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 »
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 »
In journalism on February 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm
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 »
In Mobile on January 18, 2017 at 6:39 pm
The Washington Post today announces The Lily, an experimental, visually-driven (sic) product designed for millennial women that will boldly reimagine The Post’s award-winning journalism for distributed platforms.
The Post’s post goes on to say this is a platform-specific deal ginned up by the organization’s Emerging News Products Team and will start on Facebook, Instagram and Medium to begin with.
My first reaction? It seems awfully calculating and paternal, to me. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on January 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm
Here is one of the most evergreen and ever-true complaints about newspapers: To often they hit a news story and then run in the other direction. What became of that family displaced in the fire? What ever happened to that development plan? What is next for the planned water pipeline?
We’re pretty good at showing up for the news; we’re not so good and following up after the crowd leaves for the next shiny thing.
One of the reasons we shy away is because we don’t understand the context ourselves. In order to go back to that forgotten development plan, you might have to write about a complex series of events that you or your predecessor covered extensively five years ago but haven’t given a second thought in months or even years. In my shop, one such old news story is called “Big Wave.”
Big Wave is a development plan that proposed marrying housing for developmentally disabled adults with a business park to fund it all. Proponents say it’s a progressive idea and a chance to get housing for people who have a hard time getting it; opponents say that is all hogwash and a ruse to build a for-profit industrial park. Whatever the truth, the story has been in — and out of — our paper for years. It has been heard at state planning boards and local coffee shops. But not for a while. It’s been dormant for a year or more and we let it kind of recede from our collective conscience. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on December 15, 2016 at 1:46 pm
Photo courtesy John Green
Last week, The Half Moon Bay Review’s Carina Woudenberg found herself on an uncomfortable phone call.
It followed the death of a 77-year-old woman who was killed by a car as she attempted to walk across the street at dusk. Carina drew the assignment and called one of the woman’s many friends in the area. Unfortunately, the woman on the other end of the phone hadn’t heard the tragic news.
Did Carina do anything wrong?
Before you answer, let’s consider how these stories play out in communities like ours. There is a crash followed by police sirens. Maybe you hear it on the scanner or get a press release about a fatality. The initial story is likely to be sketchy. Maybe you don’t know the identity of the deceased. You likely share the news online as fast as you can.
Then, maybe the next day, the coroner or the sheriff gives you a name. You poke around to find whether the deceased is prominent, whether you’ve written about her before. Perhaps you simply update the old story with the name.
Carina did the right thing by trying to make the victim a flesh-and-blood human being. We got a break when someone we knew said on Facebook he knew the victim. Carina talked to him to learn she was a devoted mother and grandmother. A Google search revealed she once worked as a nurse at a local hospital.
That was when Carina called the hospital and inadvertently broke the news to an old friend. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on December 8, 2016 at 11:05 am
There are 20,000 kids in foster care in Arizona. That’s up 95 percent from six years ago. Six hundred more kids are taken from their homes every year in Arizona alone. It’s a very sad epidemic that The News-Herald in Lake Havasu is bringing to light.
The week of Thanksgiving, the newspaper ran a front-page package that also included an editorial calling for more families to consider a true sacrifice of love.
Last week, I used this space to ask that you plan for enterprise over the holiday season. There are a zillion reasons to do so. You likely have more news hole this time of year. Folks have more time away from work to sit down with your newspaper. It’s a natural time to write stories that further community.
But stories like those in The News-Herald don’t just happen. Here’s editor Brandon Bowers describing the genesis of the idea. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Mobile on December 8, 2016 at 10:59 am
Whether you are familiar with Quartz probably says something about the way in which you consume news. And, if you like its mobile presentations so far, chances are you are going to be fascinated by what its done now.
Quartz is a news aggregation apparatus that publishes “bracingly creative and intelligent journalism,” particularly dealing with the global economy, in ways that are aimed at users of tablets and mobile phones. It’s only been in business for four years, but it seems much more well-established than that.
It’s pretty hard to describe its latest launch. In a blog post, Quartz says the mobile app is “sort of like texting.” It sends text-like messages to which you can respond. It offers more on these stories and links to longer takes. It’s also easy to “tell” the app you aren’t interested in that story and to move on. It looks and feels like texting an all-knowing friend (and who doesn’t need another know-it-all friend?)
It’s right here and I highly recommend you give it a try on your mobile device.
Quartz isn’t alone in trying to master the confluence of news and conversation. In fact, we’ve all been trying to do that since commenting became “a thing” a dozen years ago. But as Josh Stearns notes, projects like Quartz’s are blooming all over.
The key for all of these projects is getting past our past as gatekeeper and on to our future as conversation starter. Or convener. Or further-er. … 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…
In journalism, Uncategorized on November 17, 2016 at 4:46 pm
Perhaps the hottest topic in our industry is “fake news.” You know what it is because you probably see it in your Facebook feed or Google search all day long. Hillary Clinton promised amnesty for undocumented immigrants who voted for her. World War III is days away. John Podesta is a witch.
Most of these things are pretty obviously not true. The trouble comes when you are in your own echo chamber and what you read generally confirms what you want to believe. Then discerning the difference can be a matter of will.
A lot of smart people think this is a big, big problem for real journalists. Is real journalism devalued when it comes amid so much fakery? If people can’t tell the difference, will they just choose to believe what they want to believe?
Jack Shafer says no. He’s a well-known media critic who notes that there is nothing new about fake news. Politicians and their minions have been faking stories about the opposition for as long as there has been ink and paper.
That is true, but I tend to believe there is something more pernicious happening today. I think it has to do with the viral nature of media now. Shafer points out 18th century hoaxes about man-eating trees and monkeys trained to pick cotton, but those stories weren’t shared millions of times in an hour. They didn’t take on a life of their own. … Read the rest of this entry »