I’m Not a Robot: Engaging Local News Readers on Social Media

Next week, the Digital First Interactives team is heading to Connecticut to do a training extravaganza at the New Haven Register. Data Editor Tom Meagher is giving training on data journalism, Video Editor Yvonne Leow on video and video strategy, and Curation Editor Julie Westfall on breaking news workflows and storytelling. I’ll be giving some focused training on social media – particularly on making it more, well, social.

I’ve had many an editor begrudgingly admit there’s a recurring problem with their reporter and newsrooms Twitter accounts being a little too….robotic. As in, they mimic an RSS feed with a full stream of headline-and-link tweets. No retweets, no questions, no fun.

So I’m looking for some fresh examples of tweets sent by individual local reporters and newsroom accounts that really seek to engage readers around the news. I’ve been collecting some examples in the Storify below, but I’d love suggestions of more up-to-date examples from you, your friends, colleagues and followed journalists. Leave your suggested tweets as links in the comments, or tweet them my way @mjenkins.

 

Posted in Community Engagement, Social Media, Twitter | Leave a comment

That Post About the Lack of Posts

One of the challenges of working in an experimental company in a changing industry is that you yourself have to constantly learn and evolve. For the past few months, I’ve been in a new role at Digital First that forces me outside my professional comfort zone every day – I’m managing talented people and projects that are sometimes beyond my (initial) comprehension.

Some days, this is the best part of the  job, other days it is the worst – as it is both exciting and exhausting. A lot of other journalists and new managers out there know what I mean.

There are days when all I want to do is draft some tweets, push some stories through production, build a few slideshows and plan a news budget – tasks I feel very confident completing after years of doing them day in and day out. Instead, I wake up and see my to-do list includes less easy-to-check-off items like “5. Work on this giant strategy”, “11. Get these 10 editors to acknowledge this deadline” and “8. Draft 2013 budget”.

When you work at home, as I do, it’s tempting to crawl back into bed and wish those difficult tasks away to another day. It’s easy to get a little lost when you peer too long into the abyss. I think I’m finally getting a feel for why many editors of mine over the years always seemed so….crazy.

For me, blogging about journalism the past few months would be akin to a castaway on a lifeboat blogging about recreational yachting. I’m just trying to figure out how I’m staying afloat out here – so what good am I to you, dear reader?

This blog has been a lot of things over the past few years – a place for me to sound off about the issues I care about, a place to give instruction, a place to share interesting bits of news. Above all – it’s a way for me to keep writing, which is what I’d like to revisit in the coming months.

I have about a dozen half-finished blog posts in my dashboard. I’m getting back to those. I’ll never be as prolific as Buttry and I don’t have the authority of Rosen, Jarvis or Shirky. I likely won’t break news, but I have a voracious appetite for info, a decent sense of humor and some really cute cat photos.

In brief (tl;dr): I’m learning more than teaching these days. I hope you’ll still come along for the ride.

Posted in Rants | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Thank you, ONA-ers

I was delighted at the news today that I was elected to the Online News Association Board. Thank you to all who voted for me – and those who supported me even if you aren’t yet ONA members. Now on to the hard part: Actually pulling off some of my big ideas. Luckily, the board is full of good journalists who I trust will work with me along the way.

Posted in Work Stuff & Projects | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Addressing the Elephant in the Conference Hall

One more post on my platform for the Online News Association Board. Voting begins today. (I’ll pop a link in when it’s ready)

 

Platform Four: Create a Conference That Challenges Everyone

I’ll preface the following with this: I love going to ONA conferences. I enjoy meeting (or reconnecting with) others in the industry, finding out what they’re working on, what technology they’re using and what challenges they’re facing. While some of this comes up in the sessions, most of this part of ONA comes about in the mixers, happy hours and meetups both official and non-official.

It isn’t until I go to the ONA conference every year that I remember how diverse our membership really is. We have a range of skills going from former print reporters getting into social media or online tools up to some of the industry’s innovation leaders in data, multimedia, social media and mobile.

