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Archive for the 'Ideas' Category

Like PostSecret for journalists

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Who hasn’t wanted to scream about some ridiculous rule or moronic mantra at their organization? Or to tell their bosses what they are asking is inconsistent or, maybe even, impossible? Or just vent about the idiot who makes more money for half the work? You get the idea.

Now you can let it all out. And no, it’s not by creating a blog. (Because if your purpose behind creating a blog is to vent about your co-workers, you likely won’t have much to vent about for long. … I’m just sayin’.)

Meet your new homepage: AngryJournalist.com.

Think of it like PostSecret for journalists. You can drop your own anonymous confession or just listen in on others, even respond with your own nod of agreement if you want.

Even if you have nothing to complain about now, you can still muse over the agony or shared misery of some of your journalistic compatriots as they vent. In much the same way Twitter asks “What are you doing?” This site asks, “Why are you angry today?” (Actually, bonus, you can even follow the updates on Twitter.)

Here are 10 of my favs so far. (FYI: I may or may not agree with the sentiments.)

  • Angry Journalist #11:
    There’s too many boring things to cover to even get to the more interesting stories, and I think I lost my wallet.

  • Angry Journalist #26:
    Editors thinking they can do too much with not enough resources.

  • Angry Journalist #35:
    Living with, working with, and beings friends with only journalists in a city to which you are not native and having to talk about journalism all day and fearing that it’s become your only way to relate (and not relate) to people.

  • Angry Journalist #63:
    I have to reference the fact that the world is round.

  • Angry Journalist #76:
    because my job makes the world worse… Thats not what I was aiming for when I started ten year ago..

  • Angry Journalist #109:
    not having time to do everything.

  • Angry Journalist #126:
    I’m angry that my journalism department at a mid-level public university is staffed with tenured, unmovable dinosaur professors who haven’t sniffed a newsroom or written an article on deadline in more than 15 years. They don’t surf the Web for news, don’t know what an RSS feed is, have never handled a video camera and aren’t prepared to teach youngsters what they need to enter the very tight job market competitively. How can this change? Should j-schools move to more instructors and guest lecturers (local professionals in news who’d teach at night)? Should more money and focus be pored into the school’s student newspaper, where the real learning happens?

  • Angry Journalist #132:
    I’m angry because 80% of my newsroom is occupied by lazy, fat-asses that depend on faxed or emailed press-releases rather than actually leaving the office to get a story. The only productive thing they do is bring in cookies and other crap so I can get a sugar high that will keep me going since I had to miss lunch for the third day in a row.

  • Angry Journalist #134:
    I’m angry that incompetence is tolerated for no other reason than the editors are afraid to admit they made a mistake.

  • Angry Journalist #149:
    I’m angry that my staff wants me to hold their hand for everything and I am tired.

    There also seem to be a lot of journalists angry about Britney Spears being (not) newsworthy and yet everywhere, case in point:

  • Angry Journalist #85:
    I am angry at America. I am angry that we have become so comfortably numb, that we only care about what Britney’s doing, whatever soundbite made on CNN. I hate that we are so introspective, and that our media has become so self-reflective.
    The world exists, goddamnit.
    The world exists.

    And these kind of sum it up:

  • Angry Journalist #48:
    I’m angry that this many journalists are just bitter.

  • Angry Journalist #94:
    I hate that all we do is sit and whine about what we hate and that we don’t have the balls to stand up and try to change what we hate.

  • Angry Journalist #142:
    I’m angry because the only other viable option is apathy.

    Yes I read them all, only a few hundred, mostly short, so far. You can see them all in one page here.

    Thanks to Julie for pointing out this fabulous site via Twitter yesterday and to Kiyoshi Martinez for creating it — genius.

    Final thought, however… and this may just be the optimist in me as I know it’s “cool” to hate your job and complain about the industry and all … but perhaps we should create a counter site to this? Ask, “Why are you happy today?” I can think of a few entries for that one as easily as the other. I can’t be alone.

  • Starting a “personal” Web site: Just do it

    Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

    I posted a discussion at the Get wired, get hired group at Wired Journalists in reference to today’s Ask the Recruiter question.

    Basically, a 20-something reporter is building his new media arsenal and wants to create a “personal” professional Web site. He’s worried, however, about how this would be received by his bosses.

    Joe Grimm’s advice in nutshell? Sometimes, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. But tread lightly.

