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.
Beginning this Friday, members of the Online Journalism Association will have the opportunity to shape our industry’s future by voting for the next ONA board. While there are a lot of great candidates, I hope my fellow journalists will give me a shot.
So I realize that platform isn’t too specific. So over the next couple of days, I will lay out here some of the ideas I have for ONA to carry out this vision. If I get elected to the board, great. I’ll do my best to figure out what’s possible and try to get some of these accomplished, If not, I hope those who serve on the next board will consider these ideas.
Platform One: Bring In New Blood, Support New Leaders
I’ve met a lot of innovative, hungry journalists in my travels with Digital First and as a freelance journalism trainer. These are the folks who stand out in their local newsrooms – teaching themselves a new tool or programming language, staying late to work on personal projects and always making themselves available to help their less digitally savvy colleagues.
These journalists are often the primary source of digital support in their newsrooms, but they need support, too. Many are somewhat isolated from support within the industry, perhaps because they are in sparse media markets or have a less than encouraging newsroom culture. That’s why I propose a two-fold outreach effort to reach these journalists:
1. Aggressive expansion of local ONA chapters in the Midwest, South and West.
Tapping into the resources we have in ONA at the corporate level of many large journalism companies (DFM, Gannett, Tribune, Cox, Scripps and several TV networks), we should kick off local meetups at the city, state or regional level (depending on the market). these key players can help identify local leaders who can lead the charge for local meetups. We can help by luring in attendees with appearances by national industry leaders and personalities (many of whom are members).
While we could use it, the push wouldn’t be to get these local groups paying membership dues right away. Our initial goal would be just getting them into holding regular (or semi-regular) meetups to discuss tools, tactics and journalism issues. To fully tap into the resources ONA can offer, they’d then need to move toward a more formal membership agreement.
2. Train the Trainers.
What ONA does with ONACamp and collecting online tutorials is great – and I propose we add a new element in the form of “Train the Trainer”-type events. As I said above, many of the people pushing change in their local newsrooms are lonely players and they may not have much in the way of preparation or confidence to be trainers.
While we may not be able to offer this training in person, ONA should launch an online series of tutorials from the great trainers in our midst to help local leaders become better trainers. I’m thinking of tutorials in preparing engaging presentations, developing skills assessments and setting up incentive-based training programs. I’d imagine we could also offer sample checklists, handouts, training programs, evaluations and the like.
The real outrage and new info in the radio broadcast was that Journatic employees are producing local news essentially disguised as local reporters. Their stories have fake bylines, their writers given Americanized aliases. When they actually do call to contact a source for a quote, they cover up where they are calling from:
“We’ve been told time and time again to protect the Journatic identity.” When calling on a story, employees must say they’re calling on behalf of the newspaper Journatic works for and even acquire a temporary phone number with a local area code. “We are basically lying to our sources,” he said.
A Tremendous Opportunity
So should local newsrooms be worried about offshore journalism like this? Absolutely they should. But exposure of Journatic and their ilk also provides those of us who work in local news with a tremendous opportunity. It is up to us to show our readers where we’re coming from.
“Buying American” and “Shopping Local” have become a priority to some American consumers on goods from clothes to veggies – so why not newspapers? We should encourage our readers to “Read Local”.
For local journalists, there is no better time to show our readers that we are them. We live in the same neighborhoods. We shop at the same grocery stores. We attend the same local festivals and root for the same football teams. Our kids attend the same schools. We may have even gone to high school together.
It’s taken us a few years, but local journalists are starting to shake off that long-held belief that we as people aren’t an important element of our news. We’re becoming more comfortable showing personality in our tweets, opening up our Facebook pages, writing blogs alongside our traditional reporting. It’s not to say that our personal lives need to be an open book, or even that our readers care about the mundane details of our days, but we can find ways to show our connections to the community:
Don’t feel like you have to be all business on social media, if you have observations to make about your city or the people in it in your off-time, go for it. Be open about who you are, with a photo and your real name – unlike this Twitter account that may or may not represent Journatic.
Write or contribute to a local blog – and be yourself there. It might be on your beat, or it might not. Maybe the local cops reporter can explore his gardening hobby with a blog. Perhaps a sportswriter would want to pitch in on a parenting blog.
Hold live chats with your readers. You could do this using software like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive, on Twitter, Facebook or even just in the comments are of your website. Take their questions and ask your own. Be yourself.