The trouble is, I don’t feel like the conference session schedule really reflects that wide range of skills. It seems like every year for the past four years we’ve had some version of a metrics how-to session, a session on how newsrooms are using X social media tool, on building digital newsrooms or workflows. While these things sessions are interesting and helpful to some (they are voted into being, after all), to an equally large group, they are review.

As a former social media editor, I’d go to the social media sessions – that’s where most of the other social media types were and I was supposed to be learning from them. Admittedly, I’d often find myself tuning out of these sessions because, well, they weren’t for me. They were largely aimed at editors or reporters or new social media editors – not the specialists currently working in that field. The real talk always seemed to happen outside of the conference.

Many specialists I talk to in data, social or mobile journalism have (privately) told me they no longer see much point in attending ONA. They’d rather go to NICAR or SXSW or other, more specialized conferences where they’ll be more likely to have their minds blown. How can we lure these specialists back?

For one, we need to expand the session offerings to include more higher-level, specialized tracks. This has happened, to some extent, with the unconference and pre-conference sessions – but why not bring a few of these into the mainstream schedule?

Because it would take more space, more personnel and more specialization, perhaps this is something we could best accomplish by sharing our conference with other journalism organizations.

If we could team up with SPJ and RTNDA (who always seems to have their conference around the same time), we could have a bigger pool from which to draw attendees and panelists.

If we were to pull in NICAR to co-host a track or a few sessions, we’d be more likely to get some of those specialists onto panels, talking to other specialists. With a larger group, we could hold sessions aimed at social media editors, data editors, app developers, etc. in addition,to the sessions aimed at a a more general audience.

What do you think? Would this make you more or less interested in attending an ONA conference?

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

DIY Journalism: Let’s Make a Batch o’ Programmers

The quest to lay out my platform for the Online News Association Board continues today.

 

Platform Three: Shaping the Next Generation of Online Journalists

In my role as Interactives Editor at Digital First Media, I’ve been lucky enough to do some hiring. I’ve interviewed some brilliant people in the world of data journalism and news apps – the problem is, there isn’t nearly enough of them. There are a relative few programmers working in journalism, so little that when a new job comes open, there’s essentially a game of musical chairs out there to fill it.

Many reporters and editors I know either went back to school or taught themselves programming skills to get into this somewhat new field, but even with this continuing education, we don’t have enough programmers coming into the industry.

At the same time, we have an influx of new graduates coming into the industry – most of whom have never been exposed to programming or even true CAR reporting. As an occasional adjunct professor (and often Concerned J-School Alum), I’ve nosed my way into some curriculum discussions. I’ve found many journalism schools are struggling to keep up in teaching the latest in online journalism, let alone reconfiguring their curricula to include classes in computer science.

I won’t pretend to say that I know exactly how this would work, but if ONA could team up with NICAR and some of our membership leaders in the academic world, we could start to sketch out a white paper, of sorts, for how journalism schools could transition themselves for the future.

By studying some of the experimental and/or existing journalism hybrid programs out there, we can pass along strategies as to how more schools could create/strengthen hybrid degree programs with computer science,incorporate programming courses into their curriculum and/or reach out to non-journalist computer science students to get interested them in news apps.

About that latter point: How can we reach out to computer science students? Maybe our local chapters (along with our friends at Hacks/Hackers) could conduct some outreach in the form of news app hack a thons at universities in their areas? I know in DC and New York I’ve seen events like these inside news orgs opened up to professionals in the areas, but why not try the same approach with students?

Admittedly, I don’t have these skills and I don’t move in this world as much as I’d like, but I think that with the help of the hackers amongst our industry, we could affect some change at the university level to keep the talent faucet running.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Little Light O’ Mine: ONA, Let it Shine

Yesterday I started to lay out my ideas for the future of the Online News Association, where I hope to serve as a member of the board. The fun continues today!

Platform Two: Cast a Spotlight and a Life Saver

Just because most of the journalists you meet at ONA events tend to be from the major cities on the coasts doesn’t mean there aren’t talented online journalists operating in the Midwest and the South. As a Midwesterner myself, I used to feel completely invisible to the journalism innovators, discussion leaders and hiring editors on the coasts. At worst, I felt like a joke.

