Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Category: Industry News & Notes Page 1 of 9

General posts about the media industry

Losing writers to Substack isn’t so bad

I’m sorry, but this is yet another blog post about Substack. Sort of.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

Depending on who you ask, Substack and its many imitators are a godsend or the downfall of modern journalism. Really, it’s just a newsletter platform that pays some people money and gives independent writers a way to collect revenue from subscriptions. That’s it. 

There has been a lot of opining (so much!) about how “the media” will survive losing the writers who have left their cushy jobs at NYT, WaPo, CNN, or Vox to go it alone on Substack. 

It’s almost as if this has never happened before. Like back when people left newsrooms to start their own publications. Or to create blogs. Or do TV shows. But I digress. 

Frankly, the loss of these voices isn’t a concern to me. As Will Oremus noted in Slate, many of these departing writers are not primarily known for their hard-hitting reporting anyway. They’re pundits, the sort of column writers that get invited onto cable news panels and podcasts. They’re also primarily white guys of a similar age that I probably couldn’t pick out of a lineup*.

This might be a crazy thought, but what if this is a good thing? I’m sure these folks’ columns masquerading as reporting get good pageviews, or else they wouldn’t have gone independent. But so what? I would bet that every newsroom that has lost some superstar white dude has many more talented writers and interesting personalities in its ranks that could become big stars. 

Maybe if so many media writers and newsrooms leaders weren’t themselves white dudes of a certain age, they could see this opportunity for what it is.

The departure of these bright lights might free up some salary and oxygen for more women, journalists of color, and other underrepresented groups in the newsroom to get their shot at the spotlight. 

That would require our biggest and most prominent news organizations to think creatively about assessing the skills and ambitions of their current staff and considering who they need to recruit. It can be done!

As for those underrepresented newsroom voices – get your newsletter and column pitches together now! It’s only a matter of time before the next [young, white male] journalist is tapped to be the next big newsroom star. 


* Many of my friends (and my spouse) are white, male journalists. I can like them and also think they are wildly overrepresented in news, especially in the ranks of management. ✌️

Who Determines What’s News on Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg announced last week yet another change to the Facebook newsfeed. Following a contentious year that embroiled the platform in controversy, Facebook intends to give preferential treatment to news sites based on users’ feedback as to which providers are most trusted.

From Zuckerberg’s post,

The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division. We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you — the community — and have your feedback determine the ranking.”

Who those users are, how they are selected and exactly how “trust” is measured remains to be revealed. News and media professionals don’t appear to have a voice in determining the authority and credibility of news sites.

That’s problematic. In the past, Facebook demonstrated clear vulnerabilities when relying on its community. In mid-2016, when Facebook fired the editors curating its Trending module to instead rely on its algorithm and user engagement around stories, the community proved itself to not be the most reliable arbiter of legitimate news. False stories from dubious sources, such as a false report indicating Megyn Kelly had been fired from Fox News for endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, immediately rose to the top. Facebook later changed Trending again to try to tackle those issues.

So far, Facebook’s attempts to police its own platform have had little impact on the mitigation of disinformation and “fake news.” The platform itself reported that over 126 million Americans saw Russian disinformation leading up to 2016 election emanating from the community. Furthermore, independent fact-checkers brought in by Facebook to flag fake stories have said efforts to stem the tide of disinformation are falling short.

Outside of Facebook’s walls, trust is a contract between the audience, who gives an investment of time and the publishers’ ability to match that with quality journalism. Handing all of that power to the “community” creates dangerous opportunities for propagandists and purveyors of fake news to exploit the platform to further their own agendas.  During the French elections, special interests organized on platforms like Discord to orchestrate social media events on Facebook and Twitter. More recently, following a November 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a false story spread across Facebook saying Antifa terrorists were the perpetrators.