Sure, it sounds awfully simplistic to say that these small actions can save local journalism — but it’s certainly a start. By showing up in person to cover that city council meeting or taking that reader’s question, you show that you are a part of the community. If you get good story ideas and source leads from these interactions, all the better.
Being there will give us more than any outsourced news factory could ever hope to replicate. This is our strength – and we need to take better advantage of it.
I see it as a sign we’re getting better at this verification business.
* I feel this deserved a special shoutout to Anthony De Rosa, who is the unfortunate example of a journalist biting on a bad hoax in my regular verification training slides. Now he’s included here on the side of good.
Bennett, however, takes a leap that defies logic: He blames the act of crowdsourcing for this error. Blaming crowdsourcing for failed reporting is akin to blaming phones and email – it’s merely a method to find sources, the end result still requires actual work.
Rovell was done in by two classic journalism mistakes. The first, less obvious one, is that crowdsourcing is a lousy way to gather news. As Rovell himself suggests in his CNBC mea culpa… people will say almost anything if they think it might end up in print, and people you don’t know and never meet can’t really be trusted. It happens to lots of people, because it’s very tempting to rely on these kinds of tips. The information comes so easily, but it needs to be taken with twice the amount of salt. The second is a more traditional maxim: If a story is too good to check, it probably isn’t true.
Well, he’s right on one count: You really can’t trust information that you get from any source anywhere – via crowdsourcing or otherwise – so you have to do a little reporting and fact-checking on things like this. He is wrong, however, to suggest that this somehow proves that crowdsourcing in and of itself is a lousy practice for journalists. In actuality, crowdsourcing can be a very effective way to find sources, but it’s what you do with those sources that determines the outcome of the story.
Crowdsourcing wasn’t Rovell’s problem, failing to take a couple of extra steps to find out if this too-good-too-be-true source was for real was his problem. Had he even called this guy on the phone and asked a few key questions, the kid’s story would have likely fallen apart in a matter of minutes.
Not that Rovell helps his case by including this in his “apology”:
He duped me. Shame on me. I apologize to my readers.
As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys.
There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there.
The lesson was not “I shouldn’t accept anonymous sources I interview over email at face value”, it was “I’m not talking to you people ever again.” Sigh.
Reporters should take his story to heart as a cautionary tale, it shouldn’t scare people off from crowdsourcing altogether. Instead, note these basic steps of verification for all hot tips you receive as a reporter:
1. Evaluate the credibility of the source
2. Follow up on the information with reporting – including interviewing the source
3. Evaluate the credibility of the information
4. Corroborate the info you receive against other sources
5. Evaluate your options based on the info you have
Here are some resources that might help you find your own verification process:
I haven’t really done any extemporaneous speaking since I was last required to as part of a college honors class, but I had a lot of fun doing it and I wanted to share it here with you. Obviously, these are the prepared remarks and I deviated a little bit in real-time (h/t to Steve Buttry for giving me the idea to post it here).
It’s great to look out at this crowd and see so many women working in this business – and who seem to know what fashion was like in the 1930s.
Admittedly I haven’t been in the business as long as some of you, but journalism in the past 10 years has felt like dog years to many of us – we’re all aging seven years with every one that passes. Everything keeps changing so fast. As soon as you learn one newsroom system or social media tool or pick up the latest lingo, another has come along to take its place.
When I first graduated from college, newsrooms were already cutting back instead of hiring. For me at least, this prompted an immediate career change. Instead of being a reporter as I’d always wanted, I decided to work on the web. There were tons of jobs out there for people who knew basic html, had journalism skills and were willing to adapt.
And thank God I did, I have no idea what I’d have been doing otherwise. (Between you and me, I really wasn’t a very good reporter anyway – mostly because I hate using phones)
I recently attended a reunion for those who worked at Kent State University’s student newspaper. Of those who attended school with me, I’d estimate less than 10% are still working as journalists. Some never even started. Many have been laid off in recent years, myself included.
It was at this reunion that one of my friends, one of those former journalists, took me aside. He’d heard I’ve been teaching journalism students at Georgetown University.
He says to me, “How can you give these kids hope? There’s nothing out here for them. There aren’t enough jobs for all of us that are already journalists.”
There is some truth in there. Enrollment in journalism schools continues to rise even as more traditional journalism jobs are disappearing.
But he is wrong. Journalism isn’t dying, it’s just changing. There’s a lot of reason to hope – not just for the kids still in school, but for the rest of us too. It IS a terrifying time to be a journalist, but it is also a very exciting time to be a journalist.
