about this sitesee Meranda's resumesee clips and work sampleskeep in touch

Archive for November, 2007

Weighing anonymous sources

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

I just realized that tomorrow will mark a first for me. Not necessarily a good first either.

In a sidebar to a front-page story, my name will be on a story that bears an anonymous source. Not wholly anonymous — her first name and her relationship to a student at one of the schools is with it — but still anonymous to nearly everyone but me and the school all the same.

It has weighed on me much of the week. I cringe when I read newspapers and magazines that quote “a spokesman at the institute” or “a high level legislative aid” or whatever. And I turn down people who “don’t want to be quoted” several times a week because I can’t and won’t offer anonymity. So it was with unease that I even bridged the topic with my editor.

When I first talked to the woman, I wasn’t even sure I would use her. I seriously considered just not including it, just not even telling my editors I’d talked to her. I was prepared for my editors to say no, and that would be that and understandably so. She wouldn’t be part of my story at all.

But as I tried to find other sources who “would do,” the reality set in. Her ordeal was something we haven’t talked about before precisely because we haven’t had someone who went through it. It is something everyone wants to know about, something everyone is scared of and her family’s experience is something they all could learn from — and hopefully they will.

Man, I feel like there is so much weight riding on those seven inches. It’s crazy. I mean, tomorrow’s paper will be laid out tonight, printed and delivered by morning. By this time tomorrow it will be old news. Chances are, readers won’t blink an eye. But for me, this is a huge issue.

I trust my reporting. And I really do think the anonymity was the proper way to present it, for the child’s sake. I think Jan, my ethics prof, would be proud of how much I seriously thought this through. More than it probably deserves. But then, it’s my reputation and my paper’s credibility on the line when we choose to “protect the identity” of a source.

(And if I’m being vague, forgive me. I don’t talk about the specific stories I work on or my sources because I think that’s murky water. But this was an ethical inner-dilemma I felt I should document and learn from.)

QOTD: Journalism can never be silent …

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

“Journalism can never be silent: That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”
— Henry Anatole Grunwald

Shooting my (future) self in the foot with ad blocks?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

I am a horrible person. No really.

I understand the economics of newspaper publishing. I understand that the number of inches in my story is at the least indirectly related to the number of ads our reps can sell. I know that though we’re certainly not making a killing with our online advertising, anything we can do to draw more visitors’ eyeballs is much appreciated by our ad staff, who can hawk those page views to the highest bidder.

I don’t dwell on these things, but I do know they pay my salary, however meager it may seem. (It’s really not that low.)

And yet, I am a horrible person.

Why? Because the addition of one more set of ads was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The in-text Vibrant Media ads (featured on, or rather within, news stories here, here, and here, to name a few) has pushed me to a place I’d long considered but held off on precisely because I know the the indirect correlation between these ads and my financial bottom line and therefore to my future.

But I couldn’t take it anymore. I put up an ad blocker on Firefox that means I’ll never see green again. Or at least, not until those pesky advertisers figure out a new way to annoy, err trick, me into seeing their wares.

There’s a lengthy Wall Street Journal story from Tuesday and shorter Business Week article this week discussing the green in-text ads that drove me to the ad blocker.

For an interesting take on this trend, read this blog post, which details the issue at the Indy Star. The comments are particularly interesting. He also has a follow-up post that’s equally worth your time. From the follow-up:

When online (Big Corporate Media) opts for the short-term revenue bump that these kinds of ads promise to provide, they’re being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Annoying readers is not a good way to increase traffic over the long run. Undermining the credibility of the news they provide diminishes the only product news organizations have to offer. And bilking advertisers with borderline click-fraud doesn’t seem likely to appeal to those advertisers in the long run either.

And all this says nothing of the ethics, which Paul Conley has more than beat dead in posts deriding the practice among B2B publishers.

For me, I’m less concerned about how these in-text ads might influence editorial copy (at least here, I’m confident the answer is it won’t). I am deeply concerned, however, with how this will impact the user experience.

First, it is annoying. It annoys and frustrates me when I highlight a paragraph and end up with a box blocking half the text I want to read or when an ad forces me to interact with it to shut off annoying sounds, animation or to get it out of my way. Though I surely spend more time with news Web sites than the average consumer, I also have a higher tolerance for these ads precisely because of what I said in my introduction, these pay my salary and salaries of my peers. I can’t imagine an annoyed reader is a happy reader, and unhappy readers will likely move on to another site that is less annoying.

Second, not all readers can tell the difference between these advertiser links and intentional links endorsed by the writer/news organization. Sure a green link with a double underline is obviously not the norm for a link, and the blue box does clearly indicate advertisement. But it’s still misleading. This also leaves out the potential for actual meaningful in-copy links, a la NYTimes linking to archived stories on major news topics or companies.

