Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

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What Happened and What’s Next With The Compass Experiment

“So what happened?”

That is the first question I get after “How are you?” from every person I have spoken to in the past month. But for the most part, they already know what happened to The Compass Experiment. They’ve heard it many times before.

It wasn’t anything dramatic. It rarely is when a startup or product within a larger company pivots or concludes. In fact, it is such a familiar story that it the fourth time since 2010 that some version of it has happened to me.

We all know last year was a challenging one for many media entities. McClatchy went through a bankruptcy and a sale, emerging in late summer with a new owner and new people in charge

As it happens sometimes, one management group’s pet innovation project becomes the odd man out when priorities, plans, and players change. In February, McClatchy decided to reorganize Compass in hopes of making the two local news startups financially sustainable on a shorter timeline. 

Instead of running Compass and its two sites, Mahoning Matters and The Longmont Leader, as a primarily independent business entity within McClatchy, it would become part of larger networks. The hope was the benefits of shared resources and network effects could spur faster growth. Mahoning Matters would be fully integrated into McClatchy as one of its publications. The Leader would be spun off and sold to our partners at Village Media. The three-person central team that helped run the revenue, fundraising, and audience efforts at both sites would be made redundant (that included me). 

As far as solutions go, it could have been a lot worse. I was not involved in the decisions, but I would have also suggested I be the first to go if I had been. After all, the goal of the overall project was to make the local sites self-sustainable. From day one, I have been working toward the goal of eliminating my own position. I just thought I had more time. 

What I didn’t want was for our local teams to see any cuts. They were both too new and at too precarious a place in their life cycles to withstand losses. Mahoning Matters had just celebrated its first anniversary in October, and Longmont had just turned the corner on seven months. 

Both sites have small teams (five full-time staffers at Longmont, six at Mahoning Matters) and tight budgets. We were operating as lean as possible to get through the pandemic with a plan to grow as our communities opened back up. To cut from such a small base would have been soul-crushing, and I’m just relieved I didn’t have to do it. 

So what now?

As disappointed as I am to have had to leave at this point of the story, I have no regrets about joining this project. I never do when something like this happens. I learned so much from this experience and I’m proud of all we did in my time with McClatchy. 

I entered into Compass with the goals of hiring the right team and building local news products for audiences that deserved better news. I did that, we did that, and it still matters to those communities. The people I hired continue to do great work. The stories they write and the relationships they have built locally are worthy of celebrating (please give them your support if you have the means).

We learned a great deal about audience research, building new products, launching revenue partnerships, and testing new processes, tools, and ideas in our local markets. We shared some of this on The Compass Experiment’s Medium site, and I think those running the sites now will continue to share more going forward. 

I hope to continue to share more of my learnings and experience here, too. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to my blogging heydey like it was early in the lifecycle of this site, but I would like to continue to be part of the conversation about making local news, sustainability, running startups, etc. as I consider my next moves. 

On that note, I'm looking for my next role and picking up some training, consulting, and short-term projects along the way. It's a weird and scary time to be unemployed in journalism, so please keep me in mind if you or someone you know needs a me

Forging a new source for local news in Longmont, Colorado

A global pandemic probably seems like a bad time to be building a new local news website.

Economies both global and local are in precarious positions, unemployment is soaring, advertising has disappeared and nobody is up for in-person events. And yet, the need and demand for local news and information has never been greater.

The circumstances call for some bold action in local news. If now isn’t the time to show up for our communities, then when?

This is why The Compass Experiment will soon be launching our second local news website in Longmont, Colorado. We hope to have this new publication, The Longmont Leader, ready to go by the end of May.

Our team learned a lot in launching our first Compass site, Mahoning Matters, last year. We had to rush to build and launch a new local news site in the wake of the closure of Youngstown’s local newspaper. We managed to get it up just 40 days later. To do that, we had to cut some corners and improvise a few things. For the second site, we had big plans to take our time and do everything just right.

Why do people believe fake news?

What I found while studying news, disinformation and the audience they (mostly) share

Image: Shutterstock

How could someone possibly believe that?

Like many journalists and media researchers, I’ve found myself asking this question about disinformation that has gone viral via social media. Though I’ve spent years learning how and why disinformation is created, I’d never had the opportunity to explore the motivations of the people who believe and share these stories. That is what led me to do more in-depth research during my year as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford.