At Storyful, we spent the last two years mapping and understanding the pathways that “fake news” travels. Our work makes it clear that Facebook is a well trod avenue for disseminating dubious information from private or semi-private platforms and communities to the masses. Following the tragic events in Las Vegas last year, we detailed false claims made by questionable entities on Facebook. In the UK, we highlighted the efforts of a special interest group to affect elections and advance an agenda.  And, on our podcast, we discussed the impact of social media and disinformation in India.

What happens in the following weeks and months may have very serious implications for the news industry and the world. Upcoming elections in Eastern Europe, Brazil, Pakistan, Cambodia and the United States (among others) are prime opportunities for those who seek to spread disinformation via an increasingly siloed social media population who are most likely to trust sources they agree with.

Users the world over flock to Facebook to discuss happenings big and small, local and global, factual and fictional. Left alone, these would be the very same users that would assess the value and reach of stories generated by newsrooms that endeavor every day to report facts and vital information.

We at Storyful will watch for any further developments on these changes and hope industry experts will have a seat at the table to influence the fate of news on Facebook.

[This post was originally published on Storyful’s blog]

 

Technology is a solution, not a problem, for women in newsrooms

So maybe you’ve noticed – there’s a lot of talk about women in journalism these days in the wake of Jill Abramson’s unplanned exit from the New York Times. Aside from being a woman and a journalist, I haven’t generally felt that I have much expertise to add to this conversation as it has played out. Until today.

In a column on the Washington Post’s new PostEverything site today, Nikki Usher added a new facet to the discussion:

Technology has made it harder for women to survive, and thrive, in journalism. … Sophisticated infographics, interactive storytelling, and data-crunching have become essential to online journalism. It’s part of a critical mission to keep web news profitable. And unlike many other parts of traditional newsrooms, these teams are still hiring. But they’re hiring programmers and techies, most of whom are male. Women hold just 27 percent of all computer science jobs. According to Forbes, that number isn’t growing.

She’s right when she notes that the rising profile of digital skills in newsrooms hasn’t resulted in a growing number of women hired, but it isn’t fair to “blame the techies”, as the column’s deck suggests, for the diminished role for women in newsrooms. On the contrary, technology has largely been the answer to getting more women into newsrooms because it is getting more people with different skill sets than those valued in the past into newsrooms.

The rising importance of digital skills in newsrooms has made it possible for me to work my way up in this industry.  If those technology and social media skills weren’t valuable and someone at the top wasn’t pushing for their inclusion in new hires, I wouldn’t have been able to work at any of the great places I’ve been. If “techies” hadn’t been put in charge somewhere along the way, I’d never have gotten the opportunity to grow my skills, never gotten into a leadership role, never in turn been able to hire more women to those sort of roles.  Technology was my only leg up. But that’s just me.

Is it a problem that more women aren’t working in the highly prized journogrammer wings of elite newsrooms? Yes, absolutely. But it’s a far bigger problem that more women aren’t moving up the ranks across newsroom teams, a pre-existing culture problem which trickles down to those building these new tech teams.

There are lots of factors we can blame for women’s diminished role in newsroom leadership: Promotion culture focused on longevity over innovation, poor succession planning, closed social networks, legacy experience valued over digital experience, unfair expectations for female candidates, a lack of a farm system for qualified women, lack of flexible work options, fewer networking opportunities, etc.

Why do these things happen? How can we fix these issues? If I had all of the answers off the top of my head, I probably wouldn’t be unemployed.

Digital journalism and the people behind it aren’t what’s holding women back from newsroom leadership roles, but they are likely in the best position to solve that problem from within. These teams are already trying to change their cultures. They have increasing power and are generally recognized as the future of the industry – so what can we do to help them?

 

 

Everything I know about leadership I learned from losing my job

A few weeks back, I was tapped to stand in for my boss, Robyn Tomlin, in giving a leadership talk to college journalists in NYC. Not really knowing much about “talking about leadership”, the best I could offer at the time were lessons from my own career. Let’s face it, I’m no Robyn Tomlin.

