Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘news’

Once upon a time…

In Writing techniques on July 20, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Have you ever wondered at the enduring quality of, “Once upon a time?” Has there ever been a better way to begin a story?

I got to thinking about the way we begin a story after reading Eric Petermann’s superb yarn about the “kissing bug” in the Sierra Vista Herald. Eric learned there was this woman in Bisbee, Ariz., Lee McElroy, who was driving the effort to learn more about an infestation of these particular bugs in the canyon where she lives. The bugs bite in the night and can cause Chagas’ disease and you don’t even want to think about that!

Anyway, Eric knew the story of the bug as vector for disease was important… but the story of Lee McElroy was better. Much better. So he told it that way, leading with McElroy and her layman’s search for scientific information about these bug bites she was getting.

The first words Eric employed were these:

The story starts just over 10 years ago when Lee McElroy was living in the area of Zacatecas Canyon in the Old Bisbee district of this eclectic mountain community.

Hooked yet? I was. I am a sucker for stories that begin with an everyday Jane whose everyday world is about to be turned upside down. Perhaps that is why I love fiction so much. (“Our story begins” is so good as a literary device that the great Tobias Wolffe even named a short-story collection just that.) … Read the rest of this entry »

New Google News

In Online media on July 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm

We all have go-to spots on the web for news and one of mine is Google News.

I appreciate what to me seems like an honest curation of the top stories of the day and the fact that I can sample many sources in one place. There are channels for top stories and sports and whatever else interests you and you can even set it to find your particular interests.

Recently, the crew at Google redesigned the interface. I guess the sweet spot with such things is to tweak them for better usability without completely upsetting the virtual apple cart, and by that standard I would have to say it’s a success. (Though, truth be told, I don’t think it’s much better than the original, which worked for me just fine. Do you think the “card format” is easier to read than the old blue headers? Perhaps you do.)

There are a couple of things I do like. Google is now tagging stories as “Local Source” when that is the case. Seems like that would be good to know as we all know that local media sometimes has a different and more grounded perspective on some stories. And it’s pretty breathtaking in some instances to click “full coverage.” Doing so can bring you dozens of stories on a topic, related video and tags that can bring you deeper into a story. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to Google.

One last thing: If you aren’t already setting Google alerts to send you emails of stories that mention your town or beat… you should. If you can’t figure it out, lemme know.

— Clay Lambert

News from home

In Media on June 15, 2017 at 12:47 pm

This week I returned from vacation. My girlfriend and I took a cruise. It was fantastic.

I mention it here only because of what I learned along the way about news and its consumption.

Wi-Fi on the ship is expensive. Most people either do as I did and eschew online activities for the duration or seek some Internet café at each port. That doesn’t mean people have given up on news entirely.

The Times Digest was must-read material every day on the ship. The digest is created by a company called KVH Media Group. It distills the top stories from the New York Times every day — including weather, sports and crossword — and presents them in a letter-page booklet format. I think each one might have been 12 pages.

Virtually everyone talked about getting these news summaries. In fact, some days there was a bit of a line at the kiosk where they were distributed at 10 a.m. each day.

Here’s what I made of it. Travel can be an untethering experience. We are positioned in this universe in relation to the things we recognize. People who don’t normally read the Times were drawn to it in the same way I think of soldiers craving “news from home.” It’s a reaction to missing home, but also simply a matter of finding something solid upon which to hang amid the unreal experience of being on a cruise ship. … 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 »

The future is collaboration

In Innovation on May 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm

When I got into the business 1,426 years ago, “cooperation” was a cuss word and “collaboration” was just plain blasphemy.

When newspapers were fiefdoms that had a monopoly over the means of production of news, we were knights of the realm. We jousted with competitors. We donned our figurative chainmail armor and we sought to tame our rivals. We beat the other guy — to the source, to the document, to the story. We wanted scoops and exclusives. We (often wrongly) thought that readers appreciated this fighting spirit. It was a whole lot of fun.

Those days are largely over. It’s still fun to score a scoop, as the Green Valley News did with the source of the Sawmill fire. But it’s not the burning core of our business model. More and more, we will be collaborating to accomplish things we can’t do alone. That is because we don’t have the resources we once did and also because everyone is a publisher. No one is waiting for us to get around to tell his or her story.

Media consultant Tim Griggs does a wonderful job laying out the opportunities and challenges of the cooperative ventures we need in his longish post at Nieman Lab. If you do nothing else, scroll down to the part about localization. I say that because that is an age-old concept that doesn’t really require cooperation, but would enrich our papers bigly. Add context. Use a national story as a springboard for your own. Localize the data. … Read the rest of this entry »

Mind. Blown.

