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.
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participants reported long delays in getting information, documents that had been overly censored, high copying fees, out-of-date government technology and public officials not knowing the laws.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 »
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?”
“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 »
In journalism on March 3, 2017 at 9:02 am
“I think you have to really just listen to everything, and then pick out what you believe and what you think is really truthful.”
“If I don’t see it on social media, I’m not going to hear it.”
“Even if it’s factual, it may be sort of tainted.”
“I’ll believe your [citizen-captured] video before I’ll believe [one from the media]. Because they will tamper with theirs.”
These are representative responses gleaned from a new study called “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape,” released from the Data & Society Research Institute. The scientific study used focus groups of teenagers and young adults in three big U.S. cities.
The one over-arching message was that young people, in other words, our future consumers, express “widespread skepticism” about the news media and think most of it is biased.
Young people are more likely to trust user-generated content than things they get from a traditional news source like a newspaper. Why? Because they themselves share newsy nuggets and they trust that mechanism. These findings join a cascade of evidence that people of all ages have less trust in the news media than ever before.
Young people have a much wider definition of news than old-school newspaper editors might have. A friend’s new car, a presidential appointment, a new song from Drake — It’s all news. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on February 23, 2017 at 4:40 pm
X High School students suspected of armed robbery.
That suggested headline gave me pause the other day. The story concerned the arrest of two 16-year-old boys who had been arrested for robbing a younger teenager of his watch and some other stuff. The suspects, who by California law were not named because of their age, were charged with armed robbery because the victim said he saw a knife and the handle of a firearm during the commission of the crime.
The writer handled all that stuff well, I thought. It was a legitimate news story. … I just couldn’t get past naming the suspects’ high school. Ultimately, I deleted reference to it, and I wanted to mention it here in case my reasoning is useful to you.
So why did I delete reference to the school? Why not give readers all the information you have? What’s wrong with specifying where these charmers take classes? Wouldn’t mentioning it help parents take precautions that could keep their families safe?
I don’t think so. There are three relevant points for me:
First, the incident did not take place on the high school campus. The affiliation was incidental to the crime. If they were plumbers, say, would we run a headline reading “Jake’s Plumbers employees arrested for armed robbery?” If they were prominent, you might be more specific. If they were the highly recruited star football players, perhaps, or if they were two assistant principals, say, I might feel differently. I don’t think juvenile students at a local high school meet that measure. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on February 3, 2017 at 12:19 pm
John Green / Half Moon Bay Review
Recently, one of our editors called me and I could hear the concern in her voice. She was shaken after hearing from relatives of the victim of violence in her town. They didn’t like that the newspaper included unsavory aspects of the deceased’s past.
So the question today: What counts as newsworthy after someone has died?
The truth is there is no right answer. You could argue successfully that a crime victim’s past arrest is unrelated to what happened to the victim. You could argue that the arrest is public record, previously reported and adds context. The calculus likely changes depending on the deceased’s public profile.
I think finding the balance requires sophisticated reasoning, and I wanted to talk about it.
I told the editor that, in my opinion, including past felony convictions toward the bottom of the story is not only defensible, but preferable in this particular instance. The story involved a public act of violence and subsequent police chase that ended in another death. It was the talk of the town.
In addition, the previously reported arrests were also popping up in social media posts around the incident. The news was “out there.” … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on February 3, 2017 at 12:13 pm
This week, Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post about how a guy named Lewis Wallace got fired from a journalism job for eschewing objectivity in a public forum. It’s a good reminder that, while we all have opinions and should act in accordance with our moral compass, we have obligations as employed journalists to rise above the fray.
Wallace, then a reporter for radio’s “Marketplace,” posted a blog on Medium in which he wrote, in part, “We need to admit that those who oppose free speech, diversity and kindergarten level fairness are our enemies.” He subsequently wrote another post, a very intelligent and reasoned defense for his position.
In this instance, the company says Wallace violated stated policy by saying he wouldn’t treat everyone fairly. If that is the case, I’m not surprised he lost his job.