All of this isn’t to say advertising doesn’t have its place. It obviously does, both from my selfish desire to be paid to the need for businesses to reach customers and for consumers to find the items and services they need and want.

Online, I’m a huge fan of the Google text ads precisely because they are unobtrusive and usually relevant, neither of which the Vibrant Media ads can claim. I also don’t mind banner ads that fit in their rightful place, so to speak, stripped across the top, bottom or side of the page — as long as they don’t talk to me without asking first or send me into near seizures. To be honest, even video pre-roll ads and those splash-screen ads that jump up between links I click and stories I want to read don’t bother me, as long as they’re infrequent (maybe one per five or more stories?), and the larger display and captive audience on that page are probably more effective anyway.

I do wonder whether my turning to ad blocking programs is an ominous sign and yet another unneeded hurdle for newspapers to jump in the new media game. It’s so simple to do, why shouldn’t Web users install these ad blockers? If you annoy them enough or push them to their limits, they will.

It took about one minute for me to find the appropriate extension to nix the offending ads. I didn’t want to, but for my sanity — both as an annoyed reader and writer — I had to do it.

For my future? I hope the Internet and I, or more importantly other users, can come to some sort of understanding whereby advertisements and tolerance for them can peacefully and profitably co-exist. I just don’t think these in-text ads help that cause. If anything, they are giving it the middle finger.

What brick walls are good for

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

I hadn’t heard about this before, but stumbled on it recently and spent an hour listening to Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

Pausch is a highly respected scholar in computer engineering/virtual reality, but he has terminal cancer and was given a few months to live. Seriously, his lecture about achieving your childhood dreams and basically how to live your life is worth listening to for anyone.

Here’s a story about the lecture from earlier this fall in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Here’s a short Wall Street Journal video story to give you a quick snynopsis of the lecture and its point:

The full video, I caught in 10-minute snippets on YouTube, but you can read the transcript, learn more about him or watch it in entirety at the Carnegie Mellon site.

There were a few lessons in particular that struck me from his lecture, but this one was my favorite:

“Brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. Brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it bad enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Ponder that the next time you come upon something that seems impossible or really, really to the point of “is it even worth the effort?” hard. The next time you have an assignment or story you just can’t nail down, plug on and press harder. Prove every person who ever said you can’t, or doubted you would, do something wrong.

Why the rush to move on?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

I went home this weekend to Akron for Thanksgiving. I’m working Christmas, so I don’t know when I’ll be home next, but likely not this year.

Good thing. It seemed everyone I talked to asked when I was coming home (as in, moving back to Ohio) or when I was moving on (as in, how long do you think you’ll actually stay at the paper? are you looking for another job yet?).

Woah, back up everybody.

I haven’t even been in my position a year. I’ve only just gotten familiar enough to not mapquest every place I need to be. I finally know the different school boards members and temperaments and the 30-some principals in this county by name and sight — and they know me! And I actually understand the issues (OK, most many? of the issues) driving things happening today.

I’m finally comfortable with where I fit in and what I should and can do here. And already, everybody wants to know what my next move is?

Why the rush?

As I was explaining to one of my friends (also a j-school grad) when we met up this weekend, I don’t really know for certain what my next move will be or even when. But now is definitely too soon. There’s still much for me to learn here. But as I always intended (yet apparently didn’t articulate well to anyone back home?), I’m going to play it by ear. I’ll just know when it’s time or when something too good to pass up comes along. I mean, sheesh! I started here on Martin Luther King Day. That’s mid-January, folks. As in, it hasn’t even been a year since graduation let alone starting my job. I’m still recovering from my last job hunt, and you all are ready to see what I’ll do next?

It kind of freaks me out how universal everyone’s assumption was that I am biding my time until I find something else. I’m not. Trust me. I wouldn’t have taken a job for that purpose. I didn’t. Yes, it’s Indiana. (But the city and people and paper are nice.) Yes, it’s only about 40,000 circulation. (But the push is for enterprise, and I’m being given opportunities I’d never get anywhere else, especially not at a larger organization.) Yes, it’s six hours from home, and nearly all my best friends are scattered far, far away. (This sucks, trust me I just got in from that drive and am not looking forward to an eight hour shift tonight coming off it, but I needed to move away and prove to myself I could.) But get this, I like it. As I told my grandma when the topic came up, I’m doing exactly what I thought I’d be doing and most of what I hoped I’d get to do — and more.

So everybody, calm down. I’m 22. Think about that. At a minimum, I’ll be working the next 50 years. I have plenty of time to see what’s out there. But in order to do whatever that “next” is well, I need a strong foundation. To get that, I need to take the time to develop and not rush and stumble along just because of others’ expectations for me.

QOTD: Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

“Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”
— Horace Greeley

QOTD: Journalism is literature in a hurry

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.”
— Matthew Arnold