    I started Meranda Writes at the perfect time, I suppose. I was the editor of the student newspaper. There weren’t really any “bosses” to fret about. (Though I did get a lecture from the adviser about being careful not to talk about my sources. Duh.) But the truth is, I wanted my potential bosses to see the site to get a feel for who I was and what I was capable of doing. When I sent out resumes, under my contact information was the URL. When I e-mailed cover letters, I pointed editors to the site for more clips.

    When I came to my current job, nobody told me of any policies regarding personal Web sites or blogs. I read the employee handbook and didn’t see anything even remotely pertinent. I spent the first week or so wondering how to bring it up to ease my conscience, even though I was 99 percent sure they had — at least someone? — come across it before hiring me. We soon had a newsroom ethics training session, but blogs didn’t come up. So I talked to the executive editor about it and discussed what’s cool and not cool to post. I don’t think she cared nearly as much as I did, but it was important to me that I have at least some quasi-go-ahead to continue. (In truth, I think my site was a part of the package deal they got when they hired me.)

    I don’t know what would have happened if they’d stumbled on the site without warning. Nothing, I suppose. I would have been hiding in plain sight, a Google search away from “discovery.” Though I sometimes reference projects we’ve completed or stories I’m particularly proud of, it’s not like I blog about the latest office or town gossip. I don’t vent about my co-workers, bosses or beat. I like my job so I don’t really have much reason to do so.

    I don’t know for certain, but from my site stats, I don’t believe my bosses or co-workers are active readers. They hear enough of me buzzing about Twitter and Facebook in real life they probably don’t want to read about it, too. My blog is actually the punchline to an on-going local staff joke. The imagined blog is much funnier than the one I actually keep. Either way, this site is not a secret. I have always been conscious of the fact that what I write is archived by Google and as available to my co-workers and sources as to anyone else.

    I’ve actually fielded this question — “What was the boss’s reaction to your site?” — from at least a half-dozen other reporters who e-mailed me after stumbling on Meranda Writes. They all wanted to start their own sites but fear of reprisal held them back. Some of them did go on to create sites. Some never may.

    My advice is the same as what Joe Grimm is handing out: proceed with caution, tell your bosses about it later. Personally? I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that didn’t see the value in having “wired” employees interested in extending their new media skills. Fortunately, I don’t.

    Following locals on Twitter

    Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

    I just saw a tweet from a follower on Twitter worth sharing with you. Note, this guy is a member of my community. I do not know him, but he randomly found my twitter a week ago and started following me so I started following him to see if there’s anything interesting.

    His comment tonight? (I’d link, but they’re protected.)

    “interesting spin to twitter when you follow local people.”

    My reply? Agreed.

    One day, I happened into a coffee shop while reporting a story and ran into a person I’d never met but who I knew from Twitter.

    In fact, I just watched another local person micro-blog a focus group that I helped set up for my paper. I didn’t know he was part of the group until I saw the first post and put 2+2 together.

    It’s very weird to follow a focus group that I’ll get a full report on later from the eyes, or hands I suppose, of a participant. Here’s his wrap-up/summation of what came from the group of college kids:

    focus group done. I would say college students want: 1. local, local, local 2. simple 3. wiki calendar of local events 4. to kill flash ads

    I’m not surprised by that, and wish the summary I get would be so concise.

    My question to you: Who at your organization is watching the tweets of your citizens? Who are your citizens following?

    I think I may seek out a few more locals to follow because it’s definitely interesting.

    Not just “another weather story”

    Friday, January 18th, 2008

    Raise your hand if you hate writing weather stories.

    I don’t know what it’s like in other regions, but in the Midwest, at least the parts I’ve lived in, it’s hot in the summer, which is about July-September, and it’s cold, well, the rest of the year. I hate the cold as much as the next guy. (I do like wearing sweaters though.) I also hate the summer heat. (Dude, I live on the second floor of an old house lacking a/c.) Sometimes I think, can’t we have a mix of overcast and sunny, high near 72 all year, kthnx.

    But, then, I do like variety, which we definitely get. We get spring showers (and floods) and winter blizzards (and freezing rain) and summer days topping 100 degrees on occasion. Because I was raised in this climate, however, it’s normal for me to wake up freezing and go to bed burning up or vice versa. I don’t find it that weird to see snow and t-shirts in the same week. It hasn’t even gotten cold enough for me yet to pull out my wool winter coat.

    That makes writing about the weather seem all the worse. It’s like writing about traffic lights changing colors. Everyone knows it’s going to happen, and they can kind of figure out for themselves what comes next.