Regardless, with great respect for Wallace’s obvious moral stance, I think publishing the fact that you plan to treat some potential sources as enemies is bad form. Company policies aside, some things are just common sense. Don’t go to pains to say you are taking sides in the ongoing, intensifying culture wars on which you report. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on January 18, 2017 at 6:48 pm
Library of Congress
This week, Josh Stearn’s writes on MediaShift about a concept that is absolutely radical: Cooperation.
In the wake of our recent presidential election, pundits have suggested the fundamental lesson is that media and people on the coast failed to understand the folks in the flyover states. Consequently, the smartest people in the room completely missed the temperature of the country.
That may be true. Here’s what many national news editors got wrong: They then parachuted national journalists into middle America in an attempt to extract the essence in one well-written 50-inch takeout from Bristol, Tenn., or Wahpeton, N.D. or other such places about which they knew nothing.
Stearns argues for a cooperative approach. He notes that journalists like ours in Wick newsrooms know our communities. Rather than sending Mr. Big Name from New York to report from a place like Sierra Vista, Ariz., that news organization would do well to partner with The Herald for a more rich and complete telling from the field. Stearns goes on to mention some such partnerships. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on December 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm
Photo courtesy Journalism and Women Symposium
The American Press Institute recently hosted the Journalism and Women Symposium in Roanoke, Va. (If you think your job is difficult, consider that the symposium is not only charged with supporting professional growth in women journalists but also with “supporting a more accurate portrayal of the whole society.”)
API used the gathering to release results of its recent survey on trust in the media. Not surprisingly, the organization found that building trust is not only an important thing, but maybe the important thing. Without it, readers simply go elsewhere and we can’t afford that.
Interestingly, the organization asked symposium participants to divide into groups and brainstorm ways to build trust in a news organization. The ideas themselves were interesting – and so was one particular aspect about the way they were presented.
- Get to know the community and let the community know you.
- Be more forthcoming with corrections and make them easier to find.
- Add more context to stories. (I think this is the key ingredient most often missing from the soup we make.)
- Change the face of your newsroom and talk to new sources. (Newsrooms need to look like their communities in terms of race, gender, age, etc.)
- Be more transparent about how you report and your sources. …
Read the rest of this entry »
In Accuracy on December 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm
These were the headlines from the fake news site, American News.
You might have seen that the Ne York Times reported a bump in the number of print subscriptions in the days after a contentious presidential election. While many believe as the president-elect does, that the media is biased and can’t be trusted, others continue to believe a robust, independent, professional press is a hallmark of any democracy and a necessary check on the power of government.
In fact, The New York Times reports 132,000 more paid subscriptions to all its products — print and online — since the election. It remains to be seen how many of those new subscribers, many of whom undoubtedly took teaser deals to get started, remain after the churn, but this is really, really good news.
It reminds me that this is the giving season. Perhaps there is a campaign for holiday subscriptions in here somewhere for an ambitious circulation pro. “Real news” is important at the national level, and that is just as true in your community. I was completely taken with Josh Stearns’ post recently about finding worthwhile local news sources to support. You may want to support some of these yourself by making holiday gifts out of them.
In the meantime, what can we do to deliver on the promise of real news for our patrons? … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on December 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm
This week, I was fascinated by Christie Ashwanden’s survey of commenters published on fivethirtyeight.com. I imagine we have all wondered what motivates our commenters, both the well-mannered cogent ones and everyone else.
Among Aschwanden’s takeaways from her unscientific survey of 8,500 online commenters:
They are overwhelmingly male (76 percent), and mostly between the ages of 20 and 39. In her survey, people appear much less likely to comment on a story if they are over the age of 40, and only 5 percent of commenters are children or teenagers.
Four in 10 comment at least once a week.
The No. 1 reason given for commenting is to correct an error. Or should I say, perceived error? Aschwanden takes us down an interesting rabbit hole and uses a term I hadn’t heard before: The “backfire effect.” That is when a reader sees something, perhaps just a headline, and it reminds him of an opinion already held. In other words, your article might have no uplifting effect and only serve to reinforce false notions.
Our industry has been round and round with the comment question. We’ve discussed whether to allow them, monitor them, require registration, ban them, or only allow subscribers to comment. I’ve changed my opinion a time or two as well. Today, right now, I think comments are worth the trouble, if for no other reason than this: If we don’t allow readers their say, they are very likely to go somewhere else.
But I’m certainly willing to change my mind…