Right before I was to give this talk, I heard the first inklings that my job – and the jobs of my staff – were in doubt. This worry hanging over my head undoubtedly influenced the advice I gave that day. At the time, I honestly sort of thought I was BSing a bit. Over the past couple of weeks, since the news of Thunderdome’s demise became public, I’ve found these off-the-cuff lessons to be truer than I had imagined:

You don’t need to have a plan mapped out to make a great career.

All our best laid plans often can’t stand up to the realities of the business. Everyone who joined Thunderdome had their reasons – and for many (myself included), that reason was a dedicated to the mission of making local news sustainable. We had plans – and none of them included an early shutdown. Now, they’re all rolling with the punches, sticking together and aggressively going after what they want to do next.

Take risks, because they are worth it even when they don’t work out.

Twice now I’ve taken risks – with my career and that of my spouse – to move to a new city to pursue a job that sounded awesome. Neither worked out, but I wouldn’t take either decision back. These risks changed my life and have given rewards beyond increments of time on my resume. I think most of my coworkers would agree – we are all far better for this experience.

Lead from where you are, no management title required.

The Thunderdome staff has never been short of leaders at every level – be it on projects, new products or in the newsroom. These past 10 days, I’ve seen so many people inside Thunderdome step up and be leaders in the midst of all the insanity. I’ve seen them take control not only of their own careers, but also helping support, guide and push their colleagues onto new paths. I couldn’t be prouder of how they’ve rallied together and kept high spirits in the face of a lot of public pain.

Relationships matter, so give all you can, all the time.

I can’t begin to describe how comforting it was to experience the outpouring of support for the Thunderdome staff in the hours and days following the news of our layoffs. Our web of former coworkers, friends, ONA buddies and journalists-we-know-from-Twitter was there to catch us when we fell. I’m still working on answering every email, tweet, Facebook message, text and phone call that offering support, drinking money, connections and job leads that made their way to me and my staff.

These networks don’t just materialize in times of trouble – creating relationships that matter lies in the little details of how we conduct our personal and professional lives when we aren’t in need. It’s filling in for people at the last second for professional obligations, Skyping with that class, helping with that project, listening to that bad-day rant, inviting that person to sit at your table – and following up, always following up. Being nice matters. Giving of yourself and your time matters. When it is your time to be in need, it all comes back around.

All in all, I don’t really know if I told those kids much about leadership, but I hope they took these few pieces of advice to heart. Thanks, everyone, for all you’ve done for us.

Here are my (absolutely horribly designed) slides from that leadership talk. It doesn’t make as much sense without the notes, but you can see those on the slide files if you are so inclined.

[HTML1]

 

Thunderdome’s demise is déjà vu all over again

Time counts and keeps counting, and we know now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride. But that’s our trek, we gotta travel it. And there ain’t nobody knows where it’s gonna lead. — From “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”

Thunderdome: A bunch of great journalists entered. And now, all leave.

By now, everyone knows Thunderdome is being unraveled.  There are lots of hows left to figure out and whys left to reckon with, but the fact is that it’s all ending much too soon. It’s all so terribly familiar to those of us who went through a similar unraveling at TBD in 2011… only this is worse. 

TBD didn’t have time to finish what we started, but at least we got the chance to start. Thunderdome never even got the chance to carry out even the beginnings of our goals. Many of our long-planned channels just started launching. We had a number of new revenue-generating products on the horizon. We had just started building our in-house product team. We were on the brink.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

The Thunderdome Interactives team leaders circa August 2012. (L-R) Me, Tom Meagher, Julie Westfall and Yvonne Leow.

This is the startup world in journalism – our industry has a tough time finding funders with the stomach to endure the time it takes to build a digital business.

DFM and Thunderdome was founded on the idea of “putting the digital people in charge”. We were put in charge – and we made positive, forward-moving changes at dozens of local newspapers to prepare them for a future without print. Was it all perfect? No, we made a lot of mistakes. There were a lot of things I would do differently if I had the opportunity. That said, Thunderdome didn’t fail. It didn’t even start.