Over the course of six months, from December 2018 through the spring of 2019, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine Americans who were selected for their relationships with both disinformation and mainstream news. I had planned to interview more participants, but life circumstances got in the way.

Through these conversations, I came to the conclusion that the media industry isn’t facing a disinformation problem as much as an engagement problem. It isn’t merely the insidious and convincing nature of disinformation that drives people to consume, believe or share false news, but is also a profound disconnection from the mainstream media and how it works.

We’re launching a local news site in Youngstown

Photo/Mandy Jenkins

When I started at The Compass Experiment a few weeks ago, I got right to work in trying to figure out where to launch our news operations. We spent a lot of time poring over data on markets across the U.S., seeking out communities big enough to financially support a digital news provider, but small enough that a startup-sized staff could still make an impact.

And then we heard the news that The Vindicator, Youngstown’s 150-year-old newspaper owned by the Maag-Brown family, would be closing its doors for good on August 31. Pretty much from the moment the story broke, I started getting messages from my former classmates at Kent State University, located about 40 miles away from Youngstown, worried about what was going to happen next.

The Vindicator kept its eye on the local city and county governments, tracked the campaign of local Congressman and presidential candidate Tim Ryan, and reported on the actions of police, courts, schools and businesses across a region of more than 500,000 people. Who would take up that mantle now?

We at The Compass Experiment want to help Youngstown find a path forward, which is why we have selected it as our first launch city. We are already on the ground working with people in the community to set up a digital news outlet that will launch in the fall.

In case you’re reading this and haven’t heard of us, The Compass Experiment is a local news laboratory founded by McClatchy and Google to explore sustainable business models for local news. Over the next three years, we will be starting three digital-only news operations in small to mid-sized U.S. communities that have limited sources of local, independent journalism.

Federal Street in downtown Youngstown. (Photo/Mandy Jenkins)

At first blush, Youngstown doesn’t seem like the sort of place where an experimental digital news project would put down stakes. It is a shrinking city in a region that has been suffering financially for decades, but it is also an area that has a distinct local identity and a need for a public watchdog now more than ever.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spoken to many people in Northeast Ohio who care deeply about what happens once the Vindicator shuts it doors. They want to take action, and we want to help them do that.

Starting now, we are recruiting a small local team to drive the creation of this site with the needs of the Youngstown community in mind. For the sake of transparency, all of those local roles are posted here. Note that we will only be considering applications from those working in or with strong background in Youngstown or the surrounding region.

For those who want to help from afar, we are also hiring a couple of central roles who will work remotely to support the Youngstown staff and the teams that will be behind our next two sites. Those roles include a Central Editor and a Business Operations Manager.

As I said in my first post about Compass, we don’t plan on doing this alone. Since the announcement of the Vindicator’s impending closure, I have been heartened to see regional and national news outlets express interest in expanding their coverage in the Mahoning Valley. Instead of competing, we welcome the chance to collaborate with these and other news providers in the area to best serve the local audience. This is a region too big and too complex for us to tackle alone.

Youngstown State University is one of the largest employers in the area and is home to more than 12,000 students. (Photo/Mandy Jenkins)

When I first took on this job, I dreamed of opening a new news provider in my home state. While our accents are a little different, Youngstown is not all that different from my hometown of Zanesville, which is about 100 miles southwest, as the crow flies. Both are cities that were decimated by the exit of manufacturers and mills that used to provide a steady income and a good life. Both are places that are losing their children to joblessness, to drug abuse, or the best case scenario, to a job far away from home in a bigger city.

Naysayers might say Youngstown’s best years are past, but there are many others who celebrate the community, who honor its history while fighting to create a brighter future. They are revitalizing the downtown, opening new businesses and nurturing a growing student body at Youngstown State. Those are the sort of people we need on our team in Youngstown. I hope you’ll join us in writing the next chapter.

This was originally published on the Compass Experiment’s Medium site.

The Compass Experiment is creating sustainable local news –and needs your help

Photo: Getty Images

Anyone watching the headlines lately knows that local newsrooms across the country are hurting, and some have disappeared altogether. Many more still are barely operating, publishing news as a shadow of their former selves. Amid these closures and cutbacks, news deserts — areas that have no locally-based media — are blooming.

