Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Report for America

In Innovation on September 21, 2017 at 3:07 pm

There is a new idea afoot that seeks to make explicit something we all know intuitively: Journalism is as important to the republic as military might and the ready availability of quality, low-cost donuts. Kidding aside, it is heart-warming to see the unveiling of a program that will be known as Report for America.

The concept is simple, though execution might not be. A partnership between Google News Lab and a non-profit called GroundTruth seeks to put local civics journalism on par with organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America. It would work like this: New reporters who need the experience and mentoring would apply for positions that are funded 50 percent by Report for America, 25 percent by the local newspaper and 25 percent by local donors the newspaper would help find. These reporters would agree to stay for a year in exchange for inclusion. Sorta like a paid internship making real money.

I was particularly heartened by what one of the program’s founders had to say about the importance of mentorship and the fact that many good, young journalists are now lucky enough to skip the ladder through the ranks of the profession and that that sometimes leads them astray.

“What I think a lot of emerging journalists are missing these days is the experience of being lied to on a local level,” he told Poynter. “You need to go into storytelling and you need to know what it’s like to be misled.” … Read the rest of this entry »

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Working for the government

In Innovation on September 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Eli Sanders is a journalist and writer for The Stranger. It’s an online publication in Seattle and one of the very best city news sites of its kind.

This week, he announced that he was working on a most unusual project, and I thought it was an interesting idea. What if we tried to find an opportunity like this? Might it be a win-win?

“So,” Sanders writes in his explanation column, “I’ve accepted what may be my least undercover assignment ever.” The job: Work in the mayor’s office for 10 weeks and then return to the news site to write about what that is like. What sort of challenges does a new mayoral administration face? Is the politician and his staff altruistic, or are they just aiming for the next election? Does local government work? How hard is the actual work? Imagine the questions you could answer first-person if you really knew what it was like on the other side of the pen and microphone?

It’s an extraordinarily weird period in Seattle politics. One mayor has resigned in disgrace. (Repeated allegations of sex assault on children will do that.) Two politicians are vying for election in November. Until then, one city council member will serve as mayor and he invited Sanders to spend that interim getting a first-hand look at how the city works.

Sanders will apparently help write speeches and craft policy proposals through November. Afterward, he says he will come back to The Stranger to write about all of it. … Read the rest of this entry »

Cops and reporters

In Legal on August 31, 2017 at 3:12 pm

This is the late Arthur Felig, who police called “Weegee” for his Ouija-like prescience of where to be at crime scenes.

Recently, there has been an uneasiness along the demilitarized zone that usually separates police from the media in this country. Violent clashes between protesters have left reporters and cops in the middle and sometimes the police have trampled on First Amendment rights in order to restore order. Meanwhile, the commander-in-chief has repeatedly berated some of the best journalists in the country, giving cover to local officials who have never thought much of your pesky questions.

Closer to home, there have been problems in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Several Sierra Vista Herald/Review journalists have reported unreasonable orders from the local police while both sides attempt to do their respective jobs. On more than one occasion, Sierra Vista Police officers have ordered reporters to less advantageous vantages ostensibly because they were worried about the safety of reporters.

What do you do when a cop at a fast-moving scene tells you to stand back so far that you can’t do your job?

This week, I posed that question to Dan Barr, a media law attorney for Perkins Coie. Barr works for the firm that authored a very good handbook for journalists that can be downloaded through the Arizona Newspaper Association. It turns out his advice is much like that I have given before: Build a strong relationship before you meet police at some scene, and once you are there, remember you are more apt to get what you want by being respectful than belligerent. … 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 »

Keeping an eye on salaries

In Ethics on August 24, 2017 at 11:43 am

Here are two truisms about open government: The people in charge will eventually sacrifice transparency for expediency, and no one will much care outside of your newsroom… until the poop hits the oscillating fan. Your job is to keep the fan plugged in at all times.

I want to point out a particularly well executed bit of public affairs journalism I read in a weekly newspaper in California. The Palo Alto Weekly is holding the local school board’s collective feet to the fire for failing to abide by what some might consider more arcane aspects of the state’s open meetings laws. In this case, the board failed to make plain the fact that it was giving top staff members a raise. Whether it was a “mistake,” failing to abide by the letter of the law is what it is.

Two of the most important duties of newspapers are as follows: 1) Keep an eye on tax dollars. 2) Make sure public officials follow the law. If we look the other way, or don’t know the law, or behave timidly when it comes to how much officials earn, we will inevitably fail to live up to the expectations we have for ourselves.

Do me a favor: Reread your state’s open meetings and records law. And find out what the top executives earn at your public agencies. Then find out when their compensation packages come up for review. You don’t necessarily have to schedule a story right away… But make sure you are on top of it.

— Clay

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 »

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 »

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 »