Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Avoiding holiday snooze

In journalism on 1 Dec 2016 at 3:06 pm


Matt Lindberg called from The Montrose Daily Press the other day. He wanted to brainstorm ideas for the holidays. He dared verbalize what we all know: Sometimes our papers take a holiday as we get closer and closer to New Year’s. In fact, he gets credit for the term “holiday snooze.”

The holidays are wonderful in many ways, but they also present a perfect storm in your newsroom. More ads mean more space to fill. Fine employees want and deserve time off with family, even if it’s only a couple days for the regular holidays. Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes into hibernation. Government and schools close. Many sports and nonprofits slow down. … You are not alone. All newspapers struggle to stay aggressive and relevant in December.

I don’t know how much it helped, but I suggested Matt might think about three categories of stories. (Again, this isn’t revolutionary thought. But perhaps you haven’t thought about it in just this way:

Evergreens. Stories that don’t require some news event to propel them. Off the top of my head, I thought these might include local winter destinations, year-in-review kinds of stories, sports highlights from the year gone by. (See more in the list at the top of this post.)

Holiday stuff. This is ground you’ve already covered, and probably cover every year. School events, the local Christmas tree business, traditions like live Nativity scenes. … Read the rest of this entry »


About that em dash

In Writing techniques on 4 Nov 2016 at 9:27 am
Thanks, writeraccess.com

Thanks, writeraccess.com

Behold, the overused, little understood em dash. It is straight, proud and horizontal — the very embodiment of a lazy writer sure that its use makes his prose sound more magnificent in the ear.

I saw on one of our writers speak of the em dash on social media the other day and it reminded me how much I overuse it. From the bible (also known as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style:”)

Use a dash only when a more common mark of punctuation seems inadequate.

Who are you to call the venerable comma inadequate? So when do you use this long hyphen thing? To set off an abrupt break and to announce a long summary or appositive. Here are some examples from Elements:

  • His first thought on getting out of bed — if he had any thought at all — was to get back in again.
  • The rear axle began to make a noise — a grinding, chattering teeth-gritting rasp.
  • The increasing reluctance of the sun to rise, the extra nip in the breeze, the patter of shed leaves dropping — all the evidence of fall drifting into winter were clearer each day. …

Read the rest of this entry »

Instagram vs. Snapchat

In Online media on 4 Aug 2016 at 3:52 pm
Just something snarky I saw on my Instagram feed.

Just something snarky I saw on my Instagram feed.

This week, the folks at Instagram (who work for Facebook) stole Snapchat’s lunch money. They launched Instagram Stories, which is a direct ripoff of Snapchat Stories, and some of the smart money is betting eyeballs will leave Snapchat in favor of the already more popular Instagram.

I know. It’s hard to keep up with the social media soap opera sometimes.

The concept behind “stories” on both platforms is that users can create mini photo-based narratives that disappear with time. And why would anyone want to do that? Snapchat Stories have been wildly popular with celebrities and young people. I think they appreciate that the images don’t have to be perfect. They won’t outlive us all. they are just a snapshot of right now.

Should we be doing that too? Good question.

This isn’t a way to push links or host ads. The popular photo-based platforms are primarily branding exercises for news organizations. They are a chance to show that you speak to this demographic and that your photography is worth looking at. Instagram suggests that the new Stories will be a perfect way to quickly stitch together a photo story during breaking news. I can see that. If you are covering, say, a street protest, you can send a series of photos as a story and share with your existing Instagram audience. Or maybe a sportswriter sends a story from the high school football game. It’s not rocket science. It won’t take forever.  … Read the rest of this entry »

We must engage readers

In Online media on 26 Feb 2016 at 6:37 am

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 8.52.20 PM

Many thanks to Wick Digital Sales Manager Jim Keyes (and then CEO Francis Wick) for passing along some tips for digital engagement shared during the recent so-called Mega Conference, which is a partnership of the Local Media Association, the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Inland Press Foundation.

