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My new education beat blog at the J&C

Monday, February 16th, 2009

I started an education beat blog for the Journal & Courier in January.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. Two years in, I now feel I have a strong command of my beat. I also feel I can handle both my normal workload and the added work of the blog without diminishing my daily work. Even though I knew (and know) it is more work for me, it is something I think will improve my beat and my coverage. So in my annual review this year, I really pushed for it.

After some discussion with editors, showing examples of other education beat blogs and explaining my ideas, I got the go ahead to try. The first few weeks were just be me testing the waters. I’ve kept blogs before (obviously), but this is a bit different both for me and for the J&C. While we have a handful of staff blogs (mostly sports), we do not have any news reporters blogging. Until now.

Obviously, the test was “live” because it was through the Pluck system on jconline. (Pluck barely qualifies as a “blog” except in concept, but it is what we’re working with, and although it hinders easy access, I’ve decided it’s doable. I think.) But it wasn’t put on the staff blogs page or promoted in print until last week. The editors dropped it in a couple of the print “more online” refers. I highlighted it in a breakout on my weekly schools page. And in Sunday’s paper, I talk about it in a Q&A on the opinions page about my beat and new blog.

Q:Tell us about your new blog.
A: What gets printed in the newspaper is a fraction of what I report. Much of what happens never lands anywhere beyond my notebook. I wanted somewhere to put those items and other things that won’t make it into the J&C but that parents or teachers might be interested in knowing. I’m hoping it becomes a collaboration between me, publishing what I know so far, and readers, responding with their thoughts or even leads I don’t know about yet. Check out the School Notebook at jconline.com/blogs

I have no idea if anyone else has looked at it. No comments yet. But actually, I did get one reader who submitted a message to my profile with a story idea that I looked into and posted a blog post about. Then, when the Indiana House voted on the bill, I turned it into an A1 story. I would have learned the provision in the bill eventually, and did get notes about it a day after my initial blog post, but that person tipped me off a little earlier.

Basically, this is still very much in the experimental stage. I’m still trying to figure out both what to post, how often to post and when to post. I know there’s no magic formula. (Though, I have to say if I could replicate Kent Fischer‘s blog in Dallas here, I’d be pretty happy.)

So far, I’ve learned a few things:

  • It takes more time than I expected to write up a post, including appropriate links/files, etc. Since my regular workload remains the same, this is one of my hindrances.

  • But for those posts I later turn into a story or a brief for print, it reduces the time needed to write the pieces.
  • I have a long way to go to put this into my “routine.” For now, it’s more an afterthought than where I break news. (If it’s true breaking news, then I’m breaking it on the front homepage where more people will see it.) So far, my posts have come first thing in the morning, around lunch, when I’m waiting on a call back, when I’m done filing for the night … basically when the urge strikes.
  • I also need to figure out what to post/not post and make it regular. This is hard because my schedule is pretty unpredictable. However, I think if I started a few regular features, they would give me something to post even when news is slow. It would also make it harder for me to ignore the blog when I get busy, which has been a problem so far.

There are also a few brick walls I’ve hit that I’m working through:

  • Pluck, the social media program underlying all Gannett sites and which our staff blogs run through, is not at all user-friendly. Not for the blogger nor the reader. You can’t, for example, just write HTML code for a link or to make something bold/italic. You have to actually highlight and paste in your link using its form. This slows me down because I usually just write the HTML as I write the blog, without stopping. You also can’t just drop in a YouTube video or a google spreadsheet. It does let you upload some things, like images, but it’s very limited WYSIWYG. That makes it easy for a regular person to start a blog on the site. It makes it maddening for an experienced person.