Back in 2004, in a second interview for an internship at what was then my favorite magazine, I was told by the hiring editor that she’d never interviewed a Midwesterner before. Days later, she called to tell me I hadn’t gotten the position mostly because she felt I couldn’t afford or handle a summer in New York City. In later years, I applied for every social media and web producer job that opened in New York, Washington D.C., Seattle, San Francisco and big cities in between. I rarely even got a call or email in response, even though I had all of the experience they were seeking. The jobs always seemed to go to those already in the area.

I got a shot at achieving my dreams when TBD decided to take a chance on a non-DC native – and anyone who wants to try something new should get support and encouragement, no matter where they live. Whether they want to lead changes in their local newsrooms or take on new challenges in larger markets, ONA should be helping these journalists along.

The first way to do this woud be to cast a spotlight on the industry’s less-lauded players and projects. Using a combination of crowdsourced nominations, freelance submissions and pitches, ONA should publish and promote a monthly newsletter highlighting work and people in news (and news-related) operations big and small – with at least one segment each month focusing on a new name. We do this to some extent with the “Featured Member of the Month”, but I imagine this being less in-depth and more widespread with the aid of a crowd’s help.

We do something like this on occasion inside Digital First called ‘The Three’, where particular projects of local journalists are lauded to the entire company. Imagine that on a much bigger scale, giving local journalists an even bigger stage. It might seem like a small, inconsequential thing, but a spotlight in a nationally-read blog or newsletter within the industry could be just what some journalists need to reach their next level – or just get a little ego boost.

On a similar note, I propose an organized virtual mentorship program. Think of it as a sort of Big Brothers, Big Sisters for online journalists – ON THE INTERNETS.

Those learning data or development skills can be paired with willing mentors already doing that work in the industry. The same goes for reporters, social media newbies, burgeoning photographers or those thinking of starting their own sites or products. It wouldn’t have to be intensive work on the part of the mentors, they would just make themselves available to offer feedback and guidance when needed. I would and have offered mentoring to journalists looking to get better at (or get employed in) social media and it has been tremendously rewarding. I’d think others would also jump at the opportunity.

Would either of these ideas appeal to you? Let me know.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Throwing my hat into the ring for journalism’s future

Beginning this Friday, members of the Online Journalism Association will have the opportunity to shape our industry’s future by voting for the next ONA board. While there are a lot of great candidates, I hope my fellow journalists will give me a shot.

When we were asked to submit a platform, I described my wishes for the organization.

So I realize that platform isn’t too specific. So over the next couple of days, I will lay out here some of the ideas I have for ONA to carry out this vision. If I get elected to the board, great. I’ll do my best to figure out what’s possible and try to get some of these accomplished, If not, I hope those who serve on the next board will consider these ideas.

Platform One: Bring In New Blood, Support New Leaders

I’ve met a lot of innovative, hungry journalists in my travels with Digital First and as a freelance journalism trainer. These are the folks who stand out in their local newsrooms – teaching themselves a new tool or programming language, staying late to work on personal projects and always making themselves available to help their less digitally savvy colleagues.

These journalists are often the primary source of digital support in their newsrooms, but they need support, too. Many are somewhat isolated from support within the industry, perhaps because they are in sparse media markets or have a less than encouraging newsroom culture. That’s why I propose a two-fold outreach effort to reach these journalists:

1. Aggressive expansion of local ONA chapters in the Midwest, South and West.

Tapping into the resources we have in ONA at the corporate level of many large journalism companies (DFM, Gannett, Tribune, Cox, Scripps and several TV networks), we should kick off local meetups at the city, state or regional level (depending on the market). these key players can help identify local leaders who can lead the charge for local meetups. We can help by luring in attendees with appearances by national industry leaders and personalities (many of whom are members).

While we could use it, the push wouldn’t be to get these local groups paying membership dues right away. Our initial goal would be just getting them into holding regular (or semi-regular) meetups to discuss tools, tactics and journalism issues. To fully tap into the resources ONA can offer, they’d then need to move toward a more formal membership agreement.