In losing their local media, these areas are losing some of the vital ways they used to connect as a community. Births, deaths, local sports, city council, and businesses opening or closings are all left to be passed around as rumors on social media.

This is where the Compass Experiment comes in.

We are a local news laboratory founded by McClatchy and Google to explore new sustainable business models for local news. Over the next three years, we will launching three digital-only news operations in small to mid-sized U.S. communities that have limited sources of local, independent journalism. Our goal is not only to support the dissemination of news in these communities, but also to make the local operations financially self-sustaining.

Local news is where I started my career and I feel it is the bedrock of our industry’s connection with the audience. Local news tells their stories, lives in their communities and earns their trust through the kind of accountability that comes when you might run into your area reporter at the grocery store. We cannot ensure local journalism will survive for the long-haul without a focus on sustainability, which is why I sought to be a part of this initiative in the first place.

While we are very early in this project — so early, in fact, that I technically haven’t started yet — but here are a few things I want to share about our plans so far.

1. We aren’t going to be in the business of parachute journalism.

I have no interest in dropping journalists into unfamiliar places and giving the locals the news we want give them. The best community journalism is created by people who know it best. This is why we will be actively involving communities in the development of the sites and hiring local journalists who already know and love the area.

2. All sites won’t be the same.

All communities are not the same, so why would we assume they all need and want the same out of their journalism? We won’t be replicating the same cookie-cutter approach to every site’s coverage, but rather taking a custom approach dictated by the needs of each place.

3. These sites will have to be self-sustaining at some point.

To help solve the problems facing local news in the long-term, we have to focus on the business model. The reason this is an “experiment” and not a “project” is that we are using this opportunity to innovate and adapt new potential sources of revenue for these local sites.

4. We won’t be doing this alone.

We know there are many bright minds already working hard to create sustainable local media across the U.S. and the world. I believe we can get further, faster by working together. So I’m going to ensure we also are learning from what’s already going on out there and collaborate with those who share our goals to find new paths to what can help community news operations everywhere.

5. We won’t be doing this in the dark.

As part of the aforementioned collaboration, we’ve set up this site to share our progress and our failures along the way so that others can learn from them, adapt them and spread them as needed.


Where we are now

Right now, we are in the process of selecting the location of our first site. The sort of communities we have in mind would ideally meet the following criteria:

  • Has a population of roughly 60,000 to 300,000
  • Is not part of or close to a major city — we’re looking to cover communities where people work and live
  • Has an engaged citizenry that votes, volunteers and is already focused on making their city a better place
  • Has no or few sources of local news, or recently lost a local news provider

We want to hear your ideas. If you live in a community that is hungry for local news, let me know.

If you want to be a part of what we’re building, drop me a line.

If you’re already working on this problem and want a collaborator, I’m here for you.

I didn’t join The Compass Experiment only to make incremental improvements to the three communities where we’ll be starting new sites. I want to be part of a movement to make local news sustainable everywhere. I hope you’ll join me.

This post was originally published on the Compass Experiment’s Medium site.

What ethnography can teach us about better reporting

In my second quarter as a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford, I have been largely focused on my research project, which has taken me into the homes of strangers to talk to them about their relationships with news, disinformation and the communities where they live.

I always planned to approach this study not as a journalist, but as a neutral observer, combining the empathetic methods of design thinking and the analysis of the social sciences.

What I didn’t consider going in was just how much I didn’t know about what it really means to be an observer in the first place.

This past quarter, I took a sociology course called Ethnographic Methods, which I had hoped would be beneficial to helping me structure my research project to be a bit more rigorous. I was a journalist in a class of social science and communication Ph.D students and much to my surprise, while there I rediscovered some fundamental truths about journalism itself.

To put it simply, ethnography is the study of people and cultures. One might say that’s also the job of journalism, though with a less systematic approach. It is difficult to see where one might end and the other begins, as the two fields similarly approach observation, interviewing and how they report back what they’ve found.

But one thing ethnography seems to do a lot better is analyzing the role of the practitioner in conducting the study, and how who they are impacts the quality of the work. This notion of reflexivity has taken on a huge role in modern social sciences and I believe journalism would also benefit from its application in reporting, editing, community engagement and story selection.