  • There is no spell checker on the blog form. Since the posts don’t go through an editor, this is kind of an important feature. I have to spell check it in another program or site. Even the automatic spellcheck on Firefox doesn’t work on the site for some reason. I could write the post in another program, but then I have to go back in on the site and format the links/text.
  • There’s no easy way to point people to the blog. Pointing to a specific post is even more challenging. So far, what we’ve been doing is just referring people to the jconline.com/blogs directory. That works, OK. Except, then they have to find my blog (the second one listed for now). Then, even though the most recent three posts are listed, whatever they click takes them to the main page of the blog. And finally, from that page, they can actually click to read an entry. One entry at a time. I get that each of those are page views, but seriously, how many newspaper readers would follow three jumps for a 200-word story? I suspect even fewer will follow those jumps online.
  • Each post is its own page without context in reference to other posts. The main page is like a partial RSS feed: You see the first few sentences but have to click to see more. What’s more annoying, however, is that the posts themselves are standalone. You have to click to see them, then to see another one, you have to go back to the main page or click a recent post in the sidebar. There’s no “next” or “previous” and no way to see multiple posts on the same page. Again, this has to do with page views. But I tend to think ease of use will get someone to load more pages and stay longer, rather than get annoyed with an unwieldy, unintuitive interface.
  • Only the most recent 10 tags are shown. If you look in the sidebar, you can click on the most recent tags, but not any others. This is complicated for me because I want to make sure I’m using the same tags to make them useful. But it doesn’t recommend tags I’ve used in the past or have a list where I (or readers) can look specifically for that tag. This is a problem because I cover more than two dozen districts, with multiple schools. I want people to be able to find stories specific to their community. I haven’t figured out an easy way to do this yet.

Now that I’ve complained, here are a few things going OK:

  • The RSS feed seems pretty good. I would like some of the tracking and social media features feedburner (Google?) offers. But the feed works and includes — Thank you! — full posts.

  • I’ve been able to drop things on the blog before I could get the story out and also things I will never print. For example, the post about an anonymous $1,000 donation for impoverished kids and about schools continuing without power. I’m trying to limit these to things people might actually be interested in. I don’t want to bore the potential readers with process, but I do want to expose some of the things that spark my interest or might spark theirs.
  • It’s already prompted at least one story idea. See my comment above about the charter school bill. That is even before we’ve really started promoting it. As I start telling people on my beat about it and regularly promoting it on the schools page, in print, etc. I hope it will become more useful — for me and my readers.

I still have a long, long way to go to make this what I want. The blog is very much in its infancy. But so far, I’m already seeing the payoff, even if it sometimes come with the headaches. Unfortunately, many of the headaches are beyond my control. But where I can, I’m trying to come up with some other solutions/ideas to make it work.

Since I know some of my readers here are beat bloggers themselves, I’d be remiss not to end this post with this plea: What mistakes did you make that I should avoid, and what are your best tips?

Also, if you’re a beat blog follower: What posts get your attention? What could you do without? What would you want to read about your local schools/education?


I decided to take some time this morning before I go into work to come up with solutions to some of my complaints. Not ideal, by any means, but I think these will make it easier on my readers:

• I created a blog entry with every tag I’ve used so far and links to search for it. I will update that entry (dated to be the first entry in the blog) as more tags come into use. I also made a tinyurl for that entry (tinyurl.com/jcschooltags) and placed it in my “about me” section above the blog. Unfortunately, the profile section doesn’t let you actually create a link. So they’ll have to copy and paste it. I did put it as the top link in my “blog roll” — just under the most recent tags section.

• Until I come up with a better way to easily point people to the blog, I created a tinyurl to link people there: http://tinyurl.com/jcschoolnotebook

Follow-up: Fundamentals will always matter in journalism

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Last weekend, I posted about the advice Midwestern newspaper editors have for up-and-coming young journalists. Mindy McAdams did a much better job on summarizing in detail what it all means.

I just wanted to follow-up with a link to the executive editor of my paper’s take on that job fair and what she says you need to break in: The foundation of good journalism never changes.

From Julie Doll’s weekly column (emphasis mine):

But there also were students who wanted to write news or features. Others wanted to be photographers or page designers. And a growing group style themselves as multi-media — ready to go anywhere with a notebook, a video camera, a regular camera and a digital recorder and become a one-man reporting band for the Web, TV, the paper, you name it.

The skills and talents of the students varied — as is usually the case in these kinds of settings. Some colleges and universities are now more than a decade behind the technology curve that has changed not just how we report and publish news but how the world consumes it. Others offer Internet and multi-media, but separate it from traditional journalism classes. And a few understand that news in the 21st century isn’t about the format but the enterprise. They know the fundamentals of journalism — accuracy, ethics, credibility, reliability, good story-telling, and so on — don’t change when you move to a different media venue.

One of the questions that many of the students asked is what I look for in a newsroom staff member. I’m sure they thought the answer would have to do with Flash skills, blogging abilities or experience with page-design software. But even more important are those fundamentals.