2. Train the Trainers.

What ONA does with ONACamp and collecting online tutorials is great – and I propose we add a new element in the form of “Train the Trainer”-type events. As I said above, many of the people pushing change in their local newsrooms are lonely players and they may not have much in the way of preparation or confidence to be trainers.

While we may not be able to offer this training in person, ONA should launch an online series of tutorials from the great trainers in our midst to help local leaders become better trainers. I’m thinking of tutorials in preparing engaging presentations, developing skills assessments and setting up incentive-based training programs. I’d imagine we could also offer sample checklists, handouts, training programs, evaluations and the like.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Lessons Learned From An Old Dog Who Excelled at New Tricks

Earlier this week, I lost a good friend and journalism lost one hell of an editor in Ron Liebau. I worked with Ron at The Cincinnati Enquirer and whether he knew it or not, he shaped a lot of how I thought journalism should work. He’s an inspiration to all trying to move our industry to the future instead of worrying on the past.

In this wonderfully-written obituary, Tom Callinan, the former editor-in-chief of the Enquirer, noted how Ron wholeheartedly embraced the web.

“So many people had such a difficult time adapting, and he just jumped right in and took the leadership. He took that whole new world and put it in words that people could understand.”

It might sound like a tired cliche nobody believes, but it is true. Ron ran to the future with arms open, and he pulled many others in the newsroom with him by both his reputation as an old school news man and sheer force of will.

Ron Liebau

Ron Liebau

As a former print reporter and editor, Ron was old school about a lot of things: Sourcing, fact-checking, winning the day, good copyediting, solid ledes and prompt budgets. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge about the local area, public figures and notable dates. Ron was the archive, the stylebook and the voice of reason to me in the years we worked closely together.

One thing he wasn’t old school about was news delivery. He didn’t just embrace the web, he throttled it. As the online news editor, Ron constantly pushed reporters and editors to confront the web for what it was: An opportunity. He saw the web not only to reach our readers in new ways, but a means to beat the competition now instead of risking a second place finish later. He established a workflow and a mantra that probably drove many a reporter crazy, “Write for the web, update for print.”

Ron lived that workflow to a T. He was up and online early, writing web updates from the early news, sending tweets, taking down quotes over the phone (and later, Twitter) from our reporters in the field to get a quick paragraph and headline on the website. He’d get frustrated if print lineups took priority over what was popping on the web in the morning news meetings. If a reporter said, “I’ll file that story for tomorrow”, Ron would reply with, “It’s news now.”

Ron would be the first to say he didn’t always get the latest lingo, but he knew what he wanted to get done and he’d learn what he had to in order to get there. This is exactly the sort of journalist we should want to be, the sort of editor newspapers today need to have on staff. So when I got word that Ron was laid off from the Enquirer last year, I was flabbergasted. The industry needs more like him, not less.

So I say to you, fellow journalists: Be more like Ron and take these lessons to heart:

1. There’s no such thing as a journalist who has nothing left to give and nothing left to learn.

You are never too old, too “analog” or too “set in your ways” to learn new skills. Whether it’s a new workflow, a new tool or a whole new way of thinking about your industry – you CAN learn it if you try. It might take a long time and you’ll make mistakes, but you’ll get there and get comfortable.

2. Lead by example.

When you are a journalist other staff members look up to, the future of your newsroom is in your hands. When the reporters of the Enquirer joined Twitter, I believe it was due to more to the example shown by this well-respected former print editor rather than the cajoling of the twentysomething social media editor.

3. Try not to assign work you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself.

This is a vastly underrated trait of the best newsroom leaders and it goes back a bit to #2. If you don’t know how to find a story in your CMS, make a simple edit on a page or send a tweet, it can be tough for frazzled staff members to believe you really understand what they do and why it is important. I’m not saying all editors should be able to do any job in their newsroom, but knowing the basics goes a long way in the internal PR department.

4. Develop good relationships across your newsroom and across generations.

It didn’t matter if you were a page designer, an overnight web producer or a newbie cops reporter – Ron had an amazing array of useful advice, anecdotes and war stories to impart. Coming from different backgrounds, skill sets and age groups gives us a lot to learn from one another – and can be the basis for some wonderful friendships.

