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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Combining 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.
Julie Westfall will be joining Digital First as the curation team leader. Angela Carter and Karen Workman, two of DFM’s local superstars, will be moving to new roles as curators.
I was familiar with all three of these remarkable journalists before I ever began hiring for these positions. They were selected because they each had a vision for what could be done – and none of them are the type to be scared off by such a vague concept as “go be a curation team”.
Steve Buttry and I interviewed A LOT of really amazing applicants. We heard a lot of really innovative and interesting ideas on curation tools and strategy from journalists and non-journalists both inside and outside Digital First. You guys didn’t make our choices easy, but I’m confident we’ve got a killer team here.
I am excited to get back to working with Julie Westfall, who was, in my opinion, the engine that drove TBD’s daily news coverage. Sitting across from her for most of our short time there, I was constantly amazed at how she just never seemed to stop. Julie had a vision for how our news could be better and faster and she worked tirelessly to see that vision come to life. She was always tinkering with the tools we had or brainstorming the tools she wanted to see if there could be a better way to tell our stories.
But it wasn’t our work history that got Julie into this job, but rather it was her continuing ideas for how online news could be made better. Julie still has a vision for how we can develop new and better ways to tell stories online. We need someone with that vision to help our team craft dynamic, interesting and useful news resources for our local sites. It helps that Julie’s pretty familiar with forging her own path in this crazy digital journalism world – she held experimental roles at TBD and KPCC – because we need her to shape this team from an idea into a key part of Digital First’s news strategy.
Angi had been a city-side and business reporter for years before taking on the role of community engagement in her newsroom. When you meet her, it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been in that role for years. She’s a natural.
Not surprisingly, Angi also went the extra mile with her ideaLab project. Originally it was thought that ideaLab activities would take up a designated amount of hours each week but Angi made it the focus of her everyday work. She also contributed the equipment she receives as an ideaLab participant to the Register’s overall engagement efforts like conducting a Community Needs Assessment, holding public online news meetings and growing the Register’s community blog network.
When this curation team is in full swing, we’re going to need Angi’s organizational skills to guide us on breaking news and long-term projects. She has a habit of planning the details far out in advance of planned news events. Take New Haven’s coverage of the Supreme Court’s health care decision: When the decision came down, the site had a live chat with experts on the case all ready to go.
I don’t know Karen Workman well yet, but I know a great deal about her work. She started her career as an editorial assistant at the Oakland Press, where went on to become a reporter and, later, community engagement editor. When she took interest in this position, Karen wrote a report full of ideas for how the DFM curation team could best benefit our local newsrooms. She’d know, as she’s already sort of been doing it.
Working the early morning shift at the Press, Karen noticed that DFM’s Michigan newsrooms were all curating stories and videos from the same sites each day. She took the initiative to change the system to be more efficient. This past spring, she started a curation team for the Michigan newspapers to better utilize the time of the newsrooms’ small staffs.
As an early adopter of new tools in her newsroom, Karen’s also proven herself to be a natural teacher. What started as helping her colleagues learn SEO, social media and digital tools has turned into a much larger effort to educate journalists at other DFM papers. Karen’s patience and talent for explanation is really going to come in handy as a DFM curator, as we’ll be helping all of our local newsrooms with their own curation efforts.
Karen was also part of the first class of ideaLab participants. She’s using her project to build a sense of community amongst members of the Oakland Press’ blogger network. Aside from bringing a disparate group of bloggers together in person and online, Karen’s also setting up workshops they want and need to bolster their own skill sets.
I’m pretty sure Karen and I are going to get along just fine, as she’s a fellow animal lover (even if she prefers dogs). She writes The Dog Blog, a care and training blog for dog owners – and she’s also got a really cute Lab/pit bull mix with a great name (Sensibull).
This curation team will be getting to work the last week of this month….just in time to start experimenting with curation around the Olympic Games. These three women will have a lot of logistics to figure out, tools to break and workflows to hammer out – but I have full confidence they are more than up to the challenge. I can hardly wait to get started.
What do you think when you hear the term “curation”? Do you roll your eyes at the “future of news” talking head types likely posing the word to you (like right now)? Or does your mind reel with the possibilities?
Under the strictest definition of the term, curation is what journalists have been doing since before Gutenberg. We’ve always been responsible for collecting bits of information and reassembling it in a way that makes sense to our readers, but now we have so many more tools to use and streams to incorporate. It’s hardly a new idea, just a new way going about doing it.
Curation is a huge part of Digital First Media‘s plans. I/We see it as a way to give our readers a well-wounded view of a story or topic, while also freeing up our local staffs to do the original reporting they do best. It is with this in mind that I, along with my esteemed boss, Steve Buttry, will soon be hiring a national curation team comprised of a team leader and two curation editors.
While I do have something of a loose job description put together for these positions, the people who we’ll be hiring here will be trailblazers. Like a lot of us who are taking on experimental new roles, they’ll be determining (and always re-evaluating) what tools, practices and stories will work best for them and the company, rather than following directions from the top.
If you dare to wonder what a curation editor might do — we’d like to hear from you. Even if you aren’t necessarily interested in one of these jobs, I’d like to hear your thoughts on how curation and curators might best help you and/or your newsroom best serve readers.
Some ideas we’ll be exploring:
How should we provide curation around big national stories, where primary coverage will be handled either by our staffs or by our content partners?
How should be capitalize on local stories that might have national appeal?
How should we curate the social conversation around the day’s big “talker” stories in a way that would interest even those who aren’t on social media?
How should we help local newsrooms in their curation efforts without just taking it over?
What curation tools should we use? Which do YOU use?
What kind of content should we curate? Is there anything we should avoid?
How should we evaluate, verify and attribute content we curate?
The curation team will be part of Project Thunderdome, which will handle national content for the websites of 75 daily newspapers of Digital First Media (scattered across 18 states), as well as some niche content that may be used by the sites of our weekly papers.
I look forward to seeing where this conversation takes us.
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.
Hi all! I’ve been traveling a lot for Digital First lately to spread the gospel of social media to my colleagues. So, if you’ve seen my presentations before, you’d know that I make very wordy Powerpoints so that people who weren’t there to see me prattle on about my favorite things can still follow what we went over (also, they keep me on task in-session).
So here are some recent training sessions that might be of use to you, your staff (or students, if you teach). Please let me know if there’s anything out of date or if you know of new tools I should be touting around DFM and on the interwebs at large.
I gave the following presentation on mobile journalism at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) bootcamp in Cairo, Egypt. Following is a link to a document detailing the specific apps discussed in class, plus others to try out.
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.
During my professional sabbatical in the month of April, I had the opportunity to travel to Moscow, Russia to talk with Eurasian journalists about community engagement.
This is my name in Cyrillic!
On April 22-24, the New Eurasia Media Program held its annual International Conference, where I, along with other journalists and bloggers from around the world, shared experiences and tools around the theme of “The local newspaper in the middle of the action”. I also gave a post-conference workshop on social media tools to a smaller group of Russian journalists (but that’s another post).
My presentation looked at the idea and launch of TBD, focusing specifically on ideas that worked and what, ultimately, led to it’s shift away from the original mission. I wanted to give attendees some good ideas they could try out at their newspapers amid the doom and gloom of a startup that didn’t exactly go as planned.
As one attendee put it, “We only ever hear about big projects that worked. It’s as if they think we have noting to learn from ideas that failed.”