The employees of Digital First deserved better – not just the people losing their jobs at Thunderdome, but also those out in the field at local newspapers. I hope they can continue the digital transformation they’ve started at every local newsroom – because that’s what will keep them relevant in the years to come.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

Just another day at the virtual and real-life office at Thunderdome.

What’s Next

I encourage anyone reading this to check out the Thunderdome staff and hire them as soon as possible. I’ll do whatever I can to get them to their next stops. As for me, I don’t know what’s coming next – and frankly, I find that pretty exciting, all things considered.

I want to thank Jim Brady and Steve Buttry for giving me (another) chance to change my career. I wanted out of my social media pigeonhole and they gave me the opportunity to grow, lead and learn so much more about this industry and myself.  I also have to thank Thunderdome Editor Robyn Tomlin, who has been such an inspiration to me. She’s taken a lot of time to mentor me – in leadership and in life – and I value the trust she put in me when she appointed me as managing editor.

And finally, I have to thank the Thundercats. It was an honor and a pleasure working with you all. You’ve taught me so much – and I can’t wait to see what you all do next.

As heartbreaking as it is to go through this all over again, I have no regrets. I would do it all over again for the chance to have worked with these amazing people. They have changed my life – and I have absolutely no doubt they will change the industry. I only wish we were going to be doing it together.

[HTML1]

If you’re serious about hiring a diverse staff, try actually posting your job

Flickr user andjohanLast week, Emily Bell wrote a column in The Guardian examining the diversity (or lack thereof) in the hiring at high-profile digital startups like Vox, FiveThirtyEight and the First Look verticals. She noted that in setting off on their own to build new visions of what the industry could be, the likes of Ezra Klein and Nate Silver were just repackaging a lot of the same problems that have plagued our industry for years in terms of adequate newsroom representation of women and journalists of color.

“Remaking journalism in its own image, only with better hair and tighter clothes, is not a revolution, or even an evolution, ” Bell wrote. “It is a repackaging of the status quo with a very nice clubhouse attached. A revolution calls for a regime change of more significant depth.”

Predictably, there was backlash. In the comments on her story, many many men responded with some variety of the following:

“I only hire for capability, not diversity.”

“If you are good enough, you’ll get hired. Stop asking for special favors.”

Something something something “war on white men.”

In a piece a few days later in New York Magazine, Nate Silver remarked that it is difficult to hire women.

About 85 percent of our applications come in from men. That worries us. At the same time, we’re hiring the best candidate for the position. But that’s one of the reasons why we take a long time and put a lot of effort into our hiring process, to make sure that we’re looking widely for the best possible candidates.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with white males (some of my best friends are white men!), but there is something wrong with the statement “we only hire the best candidates” because I can bet that some of the best candidates didn’t even get a chance to apply for most jobs out there, especially at these new media startups.

Hiring managers don’t (usually) intentionally hire people like themselves. It happens because hiring so rarely happens the way many people think it does. Most people assume it works like so:

1. Job is posted

2. Job seeker sees job post on Twitter, on a jobs site, in an email from a friend, etc..

3. Job seeker applies with a résumé and cover letter to the designated means of collecting these materials.

4. Hiring manager or an HR representative combs through résumés to weed out the disqualified. They set aside really good cover letters to note people to interview.

5. Interviews

6. Best applicant gets the job.

That isn’t what actually happens – at least, not in our industry (nor many others). From my experience as a person who has hired and who has been hired, this is a bit more like how it happens:

1. Job is created or opened.

2. Hiring manager informs his/her networks about said job, asking for recommendations of qualified candidates.

3. Qualified, recommended candidates surface. Many of them were not even actively looking for a new job, but the opportunity is too good to pass up.

4. Phone calls, coffees and interviews with recommended candidates commence.

5. Job is posted to basic jobs site (because HR requires it).

6. Résumés coming in via that job site are ignored or, at best, are skimmed.

7. A recommended candidate from step #3 is hired.

Simply put, if you aren’t plugged in to the first few degrees of the hiring manager’s network, good luck.