5. Mentor others – or reach out to someone to mentor you.

Many young journalists and former young journalists have shared their stories in recent days of how Ron touched their lives in lasting ways. If you spot a coworker who could use some guidance, constructive feedback or just a sympathetic ear – reach out. If you’re the one in need, don’t be afraid to approach those you respect and admire and ask for their support.

6. It’s the journalism that matters, not the medium.

The medium doesn’t determine the quality of your journalism – you do. It doesn’t matter if it is in a tweet, blog post or 1-A story, if you’re telling a story that entertains, enlightens or explains something to readers – you’ve done your job well. I can only hope I’ll still have Ron’s voice in my head someday when the web is old and busted and there’s some new transition to be made. “It’s the story that matters”, he’d say. And he’ll still be right.

Posted in Rants | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Social Media Wire Brings The Immediacy, You Bring the Feedback

We news folks tend to deal in fact – that is, what is reported and verified. Most of what you find on news sites (the good ones, anyway) is in this realm. Increasingly making an appearance in people’s news consumption habits are social media like Twitter and YouTube – that which may not be verified, but it is immediate and, for better or worse, largely unfiltered.

It is the desire to capture both actual and factual news that pushed Digital First Media to build the Social Media Wire, which made its public beta debut on the New Haven Register this week.

Social Media Wire on nhregister.comCombining selected local Twitter accounts, social searches, news feeds, blogs and videos, the Social Media Wire gives our readers a new way to find and interact with immediate local news from a variety of sources (yes, including competitors).

This concept was one that originally started back at TBD, where the community engagement team dreamed up a vision of a constantly-moving feed of local, social news called TBDNow. In the time since TBD’s original staff split up, many of us have tried to get TBDNow built. On my very first day at Digital First, I was told we were finally going to do it – and I just couldn’t wait to see it come to life.

CrowdyNews, a social news vendor out of the Netherlands, helped us to adapt the original TBDNow wish list into a tangible beta product. Is it perfect? No. We’ve got a lot of tweaking to do. But it’s a start.

We’ll learn, over time, exactly which keywords produce the best results in our neighborhood. We’ll find which blogs and news sites have crappy RSS feeds we should avoid – and which hidden gems might be most useful for our readers. We’ll see who has the most to offer on Twitter, and who could stand to be trimmed from our topic rolls.

There’s certainly work to be done on fine-tuning the user experience… and that’s where I hope you can come in. Please visit nhregister.com and click around our widgets on the home page and section fronts and spend a few minutes on the full-page Social Media Wire.

Let me know what you think could make the user experience better, which feeds should be added or removed, etc. in the comments, or contact me via Twitter, Facebook or email. As with any beta product, we need all the eyeballs and feedback we can get.

Posted in DFM, My Work | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Introducing Digital First’s Curation Team: Now on to the Hard Part

Following a month of non-stop activity featuring dozens of applicant blog posts, applications and interviews via occasionally spotty Google Hangout connections, I’m pleased to announce that the Digital First curation team is locked and loaded.

Julie Westfall will be joining Digital First as the curation team leader.  Angela Carter and Karen Workman, two of DFM’s local superstars, will be moving to new roles as curators.

I was familiar with all three of these remarkable journalists before I ever began hiring for these positions. They were selected because they each had a vision for what could be done – and none of them are the type to be scared off by such a vague concept as “go be a curation team”.

Steve Buttry and I interviewed A LOT of really amazing applicants. We heard a lot of really innovative and interesting ideas on curation tools and strategy from journalists and non-journalists both inside and outside Digital First. You guys didn’t make our choices easy, but I’m confident we’ve got a killer team here.

Julie Westfall

Julie Westfall

I am excited to get back to working with Julie Westfall, who was, in my opinion, the engine that drove TBD’s daily news coverage. Sitting across from her for most of our short time there, I was constantly amazed at how she just never seemed to stop. Julie had a vision for how our news could be better and faster and she worked tirelessly to see that vision come to life.  She was always tinkering with the tools we had or brainstorming the tools she wanted to see if there could be a better way to tell our stories.

