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Archive for March, 2007

Joining the blogging party

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Another of my former Stater colleagues joined the blogging world today. Welcome Rachel! She’s already been added to the “DKS Throwback” section of my blogroll, where I keep track of my former colleagues with blogs I read/monitor.

I’m pretty sure Rachel was inspired by the Future of Journalism conference. She’s in Nashville now with a few other Stater peeps.

Even her first post is worth reading. About the conference she says:

… (besides being pleasantly surprised to realize that independent thinkers can be found in any city) my passion for journalism has been rejuvenated. I firmly believe, foremost, in the watchdog function of reporters, something that often seems overlooked in modern mainstream media. But this conference renewed my faith that the career I fell in love with, the one that tells the stories of the voiceless, stands up for the people and educates the public, will not only exist but will flourish in the future. It just looks different — and it requires journalists to change.

Hear, hear.

Now, who else lurking here is going to join her? And where are the professors? Barb? Carl? Fred?

Responding to Google searches

Saturday, March 31st, 2007

I’m sure anyone with a Web site that has stats attached to it watches them with interest. I know I do.

I get a lot of hits from Google searches, and sometimes they make me laugh. And sometimes they seriously creep me out. Oftentimes people are searching for answers that I wish I could give them in real time.

Searches that creep me out include…

  • people searching for my name, first and last. I Google other people all the time as a part of my job and out of curiousity. But it never fails to kind of make me freak out when I realize other people are searching for information about me. Luckily, I suppose, this domain is the top hit.

  • the person who searched for “video of someone hanging themselves” this afternoon and landed here because of my comments on the Saddam video. This is not the first time people searching for the Saddam clip have landed here, but this is the first time someone just wanted to see someone die. Seriously, this thought made my stomach flip.
  • the many people who’ve been searching for “funny stereotypes” or its even worse cousin “funny racial stereotypes” and land at my post titled, ironically enough, Racial stereotypes ≠ funny.
  • whoever it was looking for “whole world should blow up audible voice quote” and landed here. I hope that was what they were looking for, and not something sinister sounding.

Searches that make me laugh include…

  • the poor guy looking for the answers to his relationship woes in Google by searching for “why cant meranda and i be together”

  • the hundred or so people who’ve searched for “stupid infomercials” and landed here.
  • ditto on the MXZ saw searches, which hit the same post.
  • the legions of teens who’ve been searching for guidance passing the manuverability portion of their driver’s test, which I blogged about in my discussion of parallel parking.
  • the person who searched for “dont go into journalism.” The post they hit was actually not about that at all. This is an example of a time where I wish I could directly respond to the person who was looking for serious career advice at the temple of Google. I’ll balance it out with the person who searched for “good things about journalist” and found me.
  • all the searches by people in pain looking for solace in my musings about the worst toothache ever. Usually these take the form of “toothache hurts brain” or “toothache worst pain.”
  • the person who could be my editor, for all he makes fun of my vocabulary, searching for “Like, you know, whatever” and landing on the post aptly named that. (And as an update, I am getting better at the like usage. But “whatever” is a hard word to quit. ;)

Random searches that keep popping up include…

  • people trying to translate bad language in Spanish, who hit the post where my sister replied with an explanation of a whole litany of Spanish insults for my knowledge.

  • people interested in “neat handwriting” or “beautiful handwriting” or some combination of those, which go back to my post about the world handwriting championship.
  • people looking for specific quotes by typing in the part they remember. I’d say this, by far, accounts for the most Google refers to my site. There isn’t one quote that outpaces any other, but there isn’t a day that goes by that at least one quote isn’t hit.

And now that I’ve brought all these topics back to the forefront, they’ll probably bring even more creepy, weird or funny searches my way. Whatever, it keeps me laughing. But seriously, who’s searching for information about me? That’s always going to freak me out.