    But it seems like every time you’re set to expect anything more than a dusting or a drizzle, it’s time for a weather story. And when a snow storm hits or the heat bests the average, it’s time to dust off those coping tips and talk to someone about snow shoveling pitfalls or hit up the local pool. Or the photogs favorite: Weather photo galleries and feature art.

    Just today, when talking over my assignments for Sunday morning, the frigid weather was mentioned as something to watch. Cue an internal eye roll.

    So here’s my next question, this one’s for the readers. How many of you hate reading weather stories?

    I don’t think there’s a solution. I mean, weather is the old standby universal experience. When there’s nothing in common to discuss, you can always talk about the weather.

    That said, I’ve decided I’m going to temper my eye roll over this necessary evil and instead resolve to take a cue from today’s IndyStar, where I just stumbled upon this entertaining topper to an otherwise routine weather story:

    Call the Indiana battle between seasonably cool and downright cold the meteorological version of a legendary George Foreman-Muhammad Ali fight.

    The cool air is like Foreman, slugging away until exhausted. The cold air is like Ali, playing the rope-a-dope until it’s time to score the knockout.

    This weekend should give the decisive weather boxing victory to the cold. The National Weather Service predicts Saturday night’s lows around 3 degrees below zero, the coldest in Indianapolis since minus-6 on Feb. 16, 2007.

    There will be purists who will say it’s showing off and doesn’t help tell the story better or get to the point until the third graph. Yeah I noticed that, too.

    Yet, I applaud the writer for taking the time not to roll his eyes and then write “another weather story.”

    But I’m still not writing anything more than a “what to expect today” web update about the weekend weather unless it causes some type of havoc. I have some pride.

    Don’t dismiss good journalists who don’t ‘get’ online just yet

    Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

    There’s been an awful lot of discussion of late, at least on the blogs I read, about whether you can — or should — teach journalists to be online journalists.

    In one corner, we have those saying it can’t be done and shouldn’t. In the other, they contend it can and should be attempted at least. (And on and on. Read the comments on the posts, which are as enlightening as the posts themselves.)

    Where do I stand? I’m torn. Though I find myself aligning with the cans and shoulds.

    On one hand, I am the go-getter, I-want-to-know-more-faster type. On the other, I still see a role for the reluctant journalist. I’m also an optimist. I think you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, as long as they aren’t afraid to come out and play (even if it takes a shove to get them out there in the first place.)

    Personally, just about everything I know about computers was learned by tinkering around. I taught myself HTML, CSS and everything that follows. I learned how layers work in Photoshop and how to edit audio with audacity without taking a formal class. I spent hours with my legs crossed and MacBook on my lap trying to figure out the movie editing functions the first time I used the software. The list goes on.

    When I wanted to know, I sought out the answers or solutions. The very first tag of HTML I learned was the font tag because I wanted to make my comments stand out in the then HTML-based chat room (yeah that tells you how old-school I am). Then, I learned to put up images with my chats. Then I learned about links. Then, I learned about things like body and title and how to take all those other tags I learned and work them together into a .html site. Later on, I learned about tables and frames (yes, God help me, but I was the freaking QUEEN of frames). Eventually, I stumbled on CSS. The rest is well, history.

    There are three things to note about my informal education in Web design/new media:

    1. I taught myself everything through a little bit of searching and a lot of guess and check/trial and error.

    2. Each thing I learned built upon things I had previously taught myself.
    3. I taught myself on a need to know basis.

    That last item is the most important, though many would contend the first is. When I wanted to know how to make my chat stand out, I asked around and then looked up the font tags. When frames were all the rage (and they once were, trust me I was there), I actually used the AOL homepage creator to build a site with frames and then analyzed the code to figure out how it worked and changed so I could build my own from scratch. And later, when I wanted to know how to add layers so I could provide absolute positioning on my layouts and abandon frames? I spent weeks designing the perfect site and then figuring out how to get CSS to cooperate as it was supposed to (this was before most browsers were CSS friendly).

    Everything I learned was because I reached a level where I wanted to try something new that I didn’t know how to do before, but that I knew was possible because I had seen or heard of other people doing it.