In Ideas on April 27, 2017 at 4:44 pm

It’s been a generally mind-blowing week for me. Consider the explanations of news bots over at NiemanLabs, for instance. But the thing that set my hair on fire the most was Jimmy Wales’ plan to reinvent journalism as a symbiotic relationship between journalists and everyone else. If you think a crowdsourced news site is something that has been tried before (and failed), consider Wales’ Wikipedia. It wasn’t so long ago that people thought there would never be a crowdsourced encyclopedia that could compete with, say, Encyclopedia Britannica, and when is the last time you reached for that shelf of books your mom bought in the 1970s?

He’s calling the new venture Wikitribune and you should really read about it yourself. In a nutshell, the idea is to have subscribers hire journalists who will then work on stories the crowd wants to see. The results would be vetted by the community. They hope to hire 10 journalists and launch in September.

The key here is a role for professional journalists who can ask questions, take the story where it goes and provide appropriate context. The crowd will, presumably, call out bias, check the facts and basically wiki the heck out of it.

To be sure, there are questions. How do you keep the thing working in real time, when the crowd can pivot before a story ever develops? How do you keep it civil? What if the community is more interested in the Kardashians than Afghanistan?

We shall see. I highly recommend keeping an eye on NiemanLabs. It will keep your world spinning with new ideas.

Clay

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 »

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 »

I did this thing. Please cover it.

In journalism on April 6, 2017 at 11:23 am

Why didn’t you cover my (insert thing you didn’t cover here)?

Virtually every day for the 5,363,982 days I’ve been working for a newspaper, someone has come in wanting free publicity. What do you tell these people?

For my part, I always try to be respectful and offer some avenue for a win-win. Granted, sometimes folks just won’t take no for an answer and I have been known to be less than saintly in these conversations. But nine times out of 10, we can figure out some way to share the information in a way that makes sense, and sometimes that means advertising.

The first trick is determining whether this is newsworthy on some level. Has it been done before? Is it interesting to a wide audience? Does it merit staff time? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” all parties are about to be happy. This looks like a story for the print newspaper and your website.

That’s fine if the circus is coming to town, but what if it’s smaller than that. What if it’s a kid’s Cub Scout matriculation or word of a new insurance agent? What do you do with that stuff?

My rule of thumb is this: If it’s a non-profit or an important event in the lives of real local people, I try to find a place for it. It may be a brief on a community page or even simply a post and picture on Facebook. Social media is great for stuff like this and frees up your time for bigger things in the paper. If, however, it’s commercial — like the insurance agent — I’m likely to suggest an advertisement. After all, as my wise former publisher Debra Hershon would say, “Editorial is something you pray for, advertising is something you pay for.” If the reason you walked into the newspaper office was to drum up business, you want an advertisement. … Read the rest of this entry »

Goals for 2017

In journalism on February 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm
Time to shoot for some new goals.

Time to shoot for some new goals.

Sometimes our best intentions fall victim of daily expedience. We all have grandiose visions of what our publications could be were it not for myriad daily aggravations that keep us from doing the important stuff.

Well, we’re going to resolve to do some important stuff in 2017. What follows is a first discussion of relatively small, achievable goals — one for each remaining quarter of the calendar year. They were formed at the behest of Wick CEO Francis Wick, and after consultation with some Wick editors and other company executives. In the near future, I will follow up with a separate email and will call all Wick editors before Feb. 28 to make sure you understand them and can follow through with three simple tasks.

I’m calling it “One, Two, 10 in 2017.” Here they are:

One: I’m asking everyone to focus on one new editorial project to be achieved in the second quarter (April-June). This can be a special section or publication, an event, a niche vertical for the web, a photography project or anything else that is a production of the editorial staff that adds value for readers. This may or may not have revenue potential, but it must be something staff is passionate about. This is something the newsroom believes in and will see through to fruition. Don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be an enormous undertaking. I’ll call; we’ll talk about it.

Two: Beginning in the third quarter (July-September), you must have at least two local opinion pieces every week. This one is easy. You should already be producing that many staff-written editorials. One way to accomplish this is to augment what you already do with other opinions from the community. These are local-issue-oriented and written solely for your readers. It does not include someone’s 500-word take on an immigration ban, nor the chamber of commerce’s regular shout-out to local businesses. I want you to seek out other local voices to talk about issues of concern that concern your community. …

Ten: I want everyone to achieve a consistent expanded use of social media by posting 10 percent more to one social medium by the fourth quarter (October-December). You’ll simply count your posts to, say, Twitter last October and resolve to do 10 percent more this October and continue that level regularly going forward. Why? Primarily in order to brand your organization as a reliable, accurate, fun source of information in your community. … Read the rest of this entry »