The reality behind 10 newspaper myths

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

If you haven’t already read the 10 newspaper myths deconstructed post yet, do it now. (Via Journerdism.) There isn’t one point I disagree with, but there are several that kind of made a light go off in my head. Also a great link list at the end of the post for further reading.

Among the myths being propagated:

  • We pay for printed content. Reality: News content was always free
  • Newspapers need closed archives. Reality: Closed archives destroy access
  • People are stupid, Journalists are smart. Reality: The collective is smarter than you
  • The web is just a trend. No need to panic. Reality: Change or die
  • And half a dozen more good points.

‘Contradiction’ for young journalists

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

This article, Caught in Contradiction, at the AJR is worth reading if you’re a young journalist, teaching them, want to become one or just want to understand how young journalists think.

Even the article’s headline pretty much sums up my feelings. I realized, even in college, that I majored in something — newspaper journalism — that won’t exist in a decade. To a large extent “newspaper journalism” doesn’t even exist now. Luckily, I set myself up with broad and deep experience in student media and supplemented it by teaching myself Web design and every skill or program I could feasibly fit in my overburdened schedule.

To that end, I was kind of torn on what type of job to take when I graduated. I cast my net pretty wide and applied for different types of jobs at all levels of the news industry. And no one is more surprised than me that the job I took ended up being a pretty traditional role as an education beat reporter.

But I realize more than most of my peers, I think, that this is only one small step toward where I eventually see myself. I’m setting up a strong reporting foundation to support my future ambitions. Even if the news’paper’ industry would have me and support me for the next 40 or 50 years, I wouldn’t want to just be a beat reporter my whole career. There are too many other exciting things going on.

There is hope for me and others like me yet, so says Charlotte Observer Editor Rick Thames:

“They have a right to be impatient with us,” he says. “Our industry is slow to change, and it still doesn’t understand itself. There is so much off track that it must be frustrating to be in their shoes and wonder if we are ever going to see straight.”

But he accents the positive. “I’m concerned that young people don’t get the wrong idea about all the turmoil. Whether you work for a newspaper or Web site or something else, what we do is too important to the community to disappear. It won’t. If you enjoy journalism, there will always be a place.”

I’m not sure whether I agree with the prognosis given by the young Observer staffers. I don’t necessarily think newspapers are doomed. Though, I did laugh at the quote about blogs and entertainment features feeling “like the not-cool kids trying to force the cool kids to be their friends.” I can definitely relate to that feeling and haven’t quite known the words to express it, but that’s a pretty good approximation of my thoughts. The next quote in the article is true to my observations as well: “We’re so excited because we have discovered blogs and the ability to tell stories online with pictures. You want to know what my generation thinks? My generation laughs.”

I just think we’re dealing with a finicky generation that demands what it wants, when it wants, how it wants and where it wants it. That’s how we’ve been raised and what we’ve been conditioned to expect. Unfortunately, that’s who we have to sell the news to, not just as a product to produce and consume but for the civic reasons of an informed population. Ready or not, knowledgable or not, tuned-in to YouTube or to CNN and reading The New York Times or relying on Digg for the day’s news, these same kids, my peers, are the ones who will become the next Congressmen, the next business owners, the next teachers, and some day, even the president.

It’s not that we’re not interested in the news. We are! It’s that we’re not interested in sitting down and pouring over the paper with our morning coffee. We grabbed our grande low-fat carmel macchiato at Starbucks on the way to the gym before heading to work for a 10-hour day. We absorb much of our news in headlines and snippets. We want to be entertained and informed not preached at. It’s hard to capture someone who doesn’t sit still for 10 minutes a day and convince him to read the paper in the traditional sense. Not going to happen. It takes me a week to read a magazine because I read little bits at a time. Not that I’m not interested. There’s just so much else competing for my time. But when something compels me enough, I will sit down and take that 10 minutes to read a good, in-depth story or click through every single link on a story that I care about.