Julie was responsible for shaping a lot of the excellent breaking news coverage TBD came to be known for.  When a gunman took hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters about a month into TBD’s existence, Julie grabbed the reins and led our site through what was arguably its national and regional debut. She also served in the thankless role of maintaining the often-difficult relationship between TBD and WJLA TV – for which I personally think she could have gotten a Nobel Peace Prize if that relationship hadn’t ended in such a spectacularly sad way.

But it wasn’t our work history that got Julie into this job, but rather it was her continuing ideas for how online news could be made better. Julie still has a vision for how we can develop new and better ways to tell stories online.  We need someone with that vision to help our team craft dynamic, interesting and useful news resources for our local sites.  It helps that Julie’s pretty familiar with forging her own path in this crazy digital journalism world – she held experimental roles at TBD and KPCC – because we need her to shape this team from an idea into a key part of Digital First’s news strategy.

Angi Carter

Angi Carter

I knew Angi Carter by reputation long before we actually met upon my visit to the New Haven Register‘s newsroom a couple of months ago. As an inaugural member of Digital First’s ideaLab, Angi had already made her mark as an innovator and communicator within the company.

Angi had been a city-side and business reporter for years before taking on the role of community engagement in her newsroom. When you meet her, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been in that role for years. She’s a natural.

From the time I joined the company, I knew Angi to be an ever-willing guinea pig for digital news projects. When Digital First teamed up with NYU’s Studio 20 and The Guardian for Citizen’s Agenda, Angi was enthusiastically on board, guiding the Register’s engagement around the 2012 elections. When DFM launched its first national news project, American Homecomings, Angi was right there in the thick of it, helping to curate content for the site. She’s always among the first in the company to experiment with new tools and brainstorm new ways to use the tools we already have at our disposal.

Not surprisingly, Angi also went the extra mile with her ideaLab project. Originally it was thought that ideaLab activities would take up a designated amount of hours each week but Angi made it the focus of her everyday work. She also contributed the equipment she receives as an ideaLab participant to the Register’s overall engagement efforts like conducting a Community Needs Assessment, holding public online news meetings and growing the Register’s community blog network.

When this curation team is in full swing, we’re going to need Angi’s organizational skills to guide us on breaking news and long-term projects. She has a habit of planning the details far out in advance of planned news events. Take New Haven’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision: When the decision came down, the site had a live chat with experts on the case all ready to go.

Karen Workman

Karen Workman

I don’t know Karen Workman well yet, but I know a great deal about her work.  She started her career as an editorial assistant at the Oakland Press, where went on to become a reporter and, later, community engagement editor. When she took interest in this position, Karen wrote a report full of ideas for how the DFM curation team could best benefit our local newsrooms.  She’d know, as she’s already sort of been doing it.

Working the early morning shift at the Press, Karen noticed that DFM’s Michigan newsrooms were all curating stories and videos from the same sites each day. She  took the initiative to change the system to be more efficient. This past spring, she started a curation team for the Michigan newspapers to better utilize the time of the newsrooms’ small staffs.

As an early adopter of new tools in her newsroom, Karen’s also proven herself to be a natural teacher. What started as helping her colleagues learn SEO, social media and digital tools has turned into a much larger effort to educate journalists at other DFM papers. Karen’s patience and talent for explanation is really going to come in handy as a DFM curator, as we’ll be helping all of our local newsrooms with their own curation efforts.

Karen was also part of the first class of ideaLab participants. She’s using her project to build a sense of community amongst members of the Oakland Press’ blogger network. Aside from bringing a disparate group of bloggers together in person and online, Karen’s also setting up workshops they want and need to bolster their own skill sets.

I’m pretty sure Karen and I are going to get along just fine, as she’s a fellow animal lover (even if she prefers dogs).  She writes The Dog Blog, a care and training blog for dog owners – and she’s also got a really cute Lab/pit bull mix with a great name (Sensibull).

This curation team will be getting to work the last week of this month….just in time to start experimenting with curation around the Olympic Games. These three women will have a lot of logistics to figure out, tools to break and workflows to hammer out  – but I have full confidence they are more than up to the challenge. I can hardly wait to get started.