They come from Gatehouse Media’s Senior Vice President of Content and Product Development David Arkin. I think all of them are worth thinking about. Some of them are great. And a couple of them require careful consideration.

Arkin gave 10 recommendations for how a newsroom can increase reader engagement online. I know “reader engagement” is one of those buzzy terms that can set your teeth on edge, but, if you think about it, we all want more readers, right? All he’s suggesting are ways you might go about that and, even if some of the ideas seem a bridge too far, he gets credit for thinking outside the box. Now is the time to think outside the box.

The ideas:

Be conversational. Hit the right tone in social media. Yes. I would add a corollary: Understand the nuances of each platform. Tying Twitter to update automatically with your Facebook post is not thinking strategically about the former. Hit the right tone. … Read the rest of this entry »

The tyranny of process

In Writing on 5 Feb 2015 at 1:55 pm
The Holyoke City Council Ordinance Committee. Dave Roback / The Republican

The Holyoke City Council Ordinance Committee. Dave Roback / The Republican

Working in community journalism often means covering the boards, councils and committees that approve or deny local projects. Are you bored yet? No? Well, just add in a few acronyms and you soon will be. Here. I’ll give you an example of what passes for community journalism from the Web:

The City Council Ordinance Committee voted 3-2 at City Hall against considering a proposal to establish an ordinance that would require that in official mentions of the decorated tree placed at City Hall this time of year, it be called a “Christmas tree.”

I’m not making that up. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t do much better.

These stories are a problem but they come from a place we all understand. We feel duty-bound to report government machinations to a disinterested public. We worry that if we don’t report on local government no one will and if no one does the citizenry is bound to be hornswoggled by the powerful.

That’s absolutely true. But it doesn’t mean we have to write 16-inch stories from every council meeting we attend. Or, importantly, that we have to write about the government. Instead think of the task as writing about people. … Read the rest of this entry »

The new, old drug problem

In journalism, Uncategorized on 18 Oct 2012 at 7:27 pm

I wanted to congratulate Scott Christiansen, staff writer for the Anchorage Press, for his illuminating cover story on the heroin problem in his city. His chilling discovery, that service providers were reporting a rise in the use of the opiate, could be the basis for a story in your neck of the woods.

Scott says he was after a different story in the beginning.

He had seen reports that ambulance crews, which in Anchorage include a well-trained paramedic, sometimes lacked the prescription drugs they need in the course of their work. As a result, they sometimes have to make do with other pain relievers and the like. Scott, who has been on the job in Alaska for a good long while, called an emergency room doctor he knew in the area to ask if he was on to something.

“He said, ‘Yeah, it’s real but why are you writing about this?’” Scott told me on the phone. “He said, ‘I have a story that’s bigger.’”

That bigger story turned out to be heroin. Overdoses were deadly. Programs for the addicted were overflowing. And those ambulance crews didn’t really relish the calls.

I did a quick search of the numbers and found some evidence that drug use is up in many ways in recent years. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the economy, but I bet you could find an academic to make an educated guess. … Read the rest of this entry »

The economics of every story

In Writing on 18 Oct 2012 at 7:25 pm

Way back in 1991, political tactician and noted bald guy James Carville famously told then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton to focus on the Americans’ bottom line if he wanted to win the White House. Actually, what he said was, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Twenty years later, we have phones in our pockets, we take off our shoes at the airport and a tank of gas costs more than a steak dinner for two. But it’s still the economy, stupid.

Next week, NPR economics correspondent Marilyn Geewax is presenting an afternoon seminar titled, “The Economics of Everything” as part of the Journalism and Women Symposium in Albuquerque, N.M. I wish I could be there.

The advance materials note that the economy rears its head in virtually every news story these days. “It’s still the biggest story going, and no matter what you cover – from City Hall to college sports —  there’s an economic angle,” according to the info on the website.

