Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Finding time for solutions

In journalism on 16 Jul 2018 at 8:55 am

I had been conscripted, really. It wasn’t my idea to stand before 50 or so journalists and ask them to please come be part of my group rather than one of the others forming around equally important concepts. But there I was, on a hot and sunny Portland Saturday. I knew nobody. Here goes.

“OK kind people,” I began. “How can those of us in small newsrooms, amid all the cutbacks we’ve all experienced and the new responsibilities we all have as a result, find time for solutions in addition to problems.”

It was really Solutions Journalism Network regional leader Linda Shaw’s question. I think she culled from a survey of participants at the SJN West Coast gathering on July 14. However it emerged, it was the key problem for many and many in attendance. Many of us spend too much time cataloguing problems all day, every day. How do we make the next step into leading a conversation that could change society for the better? Isn’t that what journalists are supposed to do?

Eeeeerrrrrrkkkk! Crash. (Insert your own trainwreck sound here.) Hold on a minute here. I confess that I had to wallow in that concept for a while before I got it. This “solutions” thing can sound suspiciously like advocacy. Personally, I didn’t get into journalism to push a cause. Most of us got into the business thinking that you publish the truth and it will set us all free. Folks simply will understand the president is a crook or that we need to mitigate climate change. We don’t present solutions… right?  Read the rest of this entry »


On the other side of the pen

In Media, Newspapers, publishing on 7 Jun 2018 at 10:43 am

The Chronicle asked me to take a photo of our building.

Just as every doctor would learn from being a patient, every reporter ought to be interviewed once in a while. It’s instructive.

This week, I was interviewed twice. Reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED radio called to ask me about the transition of our newspaper, the Half Moon Bay Review, from an out-of-state corporation to local hands. It’s an exciting time and I primed the publicity pump with an email to the Chronicle.

So, I was pleased to hear from a Chronicle reporter. We talked for about 10 minutes and I thought she asked the right questions. The result was a 250-word take on the sale that was entirely sufficient for readers in San Francisco.

It was not, however, the story I would have written. It lacked the sweep of the tale. It didn’t cover all the points needed to truly understand how a group of readers came to purchase a newspaper, the angst as other potential buyers circled, the concern we all had for our jobs. There was originally a stray apostrophe in my quote!

In other words, it was fine. And I was getting a taste of what it’s like to have no control over my words once they were out of my mouth. I’m sure hundreds of people I’ve interviewed over the years would be pleased to know I suddenly shared their chagrin. (Editors subsequently cleaned up the story a tad and it ran in the paper two days after it appeared online.) … Read the rest of this entry »

Wear the T-shirt

In Business on 28 Dec 2017 at 1:57 pm

A few years ago, my publisher got us each a blue T-shirt with the Half Moon Bay Review’s logo written across the front. He thought we might wear them to events the newspaper sponsored and so on. I didn’t like it. I didn’t wear it.

I didn’t get it.

But I do now. The reason I didn’t get it is rooted in a cancerous mindset that was instilled in journalists of a certain era. The inability to “stoop” to branding continues into the new millennium, and can be seen in all sorts of misbehavior. Many journalists still disdain social media. They don’t return complaining emails. They eschew reader comments as somehow beneath them.

Journalists are observational by birthright. If you aren’t paying attention to the unspoken signals around you, you aren’t much of a journalist. It helps you understand the dynamics of a government meeting, what’s going on behind the scenes on the campaign trail and many other subtle but telling points necessary to tell the truth. And, as a young journalist in the 1980s, I couldn’t help but observe that cynicism was the default mode of virtually all of my peers. It’s partly a defense mechanism. You can’t take seriously all of the terrible things you see. Part of the problem is due to conflating cynicism with skepticism. If your mother says she loves you, by all means, check it out, but you don’t have to roll your eyes and be an ass while you’re at it. … Read the rest of this entry »


In journalism on 26 Oct 2017 at 2:42 pm

If you are a fan of journalism, if you believe this thing we do is ultimately our salvation, please find a copy of the Fall 2017 edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. (Or read it here.) It’s a must-read for anyone producing journalism in the United States today.

The entire issue is dedicated to the relationship between President Donald Trump and the press, and what that means for a society that feels perpetually on the brink these days.

The magazine offers a deep dive into the role of Ivanka Trump in the White House and how her interactions with the press through the years might shape what we see now. A former editor of the New York Observer tells how then publisher (now first son-in-law) Jared Kushner ordered a “hit piece” on a bank executive the Trumps thought had done them wrong. CJR gives us a rollicking history of the White House press room, and a truly scary look at what it’s like to cover a political protest these days. … Read the rest of this entry »

Going undercover

In journalism on 28 Sep 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 »

Report for America

In Innovation on 21 Sep 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 »

Working for the government

In Innovation on 21 Sep 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 31 Aug 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 31 Aug 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 24 Aug 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