I look first for journalists who are committed to being accurate and fair, who have a solid grasp of the English language and how to use it, and who are curious about the world around them.

Those are fundamentals that help ensure we produce news that serves the community and its readers. They are also fundamentals that should serve aspiring journalists well — even in these tumultuous times.

We don’t always, but I have to say on this we agree.

There will always be an audience for good stories, I hope…

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Nearly every news organization does an end-of-year wrap-up highlighting the biggest stories. Sometimes there are themes that ran throughout the year, such as on-going property tax delays here in Lafayette or the presidential elections. Sometimes these are single events, such as disaster-level floods or the J&C’s speller being crowned the national spelling champ.

Those are examples of stories I and other Journal & Courier reporters and photographers told in 2008. But they’re among the hundreds I had a part in and the thousands my peers helped collect and share with our community. They’re the Cliff Notes version of the daily newspaper and Web site that chronicled every day how our community changed last year.

But this week it wasn’t our end-of-year package that reminded me how important what we do is. It was the stories I got to tell and the people who let me into their lives to share a few moments, some of them tragic and some of them magical, with the rest of our community.

I’ve been struggling recently to find a direction professionally. Do I want to be a reporter forever? Do I want to do more online production? Is there a future in either? How can I write multiple stories a day to keep my byline count up but still learn more time-consuming multimedia skills? Which one should be my priority? What should I be doing that I’m not? How can I continue to grow? To have fun? All these and much more weighed on me as I worked too many 12-hour days and long nights in recent months and as I wrote my annual self-review last week.

For two years now (Jan. 15!), I’ve been covering education in Lafayette. I’ve told stories of which I’m really proud. But I’ve also sat through hundreds of school board meetings, most of them old news because I’d written the story ahead. The bonus is, I understand my beat and this community better than I thought possible when I arrived. That makes me able to find and tell deeper stories.

But to be honest, I’m a little sad to no longer be learning to be a reporter. I got an adrenaline rush from the fear of screwing up because that’s how you learn. For the most part, I have my “firsts” out of the way and enough confidence to attack even the stories where I feel uncomfortable. When I don’t know what I’m doing, I have a whole community here and on Twitter to fill me in with tips (and an even bigger army of critics to let me know when my immaturity shows). But I love learning new things, so I’ve been thinking about what I need to attack in 2009 to stay happy and relevant.

I’ve decided to focus on being a better story teller this year, in addition to other things. Part of that has been training myself to recognize the story in the news. This is obvious, of course, but it goes deeper for me.

I’ve always disliked covering fires, accidents, suspicious deaths and similar “breaking news” that is the bread and butter many reporters and photographers live for. It was never for me. Too gory, too unpredictable, too uncomfortable. But this week in particular, I’ve started to appreciate these things not as news so much as a story. Every house that burns holds memories, every accident has a cause and effect, and every death leaves a whole future of possibilities unfulfilled.

On Monday, I wrote about a small family diner gutted by fire. It had just opened in October. I also told the story of a small in-home day care being indirectly hurt by the recent factory layoffs in our community.

Tuesday night I drove to the home of the parents of a 26-year-old who was brutally murdered the day after Christmas. The suspect is one of his best, oldest friends — a man the parents told me was like a son to them. For two hours, in their dining room where photos of their son were plentiful and where his Christmas presents still sat stacked nearby, we talked about his life and legacy.

Wednesday I cut out early after two long days. But not before filing a story that included the voice of a woman who sought me out because she was so frustrated with a new law that will keep her relatives from voting on a tax increase that could cost them thousands of dollars.

Today, I covered a fire that gutted the childhood home of a man whose wife reportedly had just left him on Christmas.

This was a hard week for me, with hard stories to report and write. Maybe it’s the holidays that made all of these stories jump out to me in what would otherwise be briefs about fires and deaths and upcoming elections. Instead of a fire, I found hope dashed. Instead of an election to empower the populace, I found a portion being disenfranchised. Instead of a victim, I found a promising life cut short.

But I also got to share happy moments. Today, for instance, I got to meet the first two babies of 2009 in our county. Their whole lives and their parents lives are ahead of them. But already they’re quasi-famous in our community: Their first, and who knows last, 15 minutes of fame came in their first 15 hours of life.

This whole soliloquy isn’t about me. It’s about what we journalists do and why it’s important.