Posted in DFM | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

As Outsourced News Grows, Local Newsrooms Should Promote ‘Buying Local’

Over the weekend, This American Life broadcast a story about the hyperlocal news company Journatic, introducing the reading public to the idea of local news produced offshore. Journatic’s success should worry local news producers, but their growing presence also presents us with a huge opportunity in our local markets.

If you aren’t familiar, Journatic uses a largely foreign workforce to assemble local data, rewrite press releases and parrot online obituaries for eventual publication on local and hyperlocal news sites from likes of the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle and Newsday. These writers – who aren’t even given the dignity of being called writers by the company’s founder in the TAL broadcast – make very, very little money to produce this work. These briefs and announcements are created at the fraction of the cost of a news aide or editorial assistant in the local newsrooms – jobs that, you my have noticed, barely exist in our business anymore.

The real outrage and new info in the radio broadcast was that Journatic employees are producing local news essentially disguised as local reporters. Their stories have fake bylines, their writers given Americanized aliases. When they actually do call to contact a source for a quote, they cover up where they are calling from:

“We’ve been told time and time again to protect the Journatic identity.” When calling on a story, employees must say they’re calling on behalf of the newspaper Journatic works for and even acquire a temporary phone number with a local area code. “We are basically lying to our sources,” he said.

A Tremendous Opportunity

So should local newsrooms be worried about offshore journalism like this? Absolutely they should. But exposure of Journatic and their ilk also provides those of us who work in local news with a tremendous opportunity. It is up to us to show our readers where we’re coming from.

“Buying American” and “Shopping Local” have become a priority to some American consumers on goods from clothes to veggies – so why not newspapers? We should encourage our readers to “Read Local”.

For local journalists, there is no better time to show our readers that we are them. We live in the same neighborhoods. We shop at the same grocery stores. We attend the same local festivals and root for the same football teams. Our kids attend the same schools. We may have even gone to high school together.

It’s taken us a few years, but local journalists are starting to shake off that long-held belief that we as people aren’t an important element of our news. We’re becoming more comfortable showing personality in our tweets, opening up our Facebook pages, writing blogs alongside our traditional reporting. It’s not to say that our personal lives need to be an open book, or even that our readers care about the mundane details of our days, but we can find ways to show our connections to the community:

  • Don’t feel like you have to be all business on social media, if you have observations to make about your city or the people in it in your off-time, go for it. Be open about who you are, with a photo and your real name – unlike this Twitter account that may or may not represent Journatic.
  • Write or contribute to a local blog – and be yourself there. It might be on your beat, or it might not. Maybe the local cops reporter can explore his gardening hobby with a blog. Perhaps a sportswriter would want to pitch in on a parenting blog.
  • Hold live chats with your readers. You could do this using software like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive, on Twitter, Facebook or even just in the comments are of your website. Take their questions and ask your own. Be yourself.
  • Meet your readers in person. Either on your own or as a publication, hold or attend events where you will meet your readers face-to-face. Maybe you would want to offer some public office hours or hold reader meetups. Spend some time manning the paper’s booth at a local festival. Or you could follow the lead of some of our papers at Digital First and take your newsroom out to the public.

Sure, it sounds awfully simplistic to say that these small actions can save local journalism — but it’s certainly a start. By showing up in person to cover that city council meeting or taking that reader’s question, you show that you are a part of the community. If you get good story ideas and source leads from these interactions, all the better.

Being there will give us more than any outsourced news factory could ever hope to replicate. This is our strength – and we need to take better advantage of it.

Posted in Industry News & Notes | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

TechCrunch Writer Demonstrates How NOT to Engage Readers

Alexia Tsotsis’ highly unprofessional rants against “old media” and eventually her site’s own readers lead to a highly professional discussion amongst journalists about dealing with our critics on the web.

TechCrunch Writer Demonstrates How NOT to Engage Readers

Alexia Tsotsis' highly unprofessional rants against "old media" and eventually her site's own readers lead to a highly professional discussion amongst journalists about dealing with our critics on the web.

