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Archive for December 30th, 2007

10 steps to become a wired journalist

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

If you haven’t yet stumbled on Howard Owens’ post about how “non-wired” journalists can get wired in ’08, do so now. A very succinct list of reasonable objectives ANYONE can accomplish.

A brief synopsis of what you’ll need: a camera (with video); an SMS-enabled cell phone (do they make ones that aren’t?); a twitter, Flickr, YouTube, del.icio.us, MySpace, Facebook, digg, etc. account; a passion that you can stand to read about, write about and that won’t interfere with your beat/day job; the ability to use Google to look up unfamiliar terms like RSS and mashup. Oh yeah, and an open mind.

All local fronts; even the big dawgs are doing it these days

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

I saw this post about the Cleveland Plain Dealer shifting to all local fronts.

That both surprises and excites me.

While I always respected the journalism the PD did, it was never my paper of choice. I favored the Akron Beacon Journal because it felt more like “my” paper. Even though I realized it was a metro — not as major as the PD, but a pretty respectable size — it also wasn’t afraid to be Akron’s community paper. That “community” mission was not a vibe I ever got reading the PD. (And not just because Akron wasn’t their community — they laid claim to all of NE Ohio — but it was just their approach. I don’t know how to explain it. It almost felt like it was trying to be something it wasn’t, at least to me.)

Either way, I never felt a “connection” with the PD. That’s why I still read Ohio.com almost daily, but I can’t remember the last time I stopped in at Cleveland.com. I still gleefully pick up the Beacon every time I’m home. The PD? Not so much.

I’m glad to see the PD embracing the hyper-local, which is what newspapers are best at providing and the one thing readers can’t get anywhere else.

For me? I like that we nearly always run all-local fronts. We do run occasional stories from the GNS Washington bureau, but specific to Indiana and often with further localization added. When a national story breaks, it’s online during the day, and if it’s big enough, we follow-up with something local for the paper. Sometimes, on major issues of national importance, we’ll run a charticle version of the wire story with some quick hit points: news, impact, reaction — all held to the cover for maximum readability.

Recently, I read a post with the idea that we should abolish the idea of the A-section being considered the “most important” and yet stuffed with national wire stories that many people have already read, seen or heard before the paper lands on their stoop in favor of pushing more local stories.

I don’t know where I stand on that one, but it’s something to ponder. I both agree that it’s silly to fill our papers with national wire copy many people have already read, but I also think there’s a place for that there. Lots of people haven’t heard, or they saw it on TV and want more than the sound-bite version. I know, it’s growing increasingly less necessary with the Internet, etc., but I do think we should fill that need as much as possible as well.

On the other hand, there is so much news every day — and the amount is only growing — that it’s overwhelming to many people. It’s easy to become apathetic when you try and keep track of everything. Newspapers have always done the job of filtering down a list of most important or I guess, “If you don’t pay any other attention to the national news, these are things you should probably know” stories that occupy a few pages in the paper. To charge a premium on the ads to accompany those stories, I do agree, is disingenuous because their importance continues to dwindle, but I’m not ready to throw out all the national wire stories. They still serve a purpose.

I usually read the paper “Front page, Opinions page (inside A), back of A (jump from front), Local cover, Local inside, glance at Biz…” I’m not the typical news consumer, but notice I still spend the most time with the local news. I also read a lot more news than most people and more frequently. I skip national wire in the paper because I’ve already read or seen most of that news elsewhere. State wire I’m more apt to at least glance through in print, but we run that in our local section not our A-section. This is also assuming I read in print, which I do probably 4/7 days a week. Otherwise online, it’s top 10 slots, local news beyond those stories and then opinions. And that’s about where it ends.

As for getting more local content? I couldn’t agree more. Though I’m not sure where the man-power for that will come from. I don’t believe the “we’re doing more with less” garbage. No, something’s got to give. I digress. Something I’ve come to love here in Lafayette, for better or worse, is that people read what we write. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at a meeting, event, whatever and heard the phrase “Well I read in the newspaper that…” And as much as people will complain about us not covering this or doing too much on that, they read it. They talk about it. Months later, people still remember me from “that column you wrote about moving to Lafayette.” Last week, I was at one of the schools attending a parent booster club meeting. One of the mothers, whom I’d used to illustrate a story on parent involvement the week prior and who’d had her picture on A1, told me everyone commented on it to her. She said she was even stopped by a total stranger in Wal-Mart to talk about it.

People want to feel connected to their communities. The New York Times isn’t going to write about the fire that took the families Christmas presents away in a town smaller than my elementary school. But that’s all those townspeople are talking about for weeks. The Washington Post isn’t going to write about your local standout basketball player signing with a university. But when you stop in the school and ask what’s going on, that’s the first thing anyone will mention.

I know we hear a lot about the demise of foreign reporting. I don’t necessarily disagree. But I do think that newspapers like the PD do a better service to local communities by writing about what they know best: their own people and places. If you have more resources devoted to local reporting, you’ll find more people with stories to tell. It’s bound to happen. And those are the ones people clip out and paste up in their scrapbook to keep forever. That’s the kind of news people want anyway.

(Also this post’s title is a reference to the “Dawg pound“, i.e. the Browns, in Cleveland. Get it? It occurred to me most people wouldn’t. So I wanted to point that out. lol.)