While the past few years have seen cuts in traditional newsrooms, there have been new ones starting up. We have new local and hyperlocal news sites and new investigative teams at the likes of ProPublica and the Texas Tribune.
We also have data geniuses and programming geniuses — all of these people we may not have recognized as journalists in years past — but they are out there working to reimagine journalism for the future. They’re making new tools to make our jobs easier – creating new ways to tell stories and, yes, make money.
Aside from all of that, this is an exciting time to be a woman in journalism.
Women are filling journalism schools faster than men. We have more women in our newsrooms than ever before – with hopefully more to rise in the ranks in the nest few years. Hell, we have a woman leading the New York Times, for crying out loud!
We also have many women among those striking out on their own to cover news the way they want.
Take Arianna Huffington. Whatever you may think of her, you have to admit she’s very smart.
In The Huffington Post, she created a booming media business that is changing the way we do journalism on the web. They found a formula that makes good journalism possible. It isn’t always elegant, but it works:
Cute cats + celebrities/ weird news = $ for reporters
And this investment in reporting paid off. The HuffPost won its first Pulitzer this year.
On a much smaller scale, there are other women making a successful go of it on their own.
Women like Tracy Record, who way back in 2005 — which is ancient history in internet years — started a personal blog about her neighborhood in West Seattle. In late 2007, Tracy quit her job as a TV news producer to work full-time for West Seattle Blog while her husband sold ads.
West Seattle Blog grew into a hyperlocal powerhouse that inspired other journalists to strike out on their own.
Tracy isn’t exactly cracking open Watergate, but she provides news that clearly matters to those who live there. With the aid of reader tips and paid freelancers, WSB covers local crime, traffic, business development – and even lost pets.
All of this certainly wasn’t easy. Tracy and her family worked up to 20 hours a day for years to keep the site updated and filled with ads. She didn’t take a vacation until August 2009, when she could pay people to keep an eye on things back home.
But she did it by training her journalism skills on something she truly cared about – and it showed to her readers. Her engagement in the community – in person and online – drove readers to trust her to know what’s happening. It’s kind of old fashioned, if you think about it.
Back on this side of the country, we have Laura Amico, who runs the site Homicide Watch in Washington, D.C.
When Laura moved to DC with her husband, Chris, there wasn’t exactly a plethora of reporting jobs available. A crime reporter by trade, she was disappointed in the lack of local crime coverage. So she decided to change that.
In the fall of 2010, she launched Homicide Watch, a blog dedicated to covering every homicide in Washington D.C. — from crime to conviction. Laura sought to put a face and a story to many victims whose deaths went largely unrecorded by local media.
If Laura were working within a larger news organization, she might not have gotten the resources or the time to run a project this big. By doing it on her own, with the aid of donations, grants and other sources, she was able to tackle this project her way.
These women are just two of the many out there doing news their own way – outside the traditional system. Now I’m not here to tell you that you all need to go out and start new websites or invent some new journalism tool (though it’d be cool if some of you did). What I’m saying is that so long as there are people with the will and the know-how, there will be journalism. And so long as we have women willing to step up and, if need be, go it alone – we’ll have female journalists running the newsrooms of the future.
So what can you do to help?
1. Push for more women to take on leadership roles in your newsroom. Support your female coworkers and competitors – because their successes are yours, too.
2. Speak up in news meetings, even if you aren’t an editor. Push to get your ideas heard both inside the newsroom and out in your community.
3. Don’t take no for an answer. On a panel aimed at female freelancers earlier this week in New York, a news website editor said he found male freelancers much more likely to follow up on a rejected story pitch with more pitches. Female freelancers, he said, he rarely heard from again. Don’t stand for that. You guys aren’t quitters.
4. Get out of your comfort zone and stay competitive. Do some freelancing outside of your beat area – maybe in something you wish you knew more about. Learn some basic programming. Start a blog, even if it is just to experiment.
5. Promote your expertise on social media. As women, we hesitate to sing our own praises – when we should be shouting from the rooftops to bring attention to the work we’re doing. We can’t afford to stay too quiet, lest all of those men on Twitter overpower us.
6. And finally, if you’re a veteran journalist, become a mentor to a young woman. Point her toward data journalism or beats in business and government — areas still dominated by men. Help her career develop – and you can probably learn quite a bit from one another.