I agree with the assessments of the Observer staffers that newspapers need to take more risks. Risk-taking is so overhyped it’s almost cliche. But, I think if you want to grab people standing in line to buy the overpriced coffee at Starbucks, you have to surprise them. Catch them off guard and get them to pick up the paper. Do this routinely, and they’ll routinely come back.

And avoid being the not-cool-kid trying to befriend the cool kids. Don’t do something online or otherwise because there’s buzz around it. Do it because it enhances the story, because it helps get the point across in a different way. Don’t force it. But be willing to try and to fail a few times. Hell, let the younger staff members do this for you. Earlier this week I made a comment about a story I saw on some Web site to my editor, and I was caught off guard that he’d never heard of the site. Then he made a comment that I think puts it in perspective: “I don’t have to read it. That’s why I hire people like you, so we’re all reading different things.” Do that, and then get everyone together to brainstorm what they find.

I don’t have an answer to the stresses facing the industry today. I’m 21. I haven’t been alive as long as many people have been working in this business. Even as a young journalist at the fault line of both the media industry and my generation, I’m still waiting to see how it shakes out and offering my ideas and insight where I can help. Other than that, all I can do is offer my sincere hope that I am able to keep producing stories that matter. Because I don’t care if it’s ink on dead wood or a series of 1s and 0s, there are stories that will always have the need to be told.

Stater blog: Back to Biloxi

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

It’s worth mentioning, just because I haven’t yet, the Stater is blogging from Biloxi this week.

Check out the Back to Biloxi blog.

They have Stater reporters and a photographer down there updating and shooting. They also have other volunteers posting several updates a day.

For background: Last year several hundred KSU students went to Biloxi for spring break to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. Kent has kind of taken on this project as a major service program for the school, sending another delegation over winter break and this group now.

I think it’s most interesting to read the posts and see kind of a snapshot of what’s going through the individuals’ minds. It’s worth checking out. I like the idea of the temporary blog, too. There is no pressure to keep this up or need to. Use the blog as a standalone feature as you might any other project.

Last year, we did some blogging from Biloxi, but not this detailed or this much. Mostly, we threw a lot into the packages that came out the following week. We put out a special section with profiles on interesting people and several photo pages of the photographer’s favorite photos from the week as well as a blurb about their experiences. (There were probably half a dozen photogs on that trip last year documenting the sights.) I’m interested to see what they have planned for next week.

How do you play the print-edition stories online?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

It started out simple enough. I saw mention of the Connie Schultz article about Elizabeth Edwards and the front page of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

I haven’t been reading the PD as closely since I’m no longer in the region. I was never a huge PD fan anyway, preferring the more hometown feel of the Beacon. The Indy Star has pretty much replaced the time I used to spend reading the PD as my regional paper of choice. Makes sense since I’m now in an entirely different region.

But, seeing that Connie Schultz wrote that article made me want to read it. If only I could find it! And trust me, I tried.

You’d think the dominant story in your print edition would at least still be on the radar somewhere on your Web site, even at 9 p.m. But it wasn’t anywhere on the homepage of Cleveland.com. I even did a find on the page for “Edwards” to make sure I wasn’t overlooking it.

I found a photo gallery of photos from Edwards’ visit to Cleveland, including the one prominently displayed on the front page. But it had no link to the story. (A huge pet peeve of mine. Why would you not link to the story from the photo gallery? As with polls, I’ve already expressed interest in this topic. Make it easy for me to find out more. Yet many places omit that simple step.)

My next stop, figuring, OK it is late in the day, they’ve had a lot of news that bumped the story by now, was on the main news index page. No luck there either. Not even in the box labeled “TODAY’S PRINT EDITION NEWS.”

I did another find on that page to make sure my eyes weren’t just tired after working all day. I found Sam Fulwood’s column about the Edwards visit. I was hopeful that perhaps his story would have a “related links” section and, finally, I’d be able to read the actual story I wanted. No such luck. And no refer back to the photo gallery even.