What objectivity is — and isn’t

In journalism, the quest for objectivity started as an effort to report the news fairly and accurately, whether or not the individual journalist agrees with the facts. What it has become is a Frankensteinian monster of “bothsiderism”, false equivalencies and a fallacy that good journalists have no biases, on or off the clock.

We each have lived experiences we carry with us every day that affect how we think, who we talk to and what we believe. Ethnographers know this intrinsically and write those assumptions into their work.

Kathy Charmaz, Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University, literally wrote the book on qualitative research methods. In “Constructing Grounded Theory”, she noted a researcher’s identity and background is key to the quality of data they can collect in the field.

“Just as the methods we choose influence what we see, what we bring to the study also influences what we can see,” Charmaz wrote. “We are not passive receptacles into which data are poured. Neither observer nor observed come to a scene untouched by the world.”

Objectivity isn’t a lack of belief, but rather it is an ability to critically assess one’s own biases and be transparent about them.

Or, as sociologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Matthew Desmond described it in his book, “On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters”, “Objectivity comes to the ethnographer who knows themselves and can critically expose and assess own position relative to the field site or subject.”

Instead of putting up a facade that we don’t have any biases, let’s critically evaluate them and be hyper-conscious of them when approaching our work. Let’s be honest with the audience about who we are and what we bring to the table as journalists — and let them decide if we are being fair and truthful in our work.

In other words, journalism needs go back to the original concept of objectivity, as described by Walter Lippmann back in 1919: The method of journalism needs to be objective, not the journalist.

We can change a story just by being present

One element of reflexivity is understanding how the presence of a researcher — or, in this case, a journalist — changes the environment. We show up to a crime scene, a protest, etc. and everyone changes their behavior when they see a notebook or camera come out. Every field reporter or photographer has run into this dilemma before, but how can they account for it in the final product?

Familiarity is a major factor in capturing an authentic scene. How long the journalist can spend in the neighborhood or with the subject in question will naturally lead to some familiarity. All too often, journalists don’t have this luxury. We are in and out, the story filed, and on to the next.

The ethnographer can spend weeks, months and years at a field site, becoming an invisible part of its fabric, and still note in their final work what may have been different because they were there to see it. While we might not need to write these observations into final works for publication, the question of, “How much of what I observed was meant for me to see?” and “What did I miss?” should come up in the discussions between reporters and editors before reporting and as the story comes together to help ensure the story we are telling is the right one.

Others’ views of us can affect our access to information

Journalists and ethnographers may both consider their professional missions to be inextricably linked to the relationships they form with sources. To do our jobs well, journalists often seek to tell the story from the vantage point of the source; to get a sense of how their life experience has shaped their impressions of the world. Often missing in this narrative exercise is….ourselves. 

How the source sees us — the observers and storytellers — very much shapes what information and insight they will allow us to access about them. In my own research so far, I have found interviewees’ opinions not only about me as an individual, but also the profession of journalism, has had a major impact on what they are willing to discuss. 

In his ethnographic study of a public housing complex in Chicago, urban ethnographer Sudhir Venkatesh found out how the neighborhood residents viewed him over his time in their midst greatly affected both his access and what information he was able to collect. To reflect this in his study, he incorporated what he called a “reconstruction of the informant’s point of view”, or, rather, the subjects’ impression of the field researcher and the ultimate goal of his research.

Your access to a source is only as good as the image they have of you as a journalist. (Photo/vek via Flickr)

In journalism, we need to be comfortable with this practice of positionality, carefully evaluating how we look to the people we are covering, and how that might affect their interactions with us and the stories we tell from those interactions.

Am I coming across as a person of privilege covering a low-income community? Could my questions reflect judgement of how this person lives? How comfortable is my subject with me telling their story if I’m a college-educated, white, upper-middle class professional (and they are not)?

Asking these questions of ourselves before and after interviews can help us get better insights into the communities we cover — and develop better relationships with our sources along the way.

Understanding power dynamics in the source-journalist relationship

Ethnographers take care to be keenly aware of the power dynamics in the interactions they have with informants. In the typical journalist-source relationship, the power balance may not be as even we might want to believe.

Author and communications educator Ruth Palmer found this out first hand when she interviewed people who had been at the center of news stories about their experiences.