Shani O. Hilton, who wrote the best and most useful followup to Bell’s post, also noted the problem of the network.

The network — on both ends of the equation — is the problem. The journos of color and women aren’t networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn’t in their DNA. Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.

I would also argue that one’s geography and background can also be a problem in seeking work because of the importance of the network. You don’t see a lot of journalists from the heartland getting hired on the coasts – even if they offer to pay to move themselves.

I went through this myself as a youngish journalist working in Cincinnati, OH. I applied to dozens of jobs at news organizations on the coasts, high profile places with alleged job openings for web producers and social media editors. I more than met the requirements for the jobs, but I never even got as much as a phone call or email. I’d follow up via research to see if I could find who had been hired – it was almost universally someone already from the area, usually with some connection to the publication. It could be that I wasn’t a very good candidate (likely), but it could also be that I just wasn’t in the right networks (also likely).

It wasn’t until I applied for a job where I had a connection I had made via social media that I got that call back – and ultimately got the job (at TBD back in 2010, via Steve Buttry). Since then, I have not acquired a job the traditional way – which inevitably makes me worry I actually wasn’t the best person for the job, I was just the easiest to find.

While Hilton offers some great advice for both job seekers and hiring managers to get past the networking problem, I offer one simple tip: Actually post your open jobs. Earth-shattering, I know.

Post your jobs early on and spread them to your social networks, your real-life networks and email lists for organizations like ONA, NABJ, AAJA, NAHJ, JAWS and many more journalism organizations. Treat the process earnestly. You never know who might be quietly looking for work that you know…and more importantly, you never know who you don’t know that might be perfect for your job and they just need to hear about it.

I pride myself and my current organization (Thunderdome) for hiring beyond our own networks. Many of our employees came our way through career fairs and online applications – including a few non-journalists who happened to bring different experiences into our newsroom. We’d never have found one another if we hadn’t posted our jobs.

So post the job. When you say you are an equal opportunity employer, actually mean it. If qualified women and journalists of color don’t know about your job, they can’t apply. That isn’t an equal opportunity.

More: Benet Wilson and Tracie Powell at NABJ offer advice for building a more inclusive network.

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?

 

In light of Te’o story, how can we fix sports journalism?

 

Eds note: See the update at the end.

Sports journalism has some explaining to do.

Today, the sports and journalism worlds are collectively wringing their hands about he discovery that the made-for-TV story of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his dead girlfriend was actually too good to be true. The girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who has allegedly died of leukemia back in September, didn’t exist. Numerous sports reporters from the local South Bend Tribune to ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press, all helped spread the  story of this lie. They are implicit in the hoax for their role in spreading a false story without the basics of verification.

Sports reporters work in the nexus of journalism, entertainment and big-time moneymaking – and when the latter two are the focus of network executives and publishers, the first sometimes takes a vacation. We need to re-examine the journalism in sports journalism.


 

 

Photo/Flickr user True2Self
Photo/Flickr user True2Self

 

 

 

 

Sports reporters are great at breaking down the games and scenarios. They generally do a fine job of pursuing the story when an athlete or team has committed some sort of wrongdoing or has some important story to tell. In the case of the dead girlfriend, however, sports reporters and their editors and all supporting staff who let these stories go to the web, print or air, let themselves get caught up in the irresistible pull of the heartwarming narrative.

Nobody out of all this coverage did any research on Kekua. Out of all of these reporters and organizations, they went only on the word of a young football player to repeatedly tell the story that would ultimately help propel Te’o into a national spotlight (and the Heisman considerations). In their minds at the time, I’m sure the thought process was something like, “Why bother? It’s just a feel-good footnote on the larger story of this amazing athlete. Why bother?”