If we support one another’s big thoughts and downplay our fears. If we occasionally dare to go out on a limb – maybe it won’t be such big news the next time a woman takes over a major media organization.
The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of conversation between journalism thinkers over a reportedly huge drop in users for many news leaders’ Facebook social sharing apps in the month of April.
Some tech watchers and news app experts blame this drop in users’ fatigue with the “frictionless sharing” these apps encourage on Facebook – thus telling all your friends you read that HuffPost article about Kim Kardashian. On the other hand, many of those sites who are running these apps cite a recent rejiggering of how Facebook displays these social sharing results in the newsfeed for the decline.
As I’m still trying to wrap my head around how real these user numbers really are and exactly what could be behind them, all I can offer here is a look at my own ongoing research on the subject. Here’s the best articles dissecting this subject I’ver found so far (in reverse-chronological order). I hope this might help those of you who, like me, are just trying to keep up with What This All Means.
Eds Note 10/5: It was brought to my attention that the links in this slideshow are not clickable in the embed here. I included them all below this post.
Ever see a tip that’s too good to be true (it probably is) or a photo so amazing you just can’t believe it (don’t)? Sometimes you can’t just follow your nose to know what’s good and what’s bad on the social web – so you have to be extra careful in the verification and vetting process.
ESPN’s reporters have a reputation of breaking sports news on Twitter – but expect that to change.
The company’s new social media policy, released this week, rolls back a hallmark of ESPN’s social media coverage with a ban on reporters breaking news on social media.
Do not break news on Twitter. We want to serve fans in the social sphere, but the first priority is to ESPN news and information efforts. Public news (i.e. announced in news conferences) can be distributed without vetting. However, sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.
It’s a shockingly backward stance for a company that always seems ahead of the curve on sports news in the social space.
NFL writer Adam Schefter is a prime example of what ESPN used to represent on social media. He has repeatedly broken news first on Twitter, frequently beating his own network on player signings, deal extensions, injury reports and big news such as the firing of Broncos coach Josh McDaniels near the end of the 201o season. Of course, he’s also tweeted news that ended up being inaccurate, too. That said, Schefter is followed by tweeting sports fans because he’s fast and often first.
And this is what sports junkies, bloggers and fans want. Charles Drengberg on Off the Record Sports breaks it down really well, noting that ESPN is often behind the likes of Schefter and other Twitter-friendly reporters when it comes to breaking news.
…As a dedicated NFL fan and sports blogger, I’d rather get my breaking news when it’s still breaking via Twitter than sit around waiting for ESPN or Yahoo to write up some puffy article referencing Ochocinco’s career numbers playing in cold weather when he gets signed to the Patriots.
I can only see two reasons why ESPN would take on such an old-fashioned policy that seems directly at odds with its place in the media world:
1.) The company brass is worried about their role in consistently passing along rumor and speculation. But come on, let’s be serious, they know that’s why we sports fans even visit ESPN.
2.) ESPN must be so certain of its stranglehold on sources within the sports world that it has no fear of losing an exclusive to a social media source.
Whatever the reason, it’ll be interesting to see how (or if) this shifts the playing field in regards to reporting on sports. As ESPN reporters have to wait to share scoops first on their company’s multimedia properties, could their competition at the networks, local news and online-only sports sites (like Deadspin, etc.) beat them to the punch on the viral waves of Twitter? Could this self-imposed delay on the social channels give a leg up to the likes of SB Nation or Bleacher Report? We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a conventional wisdom out there in the online journalism world that: 1.) News site comments will automatically be better if people have to use real names, and 2.) Using Facebook for your comments will accomplish this.
Aside from that, there’s also all kinds of evidence that Facebook comments aren’t the end-all, be-all answer on this front.
As my friend Jeff Sonderman recently wrote at Poynter, Facebook comments can be a boon to news sites in lots of ways: Increased Facebook traffic referrals, fast page load times, an easy out-of-the-box comment solution.
While there is a rule on Facebook that one has to use their real name, it’s not always followed. I have several Facebook friends who use false names for various personal reasons – and they are all, essentially, anonymous. That said, they are still identifiable to their friends, which still keeps some people in check with their online comments. (Though this certainly doesn’t apply to everyone.)
The biggest threat to the alleged transparency and decency of Facebook-powered commenting lies in the same tool many news organizations use to communicate with readers: Facebook Pages.