You got me. I’m going to click on the “More from the Plain Dealer” link at the bottom of the print edition box and hope. A las, it is a hope quickly dashed. Presented with a laundry list of headlines, I opted to skip the skim and search for Edwards first. The only hit on that page was the photo of the day, which after clicking to enlarge presents me with links to other galleries, including the Edwards gallery on the front page.

I already established that was a dead end.

I decide to check the Local page, thinking well perhaps it landed there because Schultz is a columnist. Nope.

My next thought was opinion, except I didn’t readily see an opinion link in the menu at the top of the page. (Which strikes me as quite odd, since I would assume opinion is one of more highly read sections?)

Instead, I went for the Living & Travel section on a whim. Only here, with my handy find feature, did I finally find the story I began looking for half an hour ago. And even on this page, the day’s most prominently played story in the print edition plays about 10th fiddle to all the other content. You have to scroll a few folds down to find the headline “Elizabeth Edwards finds little rest — from media” topping a list of other stories. Finally.

Way to bury your star columnist and your centerpiece story in a place nobody would ever think to look.

But this does raise the question, how do you play your print-edition stories online?

Some papers, like the Lansing State Journal, will entirely bump the top print headlines from the index as news updates are fed. Still, you can find those headlines under the list of news updates by clicking on the News link in the menu.

The J&C has a separate section on the index page for Breaking News Updates (a term that, I’ll admit, bothers me. I prefer the less important sounding “news updates” or simply “latest headlines”). The rest of the front page is pretty static with the top stories of the day and story chat links and counts. Though, if you read both the print and the Web edition, you’ll notice that often the dominant story in each edition is different or the main photos aren’t the same. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s something I’ve noticed. Occasionally, when a story warrants it, one of the print edition stories are swapped out or bumped down in prominence. For example, when a big story is developing, it might bump the centerpiece story out of the number one slot. The developing story then gets timestamped and dominant play.

There are other ways to tackle this, of course. The Beacon, whose page sadly is still a relic from the days of uniformly boring Knight-Ridder homepages, puts its latest headlines at the top of the column and bumps the rest of the news to a spot further down but still readily accessible.

I’m sure there are as many different ways to handle this as there are newspapers. And there really isn’t a right way. But here’s my two cents, for what it matters:

You shouldn’t have to click more than one layer deep to find the day’s top print stories — no matter what. I don’t care how much the news has changed or what’s gone on in your community that day. Many of your visitors, yes, even at 9 p.m., are only going to hit your site once each day. They should be able to easily find and discern the top stories of the day. If it was important enough to land on the front of your paper that morning (and I’d even throw in the top stories on your local/metro page), the news value should hold another 24 hours. It’s still going to be important when I stop by that night. If it’s something that’s changed, then update the story or leave the link but add another to the new developments. Either way, leave your top stories in a spot that’s easy for your readers to find. Don’t make them think and search to find the most important news. Regardless how many Web updates you push through that day, I should be able to skim your site like I would the front page of the paper and know the biggest news of the day, then go from there.

QOTD: Progress always involves risks

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

I’ve heard this quote before, but had forgotten about it until I came across it tonight.

I consider it especially apt following my post earlier about the 70-year-old’s complaint. It’s something to chew on as everyone (and their mother) predicts the end of newspapers/civilization as we know it.

“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second and keep your foot on first.”
— Frederick B. Wilcox

Think about that.

You can’t have everything. You can’t keep doing what you’ve always done. That’s a given. But at the same time, how do you run toward the future without risking everything you’ve already established? Can you? Well, I guess it goes back to this quote:

“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.”
— Ray Bradbury

There’s an awful lot of jumping going on these days, and it seems there’s a million different ways to build those wings. We’ll see who flies and who falls in the end. I just hope I stay brave enough to make the leap even though I may not know which camp I fall in just yet.