There were several inconsistencies across the range of reporting on the love story – notably as to when Kekua died. How did nobody notice the difference when writing their own stories? As my colleague Steve Buttry notes, even looking for a link to an obituary for Kekua, which should have been standard procedure, would have started to unravel the story.   Instead it took several months and a great investigation by Deadspin to reveal the not-all-that-well-thought-out hoax.

This case is just the latest example among many that indicate to me that the soul of the sports journalism profession is in jeopardy.

In 2011, a young crime reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Penn. wrote an explosive story about a grand jury investigation of retired Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of at least two young boys. The paper took hits from its readers and the story went largely ignored by the news organizations and reporters covering the team and the university. It took seven months and Sandusky’s eventual arrest in the sex abuse case that finally led the national and sports media world to follow up on the story. The reporter, Sara Ganim, won a Pulitzer. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and every sports reporter on the beat at Penn State should have had some explaining to do about that gap in time…but nothing came of it.

A Poynter Review of the situation at ESPN stated, “With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal.” It explained the missteps in how the story was handled in tone and breadth, but it did not address the delay of seven months.

Why didn’t they follow up on what is arguably the biggest story ever on the beat? Easy. They wanted to keep that access to the very popular team and to its then-coach, Joe Paterno, open. Editors, publishers and network suits wanted to keep that cash cow that is Penn State football news producing milk. So everyone got along to get along and hoped nobody would notice.

And we can’t forget how ESPN, arguably the biggest fish in sports media, has stepped out of the bounds of journalism ethics to shape its sports “news” for financial reasons. In 2010, the network produced and aired what was essentially an infomercial for LeBron James to trumpet his decision to move to the Miami Heat, sending a lot of “tsk, tsks” across the journalism spectrum. Throughout 2011 and 2012, ESPN took a more hands-on approach to shaping sports news by deciding, with ratings purposes in mind, to hitch its wagon to the popularity of Tim Tebow. They used their news reporters to create an inordinate amount of coverage on Tebow, even though he wasn’t even starting in the NFL for the 2012 season.

So how can it be fixed?

Of course, the obvious has to be stated. We can’t paint all sports reporters or sports news organizations with a broad brush, but there is a problem to be solved here. How can we ensure our sports coverage consistently retains its objectivity and avoids falling into fanboyism or fraternity with the sources on the other side of the beat?

I had a great conversation about this with my friends on Facebook last night and some of them had great suggestions as to how sports editors and reporters can keep their heads on straight.

How about we start when we are grooming sports reporters in journalism schools and on the beat within news organizations?

Margaret McGurk, a former coworker of mine from The Cincinnati Enquirer, suggested, “Sports editors need to stop hiring reporters who have never worked a police beat or covered a courthouse or dealt with the non-sports world as a journalist.”

My former boss at The Cincinnati Enquirer, Chris Graves. A former crime reporter, she noted that reporters operating within a niche like sports need to have a focus on the fundamentals.

“All reporters are reporters first — niche reporting (be it sports, business or entertainment) comes later,” she said.

Journalism schools and editors grooming young reporters for their dream jobs of covering sports need to put learning journalism first and sports second. Sure, the young reporter will balk at being told he needs to cover cops or courts or city council to make his way to press row at a basketball game, but he will be a better journalist for it.

And it doesn’t stop at the beginning. Veteran sports reporters should be encouraged to spend their off-seasons on sabbatical, of sorts, flexing their muscles in other realms of news. It’s not to say they need to pick up a whole other beat for months on end, but they can take the time to refresh their journalism skills – calling unfamiliar sources, crunching their own numbers, maybe learning a new tool or two. They shouldn’t be kept immune from the rigors of reporting.

“This was among my biggest pet peeves when I was a cops reporter,” Graves said. “The amount of checking and record pulling it was simply assumed I would do for sports or entertainment reporters…”

I’m sure sports reporters, including some of my friends, would roll their eyes at this suggestion. That’s fine, but the crux of all of this is that the Te’o case, among others in months past, is a good opportunity to have a real conversation about ethics in sports reporting. Let’s not let it sit.