Journalists seem powerful to ordinary citizens for several interrelated reasons. The first is that journalists have a much larger audience than most people can reach through their social networks. Journalists can be gatekeepers to publicity and fame. But, most important, they control how people’s stories are told to the public: what is included, how it is framed, and who is cast as the hero or the bad guy. Those decisions can have favorable or destructive consequences for the people they are reporting about — consequences that are magnified online. And yet, journalists seem to dole out those benefits or damages pretty cavalierly.

Understanding the source’s point of view towards the journalist and the media at large can help us to not only build trust, but also discover better stories. Charmaz wrote about how differences in power and status may affect the quality of an interview.

“Powerful people may take charge and turn the interview questions to address topics on their own terms, and control the timing, pacing and length of the interview,” she wrote. “[The disempowered] may recite public relations rhetoric rather than reveal personal views, much less a full account of their experiences.”

In this democratized age of information, individual journalists might not feel powerful, but we need to realize the significance of our role in the lives of our sources, who may feel they have no power at all. When we seek to interview those who are vulnerable due to their age, gender, economic status, legal status, etc., we hold all of the cards. The source has everything to lose, the journalist so much to gain.

In her interviews with former news sources, Palmer found most were pleasantly surprised to hear that reporters don’t often use their power unethically, but “it was not nearly as salient as the feeling that they always could.”

Realize it might not be your story to tell

We are entrusted with so much when we are given someone’s story to tell. Much like our counterparts in the social sciences, we have to be vigilant in analyzing when, how and even if we as journalists are the best representatives to tell these stories at all. 

In many cases, allowing those with less power to be able to tell their own stories can be far more effective and a more accurate presentation of that person’s worldview. Sometimes our job is to just stay out of the way.

Write for the audience and the source (within reason)

Desmond wrote that social science studies have three languages they need to speak: That of his social science peers, the reading public and the subjects of the study. Journalists should keep a similar vein in mind in how we write about those in our communities.

While I’m not particularly concerned that we consider the feelings of every person we cover (most political reporting would probably go extinct), I feel we should consider the source who acts in good faith, especially those who are not public figures, as a key audience to the final product.

We should ask ourselves some key questions like, “Will this story make them look foolish, uneducated or immoral? Will they be embarrassed to see how they are portrayed? Will they regret talking to me?”

For example, I regularly read election year reporting from my home state of Ohio and find myself cringing at the portrayals of people, people who could very well be my family or neighbors, as “flyover state” caricatures. Maybe the reporter just thought he was describing them as they were, other than as how he saw them…but did he stop to think of how they’d see themselves after reading the article? I doubt it.

Show your work

Like all of the sciences, ethnographic studies meticulously detail their methodologies and references. An ethnographer would lay out why they selected their field site, chose informants, and cite any other studies that influenced their approach. Journalism should be no different.

A lot of our audience doesn’t understand how the media works. We can help them by being more transparent.

If we want people to trust our work, we need to show the receipts. Why we chose this story over that one, how we found the right sources to interview, who else has covered this topic and what we added that was new. Think like a scientist; tell what you know, what you don’t and why you do what you do.

If you are interested in learning more about my ongoing ethnographic research into the relationship between news, disinformation and news consumers, or want to be notified when the final report is published, visit projectdisconnect.org.

Note: This is a repost from the JSK Class of 2019 Medium Site

I came here to learn about management, but I ended up learning about myself

When I first applied to the JSK Journalism Fellowship, “becoming a better person” wasn’t one of my goals. I saw the fellowship as a gift of time to focus on improving my professional skills, making new contacts in the industry and getting away from the news to figure out what comes next. I also looked forward to my research on what the news industry can learn from consumers of disinformation.

So far, the fellowship has been all of that, but it’s also been difficult in ways I didn’t even want to admit to all of my friends still toiling away in their day jobs.

Being at Stanford these past few months has been humbling in so many ways — being surrounded by young geniuses will do that — but nothing has hit me harder than realizing I didn’t know myself.

In the first week of my Transformative Design class, I was asked to write my own eulogy. This eulogy reflected everything I’d like for someone to say about me after I die, a sort of glimpse into how I see myself and what I value. In doing so, I realized I wasn’t on track to have that sort of legacy as a friend, as a mentor, or as a partner. I’d lost my way. I’ve spent the weeks since then figuring out how to get back.

Everyone I met going into this program — including the formidable alumni network — told me my classes were most likely going to be the least rewarding part of the experience. That couldn’t be further from the truth in my case.