Storified by Mandy Jenkins · Tue, Jun 26 2012 23:32:09

TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis claimed she downed a couple of bottles of wine before blogging an interview with Flipboard CEO Mike McCue regarding the app's paywalled partnership with The New York Times -- and it certainly seemed that way. Aside from using several choice words in a rant against the Times and newspapers in general, Tsotsis also served as her own cautionary tale as to how NOT to interact with your readers.
Exhibit #1 of how NOT to interact with your readers, via the mess that is this @techcrunch post http://tcrn.ch/LvRKno http://pic.twitter.com/NGttRdklMandy Jenkins
It isn't "refreshing" or "blunt" to tell a reader to "go F--- themselves", it's immature and you shouldn't be employed as a journalistMandy Jenkins
Predictably, many journalists and readers were shocked not only by the language of the post itself, but also the many comments by the author like that shown in the screenshot shared above. 
There's something to be said for a well executed, profanity-laden, you-are-all-assholes, middle-fingers up post. Tsotsis' post was not that.Brett Sandusky
A pretty arrogant resignation letter from Alexia Tsotsis: http://techcrunch.com/2012/06/25/die-less-slow/Alex Coley
@egorski @mjenkins Probably also not good practice to be working after "the downing of tonight’s two bottles of wine."Alicia Caldwell
@mjenkins Yikes. Yikes, yikes, yikes.Kevin Loker
@mjenkins that whole article is a trainwreck. I don't know what they were thinking.Adam Schweigert
@mjenkins I'd likely be fired if I did that. Temptation is high sometimes, but you have to be professional.Kim McDaniel
@mjenkins @techcrunch Don't know that I've ever been that drunk. I know I'm old school but some things you just don't do, no matter the urgePhilip Heron
Aside from all of our collective outrage (which I'm sure would have just set off Ms. Tsotsis), it did bring up a great discussion on Twitter about interacting with our critics. 
"Thanks for the feedback" is always safe. MT @mjenkins: How NOT to interact with your readers http://tcrn.ch/LvRKno http://pic.twitter.com/knG6XBuIEric Gorski
@mjenkins What do you do if a reader attacks your integrity, honesty & professional work, & insisting on calling your media org a "cult?"Alex Howard
@digiphile You certainly don't do that. I've heard some of the worst from readers - and that response is no excuseMandy Jenkins
@mjenkins Yes, I know. And agree. But deciding how to respond is difficult. One of the very few times I've ever devided to block someone.Alex Howard
@digiphile I've been threatened, insulted, feared for my safety...but you have to keep responses professional. Always. No matter what.Mandy Jenkins
Many of us have our own strategy as to how and how we react to criticism. Some remarks, particularly those from trolls that have no real intent aside from trying to cause hurt feelings, don't merit a response.  
@digiphile Been there. Depends on the tone whether a measured response is warranted or you just ignore it. @mjenkinsKim McDaniel
@tivogirl @digiphile Exactly! Some comments do not merit responseMandy Jenkins
@tivogirl @mjenkins I'm finally getting better at ignoring some comments, if warranted. It's not something that comes at all naturally to meAlex Howard
@digiphile @mjenkins Most of the time, those are the people you can't reason with, so why bother.Ruth Bazinet
@AnnaTarkov @mjenkins @tivogirl With limited time in the day and oh-so-many-good things to write & cover, choosing wisely is key.Alex Howard
@digiphile It is tough - you want to respond. But have to recognize when some ppl just want to vent or be jerks. Not worth it. @mjenkinsKim McDaniel
@digiphile Right. I engage critics initially to determine if there's hope for a civil debate. If there's not, I'm out. @mjenkins @tivogirlAnna Tarkov
@baznet @mjenkins For me, it's because some of time, it is worth bothering. And those relationships incrementally build over time.Alex Howard
@digiphile @mjenkins Totally understood. I hope that it's a fruitful engagement & the effort was worth it.Ruth Bazinet
To sum it up, the key is figuring out not only how to tell the ones that merit reaction from those that do not, but also how to tamper down your own high emotions in these situations.
Admit it, sometimes we'd all like to tell our readers to shove it...but we can't. And we won't. Take a deep breath. Take a walk. Take a day if need be... then respond.

Posted in Community Engagement | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments