortable and ultimately didn’t provide any useful information for whale-watchers.

As Luz found out, it’s not enough to call an expert and ask them to talk about whales. That is probably obvious to the professional reporters reading these words, but it wasn’t obvious to her. That’s because I didn’t properly prepare her for the call.

It got me thinking about all the reasons phone interviews fail.

Lack of preparation. It’s easy to find someone on the internet who seems like a great source for just about anything. In fact, it’s much easier to find a source than it is to think about what you want to know from that source. Luz and I would have done well before her call to brainstorm ways to make the best of it. That requires some reading, which would have opened us up to questions like, why do there seem to be more whales migrating close to shore in the last couple of years and what are the rules governing human interactions with endangered species? … Read the rest of this entry »

Muddling through without copy editors

In Editing on June 29, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Here at the Half Moon Bay Review, we are exceedingly lucky to have a part-time copy editor/proofreader named Julie Gerth. Julie has the patience of a saint as well as a strong backbone. She will not be rushed and she reads every word. Consequently, we have a lot fewer mistakes than many newspapers.

But we still make them, with maddening regularity. And it’s generally because the rest of us get in a hurry.

This week, we screwed up a teaser on the front page. “Horshoe.” That’s not a word. It happened because it was produced at the bitter end, after our second set of eyes had been released for the day. So, we get to see it in display type all week long. I can’t wait till I hear about it from someone outside the building.

We will never eliminate mistakes entirely. It wouldn’t matter whether our copy editor was full time, or if we had a dozen more. We humans are fallible. Perhaps you’ve noticed. But there are some practices that will eliminate many of them in our papers. Here’s a few:

More eyes. We all know that the more people who see page proofs, the better off you are. The eyes don’t have to belong to specially trained copy editors. Ad reps, clerks, other reporters — try to get as many people as possible to read proofs before the pages are sent. Ask them to look for typos, spelling and basic grammar. You don’t necessarily want someone from another department suggesting a new lede to that feature story on deadline. … Read the rest of this entry »

Reporters with clever signs

In Editing on June 29, 2017 at 4:21 pm

On Thursday, dozens of journalists walked out of the New York Times building for a coordinated “15-minute coffee break” that was really a solidarity protest with copy editors. Why? Times newsroom management announced it would cut the number of copy editors from more than 100 to about 50 in order to free up more money for “top talent” reporters.

It was a remarkable moment and it is a first in my memory. Suffice to say, reporters haven’t always come running to extol the virtues of copy editors who are sometimes wrongly blamed for messing up the prose and just generally being killjoys. Copy desks were once a central part of big-city newspapers. The work has always been grueling. I know, because I’ve done it. I used to come in at 5 a.m. to copy edit an afternoon daily. Then I stayed until 2 a.m. to copy edit the weekend morning editions. You stare at a screen. You never leave the building. No one ever asks what you think of a story on the front end. No one ever thanked the copy editor.

The ranks have dwindled in recent years, and we all know why. Faced with cutting expenses, management looks around the room and knows that it can continue to put out a paper without those guys with the green eyeshades and stylebooks.

In a blistering critique of management plans, Times copy editors penned a letter claiming that it’s “dumbfoundedly unrealistic” to expect 50 copy editors to catch as many errors as 100. Top editors answered that they weren’t doing away with “copy editing,” only the freestanding copy desk. We are assured each desk — National, World and so on — will continue to go to great pains to assure that all copy remains fair, accurate and in keeping with correct style. Management might have added that it’s dumbfoundingly unrealistic to expect a newspaper to carry 100 copy editors in this day and age. … Read the rest of this entry »

Making internships matter

In Management on June 22, 2017 at 3:48 pm

This week, we have a new face in the Half Moon Bay Review newsroom. She is Luz Gomez, and she is the best thing to happen to us since Dunkin’ Donuts opened down the street.

Luz will be a 10th grader in the fall at nearby Pescadero High School. She comes to us by way of a social services program in her community. I was more than happy to be included in the project: The agency paired high school students with businesses that interest them. Before she showed up for work, Luz had a week’s worth of training to learn appropriate behavior in an office environment and even CPR. She has been a jewel since the moment she walked in the door.

Normally, I get a summer intern from Stanford. These tend to be highly qualified, journalists-in-the-making. Some already have their bachelor’s degree and are working on a master’s from one of the world’s pre-eminent colleges.

Good as Luz is, she hasn’t had that kind of opportunity yet. So, it’s incumbent upon me as a manager to find appropriate, stimulating, fun and useful things for her to do. That, if you’ve ever managed interns, is often easier said than done. Consequently, some places treat interns as cheap or free labor. Interns are made to do the digital equivalent of 21st-century filing. Too often, interns are engaged in brainless activity that does nothing so much as convince them that the last thing they want to do is work in that field upon graduation.

Please don’t do that. For one thing, the school or organization that sends you the intern will hear that feedback and stop sending you interns. More importantly, though, you would be violating a sacred trust. We have an obligation to sell this business of ours to promising young people. Journalism is a calling and we have to help the next generation to hear it. … Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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 »

On being customer ‘obsessed’

In Business on March 16, 2017 at 3:18 pm

This week I was struck by something Jed Williams said in the February edition of Editor and Publisher magazine.

Williams is the chief innovation officer at the Local Media Association, which counts Wick Communications newspapers among its members. For the magazine’s Wise Advice column, he was asked a single question: What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?”

Williams’ answer:

“Be customer obsessed, not competitor obsessed.”

He goes on to say that “obsessed” is not “focused.” It’s … obsessed. It is the reason you come in to work in the morning. He says you have to actually solve problems for customers, be they readers who need timely information or advertisers who need to move the needle on their businesses.

Williams says the key is empathy, which is something I’ve said again and again even as I understand it’s easier said than achieved. Believe me: I’ve failed repeatedly in various quests to empathize with our customers. I’ve failed to follow through with some design-thinking ideas. I’ve failed the obsessions test in dealing with Half Moon Bay Review customers who walk through the door with a problem. If you’ve ever walked past someone at the front counter who wanted to buy a newspaper or talk to an ad rep or ask how to get an event covered, you too have failed to be obsessed enough with our customers. Welcome to the club.

Ultimately, our success or failure will be found in relation to our ability to solve customer problems and that requires empathizing with their individual problems. … Read the rest of this entry »