In Online media on April 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm
New York Times writer Daniel Victor offers a very smart tip for using Twitter to source stories. It’s all about “me.”
In a recent blog post he writes about finding sources for a front-page Times story about the fact that some Hasidic men were causing a minor ruckus on international flights by refusing to sit next to women. It’s one of those quintessential Times stories that you didn’t know you cared about but were nonetheless interested to read.
So how do you find people to say they witnessed something like that? The airlines won’t help you. You can’t very well just call any Orthodox Jew…
Victor notes they looked for what you might think are key words “Hasidic” “flight” “sit.” But there was another word that drilled through the noise on Twitter: “Me.” He says:
People relating a personal experience – aka, good sources – will use it. People observing from afar – aka, useless sources – won’t.
Victor goes on to envision a train crash. What would you tweet from the wreckage if you were on that train? He guesses the answer might be “I’m OK.” Search for that. He says:
For all the focus on traffic generation and conversation, we ought to appreciate that social media also represents the deepest source pool and one of the greatest reporting tools ever given to journalists. Just gotta know how to wield it.
In Writing techniques on April 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm
In a recent piece on the blogging site Medium, freelancer Rob Boffard gives advice on how to be interviewed. He makes a good point about something we should all remember: Many of the people we approach from day to day have never faced the business end of a journalist before. It can be intimidating to respond to barked questions while a stranger scribbles your answers in a notebook.
While Boffard’s advice to the interviewed is well taken, we might also consider our approach to interviewing folks. Here are some observations based on years of experience:
In person is always better than the phone and the phone is better than email. This is a distinction that can be lost on interviewer and interviewee alike. The reason you want to interview someone in person is that you notice stuff you can’t possibly notice on the phone. Is your subject tense, jovial, pained? Does he have the answers readily at hand or does he lean on a PR woman to his side? We are human beings; even in this age of digital communication, we respond best to a warm greeting and smiling face. You will simply learn more by speaking face to face.
Go to your source’s lair. Whenever possible, conduct interviews at your subject’s workplace or home or the place that is most relevant to your story. The reason is obvious. You are going to get tidbits that color your story if you interview the volleyball coach as she picks up the balls after practice rather than calling her at home three hours later. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Editing on March 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm
We had one of those deadline emergencies last week, the kind that seems to come up with each new edition. There was a dispute over a typo on a ballot initiative. The city attorney said it could be changed with a phone call; the opposition spokesman said god himself couldn’t fix it.
With 30 minutes till deadline, who ya gonna call? Turns out the guy’s name is Glenn Levy. We could all use more sources like him, and it occurs to me that we should at the very least talk him up among ourselves as one guy you can count on to answer the phone in a pinch.
Levy is a deputy county counsel in our county of about 700,000 souls. He’s specifically assigned to questions about local elections. He got back to us right away, he spoke on the record and was a joy to work with.
Ruminating on that contact later, I thought that I should highlight him to the staff of the Review. I’ve added him into the wiki that serves as our shared source list and I think I’ll ask staffers to provide me with folks like him – people who don’t shirk their responsibility to speak to the press, who answer promptly and have something intelligent to say – and feature them in this staff blog. In that way, we may remember whom to call the next time we’re on deadline with an elections question. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on February 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm
One pervasive problem with newspapers all over the country (and I suspect all over the world) is what I would call “The Official Effect.” It is the tendency of reporters to seek out someone with a title and ignore the multitudes who are merely affected by whatever change is deemed newsworthy. … You know, unimportant people like our readers.
It’s a natural compulsion, but it tends to crowd out the very people we are trying to attract to our party – everyday readers who are not the mayor or the school principal. We need to include these voices too. And I have some ideas to make that happen.
- Get out of the office. Your Rolodex (alright, your digital phonebook) is filled with the numbers of officialdom. It has its place, but what if you need, say, the mother of a kindergartener to add color to a school budgeting story? You have to go to the line of cars waiting to pick up little Johnny and adorable Sandy. Real people are out there. Go find them. Get up. Walk out the door. This may be the most important tip I can give you.