Every day, we take the raw material that is the news and we craft the story. Not only of the lives we meander into, the snapshots of our towns that we capture on film or in narrative, but also the story of a community. We keep the record of who lived and died, and more important who cared and why. We find the story in the board resolutions and the impact of the budget’s bottom line. There might not be an audience in local news for the lottery numbers or the latest out of Baghdad. But I have faith, and the stories I’ve told this week alone have reminded me, that there will always be readers and listeners and people who care about these lives, their triumphs and tragedies. There will always be an audience for good stories.

Maybe I am naive. Probably. I’m still a cub reporter who doesn’t know if newspapers will even survive to make a veteran out of me. But I believe what we do is important. So, while Rome may be burning around me, I’m going to do the one thing I have the power to do to help douse or hold off the flames. They may be in pictures or audio slide shows online or through graphics or written words printed on dead wood, but I’m going to find and tell good stories about and relevant to the people in my community. If we’re not doing that, what’s the point anyway?

I am alive and still employed

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

To answer the questions I have received in my e-mail from blog readers (I am humbled even to know I have regular enough readers to notice my absence): Yes, I am alive, and yes, I am still employed (for now, more on this later).

My apologies for my month-long absence here. My MacBook hard drive gave out (about a month to the day after my two-year warranty was up, how convenient?). I decided to start an experiment rather than immediately fix or replace it. I wanted to test whether I could survive my high-tech lifestyle sans personal computer.

Surprisingly, the answer was, for the most part, yes. A BlackBerry is a handy tool, and I suspect I’d have had even more success this past month with an iPhone or G1. But alas, other than my blog and a dip in Twittering (both of which I make a point of not doing on my computer at work) I survived. Unfortunately, as anyone who knows me well knows, those are kind of key elements of my digital persona. So I’d hesitate to call my month a success. But there were a few lessons. The one to take away, for me at least, is while most mobile news sites lack the depth of news available on their traditional counterpart, I was able to get most of the news I would want quickly just on my phone. And when I’m just looking for the headlines, I actually prefer the stripped down mobile version of my own paper’s site.

SO… back to my second point above: I am still employed.

As many of you know I do work for a Gannett newspaper. And as most of those reading this likely know, we will be suffering that same 10 percent payroll cut as the rest of the company’s newspapers. And while our newsroom has been spared cuts during my 22-month tenure here, we’ve been told not to expect the same fortune this time.

I don’t know how I feel about even blogging about this, especially since who will be in that 10 percent is undecided still and I know my bosses read this. I haven’t really blogged about cuts in the past. But this is the first time I’ve felt even a hint of “what if it’s me?” Still, I realize part of my mission for this blog is to tell the story of what it’s like to be a 20-something breaking into this industry. Part of that for me, for kids at other papers in my chain and in journalism jobs elsewhere is the reality that everything we’ve worked for so far could be taken away in one conversation and for no good reason.

So I’m going to tell you how I feel about the cuts:

I’m not scared. I’m not unafraid because I think my job is safe. I’m unafraid because I know even if it’s not, I’ll rebound. The truth is, I’ve been prepared for this news since I started. I’ve always felt a job at a newspaper was a precarious situation, even if I prepared myself as best I could by loading up on skills beyond writing and reporting. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the past week. It would suck, certainly, to be fired (err laid off?) from my first job. But as I told the other reporters when we got the note from the publisher in our inbox, “The only surprising thing about the layoffs is it took as long as it did to come.” One of my questions to the Gannett recruiter I first interviewed with a few years ago was about layoffs, and he was blunt they were a possibility. Unlike some of my older counterparts, I knew the volatility of the industry I was entering. I knew what I was getting in to and that it would likely bring me heart break. But it was worth it to do something I love.

Mentally, I am prepared to at any time have a tap on my shoulder saying thanks for your hard work, get out of here. In this cut or others that may inevitably follow. I almost think I’d feel better if it were me cut not one of those old-timers who have made a home and a career here. I am 23; many people my age haven’t even graduated college yet, while I have two years experience. I also have Web skills many don’t and the willingness and ability to learn pretty much anything. Not to mention, I have networked reasonably well, so I’d probably stand a better chance of finding a journalism job than someone who has been here longer, although I don’t think I’d like to have to compete against the thousands of other people being let go. And finally, I don’t have roots in this town beyond my job and friendships I’ve made, and I don’t have a family or a mortgage to worry about. Even the bills I have to pay every month, I could manage on minimum wage if I moved back in with my parents, which is a lot less embarrassing at 23 than 43. For those reasons, I’d be a logical choice to cut. Of our reporters, I would be the least personally hurt by the business move. But unfortunately, these things aren’t logical.