I’ve been amazed by Stanford’s built-in focus on empathy across its academic offerings. The business school, especially, is far more focused on emotional connection than I would have ever imagined from the outside. I’ve spent more time than I ever thought possible learning how to communicate and be present, to let go of ego and be as open as I always imagined myself to be. It’s from these classes — and the people I’ve met in them — that I’ve already learned some truths I plan to carry into my post-JSK life.

  1. Reasons are Bullshit

One of my d.school professors, the venerable Bernie Roth, told us this in one of our first classes and I have really taken it to heart. “Reasons” are often excuses dressed up as something more noble. If we are being honest with ourselves and those around us, we should be able to leave reasons at the door.

We make excuses for our actions and behaviors to others — when we should be willing to take ownership of them (and apologize if necessary). Worst of all are the “reasons” we give to ourselves. When I started to peel back the “why” behind some of my own actions, I realized I had more control over my life than I thought.

For instance, I have been telling myself for YEARS that I fill my schedule with work, activities and favors because that’s what the people in my life demand of me. That may be partially true, but in actuality, I do that because it makes me feel useful. I chose that life — and knowing that now, I can now choose a (slightly saner) one. It’s liberating to let go of reasons.

2. Grant permission to be creative

I’m taking a leadership class from improv master Dan Klein that is focused on leading creative teams. Most of our first few classes were spent playing improv games, with the aim of turning off our egos and reacting without fear of judgment. It’s giving ourselves permission to be a bit wild — and doing the same for others around us.

We could all stand to embrace this idea to be better colleagues, collaborators and managers. How many newsroom “brainstorming sessions” have we all been in that largely resulted in more of the same (if anything)? To inspire creativity in others, we have to give permission to be wild. That means not shooting ideas down, not homing in on the easiest or most conventional idea and celebrating truly “out there” leaps. It also means giving everyone a platform to participate — and not just letting the loudest voices take over.

3. Find strength in vulnerability

Like many women who have risen to a management level, somewhere along the way, I got the idea that I had to be more like the men around me.

For years, I had been training myself to hide any signs of vulnerability. I saw my persistent sensitivity and empathy as an anchor preventing me from becoming a better leader. Stanford’s management classes have taught me that we should embrace our empathy and hone our vulnerability as a tool. In business and in life, people are far more willing to give us benefit of a doubt if we don’t present ourselves as infallible.

4. Know your values, and call on them often

When I was younger, I had no trouble stirring the pot if something went against my values (just ask my bosses from back then). In my more recent years, I’d gotten tired of being the squeaky wheel. I was tired. I’d have these managerial out-of-body experiences where I’d see myself espouse some company line I didn’t even believe in and say to myself, “Who ARE you?”

In holding fast to our values in our work, it creates a semblance of control (something I know I crave). We can’t always control what happens, nor can we control the behavior of the people around us, but we can control how we react to them. Speaking of that…

5. Create a culture worth fighting for

In my management classes, we speak often about our role as leaders in setting the tone and culture of the groups we move in and oversee. I’ve been a part of some great cultures over the course of my career, but also some incredibly toxic environments.

I find myself now thinking back to the occasions I could have stopped a bad culture in its tracks — or promoted a better one — by being willing to be the roadblock. Being that roadblock may have meant lower productivity, harder conversations, hurt feelings, potentially less money coming in…but it would have been worth it in the long run.

As Irv Grousbeck, a truly inspiring business professor, said in our management class, “Communicate your values and live the example openly. Work hard, be nice, say yes.”

Luckily, it’s easy to say yes when you are part of a group like JSK.

So even aside from the hands-on training I’m receiving in innovation, problem-solving, management and business strategy — I’m also learning how to be a better leader, a better journalist and a better person. I’m rediscovering what I value in myself and in others, and focusing on what I really want to do with the rest of my life. Try fitting that into a brochure.

Note: This is a repost from the JSK Class of 2019 Medium Site

Ending one era, and starting another

Today is a bittersweet one, as it is my last day at Storyful before I go off to start a new chapter of my career.

I joined Storyful early enough to be hired on by the founders, but late enough to get health insurance. I leave it now, nearly four years later, as a bigger, better and much more grown up company.