[HTML1]

iPad image: Flickr user sucello

As tablets change how we read, news needs a major makeover to keep up

I doubt I’m breaking news to anyone when I assert that the tablet has changed how we interact with the written word. The real question is what else is it changing along the way?

Tablet ownership doubled in the U.S. in 2012, and more than half of U.S. adults own a tablet or a smartphone. Thirty-seven percent of tablet owners read news on it every day. As the numbers grow, our industry’s notions about how readers consume text, video and photos on the web will need to be re-examined with an eye toward the user experience these readers have come to expect on mobile devices. This improved user experience, more than the shiny awesome newness of a sleek ereader, is what I think is really what’s changing people’s habits.

iPad image: Flickr user sucello

(image: Flickr user sucello)

Going back for a moment….I was a freshman at Kent State back in 1998 when I took a class called Mediamorphosis, taught by Roger Fidler. A pet subject Fidler revisited time and again was the idea that newspapers – in fact, all media — would someday be digitized and made portable in the form of a tablet. Videos would play with the touch of a screen, related info could be brought up in the context of an article — it seemed too good to be true. But Fidler saw what was coming (just check out this video of him on the subject in 1994, it’s amazing).

What I don’t think he understood at the time was just how much tablets would change the reader experience across all our devices and formats. 2012 marked my first full year as a tablet-based news consumer. Looking back, I’m struck by how much my habits have shifted in such a short time. I read more – and more of what I want – and I’ve found I’m not necessarily any more likely to pay for it (not yet anyway).

Like most journalists, I consume a fair amount of media. I routinely get the majority of my news links from contacts on social media, email newsletters and alerts from a few select sources and communities like Reddit. I manage to get a good overview of what’s happening across social media and curation services, and I save many stories across the web for more sustained reading via social media plugins with Diigo and Pocket.

The move to the tablet has changed that experience even further. I prefer to skim my favorite news sources on Pulse or Flipboard over their websites and typically their own apps (shoutout to USA Today, who tells me on page 2 of a story on Flipboard that I need to go to their app to read the rest. No, I’d rather not). I’ve found I’m far more likely to click a link on a Washington Post story on my tablet or phone over the web – as their mobile web design loads faster and reads easier inside my screen than their email newsletters and regular website. I consume more news than ever, alebeit in far more disjointed ways (and I’m not alone in this trend).

I’ve also found I read a lot more books and magazines. For one, I travel more now than ever, so that’s a factor — but the sheer ease of finding and reading books on the reader makes a huge difference. Going over my various reading apps – iBooks, Kindle, Bluefire – I’ve read 18 novels this year. I’ve paid for one – the others were library books. I don’t think I’ve read this much (for fun) since I was in middle school. It’s brought the joy of reading back to my life.

I also manage to keep up with my few remaining magazine subscriptions a bit better as well. The apps for Self, Entertainment Weekly and ESPN magazines are beautifully designed and appropriately interactive (I can watch a workout demo from Self, for instance, without loading a video). All of these apps create a far better experience than accessing any of these publications online – hence why I never visit their websites.

Note how the user experience has proven to be so important in this transition. When we set out to design (or redesign) our news sites, user experience seems to be one of the last priorities after making sure we fit every possible section front into the nav bar and make everyone happy by stacking random junk in the right rail. If we’re going to keep winning (and keeping) readers, user experience has to be a top priority, as it will translate into our other major priorities (i.e. making money).

As more news consumers move to mobile, their expectations for how all news sites should look and operate will change along with it. Quartz designed their site with this mobile user experience in mind, making it a great time-suck of a news experience on any device. If we want people to stick around, news sites need to test and retest web designs across screen sizes, browsers, devices and demographic groups to make them flow as well as the mobile experience. More importantly, we need to do this early in the process, not in course of launch or after the fact.

How has the tablet and/or mobile experience changed how you consume media? What’s your organization doing to cater to these users? Let me know in the comments.

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?

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.

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.

Page 1 of 9

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén & Hosted by Pressable