I work hard and already feel I carry the weight of more than one reporter. I’m also pretty sure I’m their lowest paid or among their lowest paid reporters. I also have contributed in other areas of the business, including helping develop new or better existing products to reach our community. In short, I think I’m an asset not a drag.

So the truth is, it’d be Gannett’s loss not mine. In short: Mentally, I’m prepared to be posting a plea here in a month to help me find a job. I hope it doesn’t come to that. But if it does, don’t feel bad. One of the great things about me is I’m an optimist. I know things will work out just fine. And it would take a lot more than a layoff to kill my desire to do good journalism.

Working for a newspaper is not a death sentence

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

I noticed a tweet from Jay Rosen earlier today that made my heart stop for a second. Though it wasn’t about me, it was something people said about me before I took my current job.

Jay Rosen tweet: Truth is, if we 'lost' a Jessica DaSilva to daily newspapers and she went that route, it would be worse for journalism at this point.

He’s talking about Jessica DaSilva. For those who don’t obsessively read journalism blogs or follow journalists on Twitter, here’s the short version: Jessica wrote a blog post about her experience being in the room when the editor at the paper where she is interning announced layoffs. That post drew a lot of scorn (most of it undeserved) from old-school journalists. Ryan Sholin called it, “The last stand of the curmudgeon class.”

I think I may be the last journalism blogger to mention this. Jay has posted about it on PressThink with a pretty great overview on the proceedings and the context of what it means in the larger scheme. Go read that if you take nothing else away from my post.

Here’s the thing about the tweet this afternoon that made me stop and reevaluate everything I’ve done the last year and a half. I work for a daily newspaper. But I don’t think I was “lost” to it. Though, some of my professors and maybe even some readers who know me only through these posts surely think that.

I remember during my job hunt one of my professors told me that a traditional journalism job would never cut it for me. He was right in many ways. And yet, here I am a few days shy of 18 months working as a beat reporter at a newspaper.

Last night, among other things, I picked up the police blotter, attended and covered two school board meetings and went to the scene of a shooting. On top of that, I picked up a story for A1 that didn’t break until 4:30 p.m.

That’s not a typical day in my job (is there such a thing as typical in journalism?) but it is a sampling of the things I and other reporters at newspapers do. We don’t just write for the deadwood edition. (For the curious, our a.m. and p.m. cops reporters are on vacation this week, so since I was on that night with school boards anyway, I took the cops shift.)

I am 22 and about as tech-savvy as an employer could possibly hope for their employee to be. And you know what? I LOVE my newspaper job. But I don’t love it because I am wedded to the idea of a printed product or because I long to wear fedoras or be Woodward and Bernstein or any of that. I don’t. I really really don’t. I rarely read the printed newspaper (my editor hates this), and I’d much rather be putting together an interactive graphic than sitting through a school board meeting.

But here’s the thing. Although it’s far more traditional a journalism job than I ever envisioned myself taking, I get to do most of the things I want to do. When I took this job I was upfront with everyone, including myself, that I wanted it to give me a solid base for whatever job I take next. I don’t expect or want to be a “newspaper reporter” forever. But I do believe no matter where I go, the skills I’m learning here are going to be invaluable.

That story that broke at 4:30? It came in via an e-mail tip. I actually “broke” the news about 4:40 p.m. I had quickly confirmed the gist of it and wrote two paragraphs to post immediately. Because the editors were in the daily budget meeting, I had another reporter read over it, and then I had a copy editor post it asap so I could begin chasing the sources who were leaving their offices at or before 5 p.m. After I reached those sources, I wrote into the online version and updated. When my editor got back he swapped it out and posted it in the No. 1 spot online.

I went to my board meetings armed with notebook and pen — AND a laptop, Internet card and my Blackberry. I continued to report and write during the meetings. On my drive between the two meetings? I made calls on the A1 story.