My first day at Storyful back in July of 2014

My first day at Storyful back in July of 2014

While I’d been a part of media startups before, I never got to see one through its adolescence until I got here. The experience has been what it must be like to be a stepparent – you weren’t there at the beginning, but after surviving some critical developmental milestones together, you do your best to leave a lasting and positive impression.

In one of my interviews to join the company back in 2014, I said I would work to grow Storyful’s reputation in the media industry beyond that of a UGC video service, but rather to be seen as a respected, social-centric newsroom known for bringing real stories to the surface. I think we did that – and a lot more – with more to come as Storyful continues to grow its portfolio in the analysis of online communities and disinformation.

In the past few years, the media, technology and business spheres have taken an increased interest in the power of social movements, and thus, in the work of Storyful. We were seeking the stories behind the stories on social media long before “fake news” ever became a watchword.

It’s been an exciting (and exhausting) era in social journalism. I started at Storyful the day after MH-17 went down over Ukraine. In the years since then, we’ve covered the war in Syria, the 2016 campaign trail, the rise of nationalist movements in the US and Europe and too many terrorist attacks, school shootings and natural disasters to list. The stories have become more socially driven, the truth less easy to find, the work more important than ever.

In preparing to leave, I spent time looking through my files and rediscovered just how far we’d come in a fairly short time. I found strategies and product concepts that never got off the ground – and many more that did. I also unearthed org charts going back to 2013, scrolling through them to see 20 name boxes jump to 30, 50 and 60 in number. Hiring and developing the careers of roughly 40 social journalists has been the most valuable experience in my time at Storyful. I’ve seen kids fresh out of university become disinformation experts, traditional journalists rediscover their passion in a new medium and newbies become mentors, editors and managers.

Much like the current generation of leading social journalists working in the industry, I wholeheartedly believe the next generation of social journalists will also be powered by Storyful. I’m so lucky to have been able to be a part of it.

It wouldn’t be an obligatory farewell blog post without some words of thanks.

  • To David Clinch, for introducing me to Storyful, first as a fellow social journalist, then later as a client and recruit – and for his constant support every step of the way.
  • To Mark Little and Aine Kerr for bringing me into this team and providing the inspiration for why we do what we do.
  • To Rahul Chopra for showing me how to grow and giving me room to do so.
  • To Toby Bochan for sharing every win, burden and milestone as we grew this team together.
  • To Mike Hess for continually making me look smarter than I actually am.
  • To Aifric Iremonger Mooney for keeping me from losing my mind (and keeping the proverbial trains running on time).
  • To the Storyful journalists – past and present – for everything they have taught me.
  • And to Dublin for giving me a second home that will never be far from my thoughts.

 

Alex Capaldi/DKS

On heading back to school and back to basics

I was ecstatic when I found out I was selected to join the 2018-19 fellowship class of the John S. Knight program at Stanford. It’s going to be a big change for me – of jobs and coasts – but I’m as ready as I can be.

I am pretty sure I first heard about the JSK fellowship back in 2007 and the idea of leaving a good job to go to school seemed so odd to me at that part of my career. My youthful ambition told me if I wanted to “make it”, I would never be able to take time off – nor would I want to.

But over the course of many years since then, I have met many Knight fellows and all of them, to a person, have told me how the experience changed their lives. I’ve known for years now that it was something I would want to do when the time was right. When I saw one of the themes for this year’s program was disinformation, it felt like it was meant to be.

It may seem odd to depart Storyful just a few months after being elevated to Editor in Chief, but then again, there’s never a good time to separate yourself from a job that is your whole life.

My past [nearly] four years at Storyful have been so rewarding – and a nonstop sprint. I have rarely gotten a chance to spend time digging in on the initiatives and stories that most interest me. As the newsroom has expanded its scope to include investigation into social media movements and disinformation – I haven’t had much of a chance to really get into the hands-on work the way I wish I could. Now is my chance.

In addition to my research, I plan to spend the next year or so focusing on answering some important questions for myself: What am I doing? Why does it matter? Where do I fit into the journalism industry today? What do I really want to do with the rest of my career?

You know, the easy ones.

I look forward to a year on pause. I want to read more, get outside and hike on the weekends, and just generally spend more time being present and less time juggling the emails, all-hours meetings and constant notifications that dominate my life these days.