That’s true, even if we pretend otherwise. Too many of us ignore the elephant in the room whenever we can. We write budget stories from City Hall as if they occur in a vacuum. We dutifully write that the city slashed its budget by 20 percent, but we don’t explain why. Home prices are down, depressing property tax receipts. Sales takes are flat because tourists are still “staycating.” But we don’t include that context. … Read the rest of this entry »

Boring headlines kill readership, blogger says

In Headlines on 20 Sep 2012 at 10:44 am

I want to thank Sierra Vista Publisher Phil Vega for pointing me toward a very interesting blog post in The Atlantic this week. It concerns headlines.

Writer Conor Friedersdorf asserts that he is a lover of local newspapers but dismayed at the quality of the product he sees on the road. He takes particular aim at the headlines in these newspapers and mentions recent headlines he’s seen, including “Insurers: Redo annuity law that helps elderly” and “Homeless authority holding course through re-assessment.” He says, “The question isn’t whether you’d pay 50 cents to read those stories; it’s whether you’d agree to slog through them if paid $15.”

Well, he’s right, of course. We all run too many boring headlines. The most obvious reason is that we run too many boring stories. Bad stories nearly always beget bad headlines. It’s hard to put a zippy head on that story about the homeless coalition holding course. (But if you have a headless body and a topless bar, you have newspaper gold!)

There are other things we should all do with respect to headlines:

Use active verbs. Avoid simply putting a title on top of the story you crafted so carefully.

Don’t duplicate the lead. Waaaay too often the headline simply apes the lead, using the same noun and verb. That is just lazy.

Consider puns carefully. Sometimes I like ’em. Other times I don’t. Clever is in the eye of the beholder. More often than not, I would chuckle to myself at my cute pun and think of something else, but I wouldn’t ban them outright. The Wall Street Journal ran one last year that I’m still talking about: “Is yoga merely posing as exercise?” I love it! … Read the rest of this entry »

Seeing the little stories

In Photography on 15 Jun 2012 at 7:30 am

I tripped over the above photo when I stumbled upon a hyperlocal news blog called Uptown Almanac, which is based in San Francisco.

If you saw that note, taped to a garage door in a crowded city, would you consider that news? Is it news that graffiti artists tag one man’s garage? Would you even notice the note?

I ask because, if you are like me, you chuckled at that note. I mentioned it to others. Then I passed on the link to the Uptown Almanac’s story.

I know I don’t have to lecture any Kicker readers on the importance of the little stories. School science fairs, street festivals, high school baseball games – these are our stock and trade.

And sometimes they feel a little stale. There is a rhythm to those kinds of event-driven stories. They come around the pike at the same time every year. After you’ve written about the Downtown Soiree for about three years running, you can do it in your sleep and you can put your readership to sleep at the very same time. If you are honest, you have probably been guilty of doing just that. … Read the rest of this entry »

A newspaper veteran’s lament

In Writing on 17 Nov 2011 at 11:52 am

I was heartened to see that many – about half – of our newspapers featured veterans on their pages and websites on Veteran’s Day. Ours was not one of them and I blame no one but myself.

Most of the coverage was notice of commemorations or a feature on a school event or something similar and fairly pedestrian. It got me wondering what we might have done that would have been a show-stopper.

Video. What if we had edited together several 20- or 30-second videos of veterans. (“My name is Joe Smith, and I served in the Third Infantry Division in Vietnam…”)

Polls. What branch of the military did you serve in? How do you remember our service men and women?

Documents. What if you found important Veteran’s Day speeches through the years, Congressional declarations, pdfs of front pages when wars have ended, etc. and attached them to your story?

Here’s the point: I am not a big fan of rote stories about annual holidays. They aren’t much fun to write and tend to be very similar to what we’ve done every year before. Understand that I’m not suggesting I live up to the standard I seek to set. I’m as guilty as anyone reading these words.

Together, then, let’s see this holiday season as an opportunity. I think the key is to create a richer experience for readers online. Invite readers to post photos of family Thanksgiving gatherings from days gone by, include an audio post of a midnight Mass, write a story about a boy who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Surprise readers. Surprise me. Surprise yourself.