When I got back to the newsroom around 8:45 p.m., I made a few more calls and banged out the A1 story and then two more about the meetings I’d covered. All before the 10:30 print deadline. I made cop calls, and half-way down the 10-county list we heard a shooting over the scanner. I went there and called in a Web update from the scene.

That is a sampling of what “newspaper” reporters are expected to do today, at least at my newspaper.

So for those who say losing someone to a newspaper is a bad thing, I disagree. I think newspapers need people like myself and Jessica if there’s any hope at continuing to stay relevant. Journalism needs people willing to take on those additional tools and storytelling tasks.

For better or worse, many communities rely on the newspaper or at least its brand, whether it’s in print or online or on their phone, to get the news to them. At the second board meeting of the night, in a district that covers the second-largest geographic area in our state, one person from the public actually attended the full meeting beyond 10 minutes of student recognition. As busy as we are, our readers, our fellow citizens, are just as busy, and what they need is not for the best journalists to abandon them. They need us more than ever, even if they don’t know it.

Yes, citizen journalism has a role. In some communities it may even be a viable alternative to the daily journalism that “professionals” produce. But in many, my own included, it’s not. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

I consider myself pretty fortunate. If you’ve followed my blog at all during the past year and a half, you’d realize I’m not a traditional newspaper reporter. But then, I don’t work at a “traditional” newspaper. (And I’m not just giving lip-service to the corporate “Information Center” line.) My bosses have given me ample opportunities to express my opinion on where we’re at and where we are headed by inviting me, the youngest staffer in the newsroom, to the table in many of the discussions and decisions about our future. The editors here have really embraced the Internet and its power. And more than that, they realize their and the newspaper’s own inherent limitations.

I work for a newspaper. I also think Mindy McAdams is dead on: Future generations will not read newspapers. But they will need accurate, reliable news sources. And the skills I am learning working as a beat reporter are preparing me to be that source. It’s not perfect, for sure. Newspapers won’t ever regain their dominance. But I hate to see the best of the best being shooed away and told working for a newspaper is a death sentence. Trust me, journalism — democracy — needs those people not to flee too far from good old-fashioned community journalism and not to give up.

Your personal/professional identity in a small town

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

I can’t remember the last time I went out shopping or to eat or to the park without recognizing someone from my beat or having someone recognize me. When you get large crowds together, it’s even more likely to occur.

How do TV reporters and celebrities do it? I never want to go out in anything that doesn’t look nice or sans make-up or with my hair looking a little rough. It’s not that I’m vain, it’s that, even when I’m not working, I’m perceived by those people I run into as a reporter at the newspaper. You can’t really separate your personal and professional identity in a small town.

A long-time resident once summed up Lafayette to me as, “The largest small town you’ll ever live in.” He was right, which is why I can’t run to the gas station without running into someone I know — and I’ve only been here a year and a half; imagine how those reporters and editors who’ve lived here 20+ years must feel. I also don’t know how people in truly small towns handle it. In Tippecanoe County, where Lafayette is the largest city and county seat, there are about 150,000 people. That’s a pretty good number and still I run into people who know me everywhere I go.

I worked on Saturday a few weeks ago, and one of my assignments was to cover the Taste of Tippecanoe event downtown. My editor wanted me to work with the photographer so our stories matched up, which is fine. I’m pretty sure the photo intern who was on that evening was annoyed that every 10 minutes — quite literally from us walking in the gate and even on our walk back to the office — someone stopped to say hello to me.

Earlier that same day, I was sent to cover the Soap Box Derby here. As I was standing on the sideline waiting out a rain delay, one of the parents came up to me to chat. He was a school board member in one of our neighboring county, which I also cover. (Incidentally, I ran into one of the parents I interviewed at the derby later that day at the Taste, where she of course recognized me and said hello!)

One of my assignments as the reporter yesterday on July 4 was to go cover the big celebration in our county. There’s a concert and then the open intramural fields where families scope out spots hours in advance. Well, during the half-hour I was walking through the crowd there, I was recognized as the J&C education reporter by two different people. One of them, I recognized as a teacher I’d interviewed. The other one was someone I’ve never met; he not only recognized me, but he also complimented me on a story I wrote a few weeks back. So that was nice.