- Run a sidebar of quotes. Got a story about the city enacting some new law? Writing about the school budget priorities? Jot down some quotes during the public input session and run those four or five quotes alongside your story. Get some mugshots to make it even more attractive. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on March 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm
As I write this, one of our reporters at the Half Moon Bay Review is on the phone with a guy I’ll call Charlie, because that’s his name.
Charlie is a local guy with a problem. He says that a contractor, while making improvements to a home up the hill, rechanneled stormwater so that it rushes on to his land. He says the change has caused a landslide on his property and that county officials are callous to his predicament and that the offending contractor says he would charge $15,000 to fix the problem he created.
I know all this, because I talked to Charlie, too. Charlie spoke to our reporter and, when he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear, he called me. When he still didn’t read the story he wanted in the next day’s paper, he called the reporter back. Charlie is starting to get on my nerves.
Now, Charlie may have a point. He may have been wronged by the contractor. It may even be a story for the newspaper. But you have to balance your own open-door policy and the fact that you want to hear from readers with story ideas against the fact that you probably have bigger fish to fry. You can’t let one really squeaky wheel distract you from stories that, in your judgment, are of greater interest to more people.
So what do we do the next time Charlie calls? … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on February 24, 2011 at 11:45 am
It’s worth noting that solid relationships with news sources come in handy all the time – not just when disaster strikes. Take a recent story from the Argus Observer in Ontario, Ore.
When Saint Alphonsus Medical Center announced plans to build a 30,000-square-foot expansion – a move that will bring more doctors and services to the area – hospital administrators told the local newspaper first. That didn’t just happen. It happened because Publisher John Dillon took the time to build relationships with people at the hospital – people he knew were newsmakers. Here’s what John told me about this story in an e-mail:
I came to the Argus in 2003 and started working on the relationship by volunteering on committees and groups where hospital employees were involved. Over time, things got better and I was able to get about $20,000 a year in advertising revenue and they were talking to reporters and giving us information.
I have kept a very good relationship with the marketing director and she and I have worked on an agreement that when they have an announcement she give us the information and as soon as they announce to their staff, we post as breaking news and get in the next printed publication. I have let her know that I will continue this until I start hearing the information on the street before we are able to break it… Read the rest of this entry »
In Online media on January 27, 2011 at 10:59 am
There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about information gleaned from online sources. It may be absolutely correct in every detail. It also may be complete malarkey. It’s your job to tell the difference. In fact, in a world in which so much information is available online, this may be one of the most important tasks for journalists.
I found a fascinating discussion of this verification task here. It’s a blog published by British journalism instructor Paul Bradshaw. As you can see (and please note beforehand, he posts a photo of a profane Photoshopped photo to make a point), he categorizes the problem on three levels – content, context and code. He offers some great tips to remember when determining whether an online source is credible.
Usually, though by no means always, a savvy consumer can determine the “truthiness” of an online posting merely by noting its provenance. Where did it come from? You know you are more likely to believe the White House or the New York Times or the University of Kentucky than you are TMZ, the Onion or some random URL you’ve never heard of before. At least I hope that’s true. Bradshaw also suggests paying attention to how long the source has been blogging or tweeting or whatever. If she just started the day news broke, well, factor that into your internal believability scale… Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on August 13, 2010 at 7:33 am
The other day at lunch some of the Review reporters and I were talking about context and whether it makes sense to focus exclusively on the local angle or to show where the local story fits into the wider world. I’m a big believer in the latter approach, and I think I’ve said so here before.
What do I mean?
I mean that if you are writing about a week’s worth of rainfall, it helps to remind readers this is in the range of what is considered normal for this time of year. I mean that if you are writing about wildfire in your region, you also point out the wider statewide wildfire picture. Etc., etc.
One place to make such connections is your local college or university. As you know, there are more experts there than you can shake a stick at. I bet you could go back to school more often in your stories.
In the last few years, colleges have become much more savvy about making their experts available. It’s a symbiotic thing. It looks good when people see a biologist from Old State U quoted in the local paper and, obviously, their expertise lends weight to your story… Read the rest of this entry »