Just speaking anecdotally here (if you have stats to back me up, please help), I’ve seen an uptick of abusive posts and trolling on Facebook ever since it rolled out its new pages in February. That rollout included the new ability to use Facebook as a page.
This change made it possible for just anyone to set up a fake character on Facebook – and then use Facebook as that character. On The Huffington Posts’s pages (on which I am an administrator) and the pages of other groups and news organizations, I’ve seen these fake accounts spreading spam, trolling the page’s regular users and making hateful statements under the guise of a made-up character.
Here’s a view examples of some alias accounts I found on news pages (or skip below if you want):
Even before this change, there was a history of false profilesspamming and trolling Facebook, the addition of Use-As-Page to the toolbox only gave trolls a new way to stay in business. Facebook has staff that deals with those accounts when they are foundor reported, but it certainly can’t be easy for them to keep up with people who are dead set on being trolly.
(Related aside: When I worked as a comment moderator for the Cincinnati Enquirer, a troublesome site user with many usernames emailed me to say, “I’m retired and have nothing else to do but create new accounts every time you block me. I can make your live miserable.” This is just a sampling of the mentality of trolls, folks. Here’s another.)
I’m just warning that news sites shouldn’t assume that Facebook on its own will solve their commenting problems. Users can and will still be anonymous (or even identifiable) hateful trolls. To make it work, you still need a daily moderation workflow and a newsroom-wide commitment to not only reading story/blog comments, but responding to them.
While I won’t delve into the newsworthiness of this effort (that’s a whole other Pandora’s box), I wonder why it had to take a village to carry it out. In the hours and hours everyone invested into this effort — what was missed?
Why couldn’t the nation’s largest news sources put aside their shared need to own information and just combine their efforts to quickly get these documents online in searchable form? Hey, stop laughing. I’m serious.
Think about it. When the documents dropped, one effort could have been taken to scan and text-translate these emails. There would have been one upload to a site like DocumentCloud, thus preventing the major backlog on that site Friday as we all tried uploading to the same place.
Instead of driving readers to several similar-but-different document displays, the heavy-hitters could have built a single site (off all our brand servers). This hypothetical .org could have an embeddable search functionality and open API that could be displayed on all news sites, from the Austin American Statesman to the Zanesville Times Recorder – and on several platforms.
It wouldn’t eliminate competition – it would just drive news organizations to compete smarter in a way that uses less resources. We could compete over crowdsourcing efforts, i.e. who built the best app on top of the API for readers to submit findings; who built the best contributor network; who had the best resources on the back end taking in the tips, etc. We would also be competing on how quickly and intelligently we analyzed these found facts – and how we displayed them on our sites.
Think of the time that could have been saved had we split up the labor. Think of how much faster we coud have gotten to the actual journalism – and then moved on to the next story.
In an age where we’re all doing more with less, why can’t we come together over the simplest of agreements to aid the effort of newsgathering as a whole? Why couldn’t it work?
Note: I’d be happy to start the beer summit for the top editors of news orgs to hash this out for future efforts. Seriously.
Please allow me to think aloud on the past 15 hours.
We all acknowledge that the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke on social media. We’ve all got stories about Twitter’s impact, roundups of Twitter reactions, tweet timelines and Storification galore – but did anyone in the heat of the developing news last night start engaging readers on the spot? (This is not a rhetorical question, I actually want to know.)
I’m seeing a lot of the same curation sets of the same tweets or calls out for “tell us where you were or how you found out” second-day stories. These seem to be late reactions or pallid imitations of the wonderful, shared experience many Americans had in real-time on social media channels last night. What could we do better?
The story – and most initial reactions to it – were played out in the Twitter timeline before any major news outlets even confirmed the rumor. At this point, I’d speculate a lot of the on-the-spot reaction had passed. At that time, reporters and editors were busy working sources, heading to in-person meeting places and writing headlines (as they should be), but how many jumped into the social media fray in real time?
Who led or hosted a conversation about the night’s events on Twitter, Facebook, on-site comments or live chats? (As opposed to curating what was already occurring out there.)
If you didn’t – why not? Was there not enough staff to juggle hosting a full-time talk? Did nobody think to do it in time to get initial reactions? Was technology an issue? Was your audience not as plugged in to the social sphere?
This story – and the outpouring of reaction and conversation amongst strangers on social media – could serve as a lesson to newsrooms on how to develop a breaking news workflow that includes an element of community engagement when (or even before) the news breaks. We all saw it happen, we reacted and engaged as we best know how – now, what could we have done better?