Earlier that afternoon, I’d been sent to a town about 40 minutes away in another county to cover a community softball tournament. When I got there, they weren’t playing so I went up to the guy dressed as an umpire. With his sunglasses and uniform on, and the fact that I was 40 minutes from “home,” I didn’t immediately place him. But as soon as I said, “Excuse me,” he said, “You look like Meranda.” And then I said, yes, and recognized who he was. He’s an administrator in one of my school districts in this county.

On Monday, my mom was in town and we went to breakfast at a little restaurant downtown that I’d only been to once before. As we’re sitting there, in walks the principal of one of my elementary schools.

Last week, I was at Borders, where I ran into a middle school teacher I’ve interviewed a few times and a couple recent high school graduates I’ve also talked to on occasion.

The week before, some friends met up at BW3s after work on Friday to celebrate some birthdays. As I was walking from my car, someone shouted my name. It was a school board member dropping off his kid at a shop nearby.

I guess it goes back to the adage about being a reporter that just living in a community is an inherent conflict of interest. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all — and in fact, I actually believe a good local reporter should live in her community so she has a vested interest in holding its leaders accountable — but it’s the reality.

Part of me finds it pretty annoying when I am having a bad hair day, or just a bad day, and I don’t feel like smiling and being cordial or talking about work. I know the teachers and administrators probably feel the same way, so that gives me some solace.

But to be honest, part of me loves that so many people know me and recognize me for my work. And plus, who doesn’t like to be remembered? And I’m always proud when it’s a complete stranger, because it means I’ve never made the effort to connect with this person but my work has. That’s pretty awesome.

I don’t mind being seen as the “face” of the newspaper to the community, which is part of the job as reporter. And really for all those hyperlocal buzzwords people throw around, that’s what it boils down to. Connecting with your community means being recognized as a member of that community, not just when you need information but all the time. Those chance encounters often give me tips and ideas, and even when they don’t, they give me credibility and memorability for the next time I do need information.

Day in the Life of Greater Lafayette, with a twist

Friday, June 20th, 2008

The whole “24 hours in Community X” project has almost become cliche. I still love these photo collections though. As long as you don’t overdue it, they can be awesome glimpses of the every day life the newspaper too often overlooks.

Today, the J&C is taking a spin with its own Day in the Life project. But with an awesome twist.

We’ve been putting call-outs in our paper all week to solicit our readers photos. And the reporters have all been in touch with their beat contacts and sources to ask THEM to participate as well. (I think the editors wanted us to find people who would definitely participate to “seed” the site and encourage others. It looks like it’s working because so far many of the photos submitted are from people who appear to be regular beat contacts.)

Not only are we soliciting our community’s pictures, we’re publishing them and our own photographers work side-by-side (sort of) in real time online: Check out the sweet timeline our online staff put together.

Day in the life project

If you look at the timeline above, you can see that the staff photographer’s photos appear across the top and the reader submitted ones along the bottom. Just a quick glimpse through the photos today and it appears our readers have already posted more than our own photogs. That’s awesome. Some of those photos include kids camps, the mayor and police chief getting ready, a video conference call with the founder of C-SPAN, blowing bubbles, creating crafts, etc. A few even highlight the obvious: Looking at the J&C’s Day in the Life project.

We’re also giving this huge play on the front of our site:

day in life project

In the carousel (don’t ask me — that’s what the three tabs with big photos that rotate are named in GO4) they’re swapping out the most recent updates about hourly. Those link back to the timeline above.

There’s also a link to the special project from our “In the Spotlight” promo section.

Finally, the photographers are keeping an ongoing “notebook” of their adventures. (We do similar reporter notebooks regularly to just collect the tid-bits of big events. So all that campaign coverage included stuff like what the candidate’s playlist was, who was spotted there, any unusual things — like banners hanging from buildings or elderly women ripping candidate signs — or whatever just doesn’t fit in the mainbar but is worth noting. My hunch has always been these are the most read parts of the story because they’re quick hits.)

Back to my point.

Not only is this a great example of involving your readers and using them to literally be your eyes and ears in the community, but it’s also a good example of Web first.

See, we WILL be publishing the best of what is gathered today in print (both from our photogs and our readers). And like these sections always do, it will take a week or two to pull together. It will get its own special section and all that traditional stuff.

But what makes this so cool is that this is happening real time. The day is being published live — today. I think we’ll probably gather more submissions as the day progresses and people see that other community members are participating.

Final thought: Have your papers done anything similar? What did you learn? Could you do this?