Alex Capaldi/DKS

This is an example of how it went the last time I was in college.

I’d love to be able to revert to my college-aged self, but without the incredible angst and “working four jobs just to pay rent” part. I want to rediscover the open-mindedness I had about myself and the industry back then. Revisiting my college wardrobe would also be great (I hope cargo pants are still around!).

Best of all, as part of my agreement to join the JSK program, I agreed to publicly share my progress against my research question (more to come on that). That means this site will go back to being an active blog again, not just an occasional dumping ground for errant thoughts (though it will also be that). This should be good news for those spammers who constantly keep asking if I want a website redesign (the answer is still no).

I have a couple of weeks left at Storyful before I head out for this next chapter, but in the meantime, watch this space.

Storyful

My next adventure: Joining Storyful’s Open Newsroom

Looking for a job is, in a lot of ways, a lot like dating*. You meet a lot of people and you talk – a lot – about yourself, about them, about your expectations for a future together. You re-examine what worked and what didn’t about past relationships, and try to find a partner that embodies the best of those memories. It’s all about looking for a good fit. After a lot of looking and a few false starts, I think I’ve found it.

I started earlier this week as Open Newsroom Editor for Storyful – and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Storyful

If you aren’t familiar with Storyful, it is a 24/7 social media news agency that discovers, verifies and delivers user-created content to newsrooms, brands and storytellers of all sorts. Storyful built its initial business providing verified UGC and information to partners via subscription service. The Open Newsroom is a consumer-facing companion piece, operating as a public space for crowdsourced verification and publication through the likes of Google and Facebook. I’ll be continuing to grow that outward-facing aspect of Storyful and its relationships with platforms, partners and stories.

It’s a good fit, to be sure. Collaborative journalism and social media has been the bedrock of my journalism career. I been talking about crowdsourcing, social media/UGC ethics, verification and UGC best practices for several years – and I’ve done a lot of training for journalists in those fields. For me, joining Storyful is like being asked to join the Avengers- they know this stuff better than anyone.

Storyful has been one of the most prominent voices in the industry as it pertains to social media verification and ethics in using user-generated content (which, it just so happens, happen to be pet issues of mine as well). Its best practices and breaking news case studies have been part of my classroom curriculum for years. Now, I get to be more than an admirer – I get to be on the team.

I can’t wait to get started on this new bright future.

Casablanca Quote   Eds Note:  The past few months, since Thunderdome was shut down,  have been an especially tough stretch for me, both personally and professionally. Big thank-yous are in order for many people, but especially Robyn Tomlin, Jim Brady and Jennifer Preston – who have helped me out by listening to my whining, giving advice, making introductions and buying drinks as needed.  And I wouldn’t have come out the other side without my husband/crisis counselor, Ben, who has patiently dealt with my many phases of layoff grief.

 

* Or so I hear, I haven’t dated in a long time.

Something Actually New on Zombie Journalism! Curated News on News

At first glance, it looks like this site hasn’t been updated in awhile. For those few people who subscribe via social or RSS (hi Mom!), you probably forgot this even exists.

Though not a lot has changed on the surface level – this still has my terrible original web design for the most part – there have been some changes you might find interesting. A big part of the original intent of Zombie Journalism was curating and sharing interesting links on digital journalism, social media and the future of the news industry. This was before a great deal of the curation tools out there today were in existence – and back when I had the time and the interest in giving my view on journalism happenings that had already been talked over to death. Nowadays, I have less I want to write about, but I still want to share interesting links.

If you look in the nav bar above, there’s a new area called “Curated News“. Within that is a sub-menu of specialized Rebelmouse-powered pages featuring daily curated news around topics like social journalism, mobile journalism and journalism revenue models. I’ll probably add more subsets as time goes on.

This is a screenshot of this site. Look up!

If you like the sort of information I tend to curate, I hope you’ll read it here, but it isn’t like I’m monetizing this site, so feel free to subscribe to them via Rebelmouse (using the button on the page) or, if Twitter’s your thing, you can get all of those subsets and more at @NewsonNewsYouCanUse (or via my account, as always).

If you have suggestions or feedback on all this, let me know.

Also, I have a couple of actual new posts (!) in the works, so this blog as it is now isn’t going away. Maybe we should consider it more of a quarterly?

 

Social Media Wire on nhregister.com

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.

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