    I think the same thing can be applied to journalism, especially online journalism. You look at other awesome packages or blogs or micro-sites or whatever it is you want to do and you see how they are doing it, what you like and what you don’t. This leads you down the road to your own possibilities. The thought process follows something like this:

    They did it.
    So that means it’s possible to do. Right?
    I wonder if it would work here.
    How did they do it?
    Is that the best way or is anyone else doing it differently?
    What is the best method to achieve what we want?
    Well, that didn’t work.
    OK, that’s better.
    Still needs tweaked, but let’s go with it.
    That wasn’t so hard.
    Holy s— it worked.
    What else can we do with this?

    In short, I think what it comes down to is the same thing that makes a good journalist: You have to be curious and You have to be brave enough to follow that curiosity.

    On one hand, you have to have that inner “I want to try that” instinct, which makes you want to spend time analyzing video clips to see what works and what doesn’t, what left you in awe and what made you yawn. You have to be willing to take time to interact with different flash packages to understand how they work (or why they don’t) as a user before you ever sit down to compile your own. It’s like the writer who proclaims he isn’t a reader. It’s a waste of time. How can you be good at something when your exposure to the best of it is limited? I think you need something to aspire to and something to rise above. If that makes sense.

    On the other hand, you have to have the courage to try and fail. This is the part that I think holds back many of those “dinosaurs.” When you’ve been doing something the same way for so long, it’s scary to be a beginner. You also have more to lose. If I, one year out of college, take on a new job or task and realize “This blows” I have less to lose than if I’d wagered my whole career on taking that chance. If that also makes sense.

    I have so much yet to learn about all of these things. I’m not waiting for training, but I wouldn’t pass any up that was offered. I’m just waiting for an opportunity to teach myself.

    I am very much a part of the Web culture. Nobody taught it to me, I’m just innately interested. But I know some damn good journalists who aren’t. They’ll come around, or I think, likely self-select themselves out when they realize they aren’t swimming in the same direction. I really don’t think they need to be forced out by my generation. I think we need them now more than ever to rein us in and show us what good journalism is. And we can repay them by teaching them about blogs and twitter and del.ico.us and YouTube and RSS feeds and everything that will one day be obsolete.

    Do I think everyone is going to be as motivated as I am? Absolutely not. But their motivation might be different. Maybe they’re really hungry to dig into crime statistics or to tear through the city budget looking for extravagance? Maybe they’re a photojournalist or reporter honestly looking to report on the human condition and just tell the story of this time and place. I think those things are just as important as being willing to sit for hours trying to figure out why your video isn’t encoding properly or how to narrow down an hour long talk into a two-minute podcast. Should we likewise say to all these aspiring online journalists who would rather die than cover City Council that we have no room for you in our news organization? No. There is a place and a need for both sets. They can complement and learn from each other. And to some extent, as with my covering the education beat, they can even be one in the same. Someday, they all may be. We’re not there yet. I think that’s OK.

    There is and will always be a place in this business for those journalists who have a desire to find and tell good stories. As demands on journalists grow, in fact, they will be the only ones for whom there is room.

    But just because some of them aren’t the ones chomping at the bits to delve into new media doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as a lost cause. At least offer them the chance to prove you wrong. I’m not an advocate of forcing anything down someone’s throat. But reluctance or fear are not good enough reasons for a good journalist to be turned away. Hell, I’ve been afraid of and reluctant to do more stories than I’d like to admit. And each time I got over my fear. Each time, I became a little more confident, a little more comfortable. Should I have been fired because I wasn’t comfortable writing about a child molester? Should my boss have reassigned me when I didn’t know what to look for at my first bank robbery? The amazing thing about journalism, the thing that probably more than anything attracted me to this field, is every day is a learning experience. Why is online journalism any different? Sometimes the only way to learn is to jump in, and sometimes it takes a shove to get you to try something you end up loving. You never know if you give up on even trying.

    Midday media traffic spike?

    Saturday, January 5th, 2008

    The NYTimes has a story today about how media outlets are dealing with a new trend: People “video snacking” at their desks at lunch.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon I haven’t heard of before. Though, apparently several newspapers and TV stations, as well as big online ventures like Yahoo/AOL, are responding to this increased noontime demand for fresh video.

    The midday spike in Web traffic is not a new phenomenon, but media companies have started responding in a meaningful way over the last year. They are creating new shows, timing the posts to coincide with hunger pangs. And they are rejiggering the way they sell advertising online, recognizing that noontime programs can command a premium.

    In 2007, a growing number of local television stations, including WNCN in Raleigh, N.C., and WCMH in Columbus, Ohio, began producing noon programming exclusively for the Web. Among newspapers, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., and The Ventura County Star in California started posting videos at lunchtime that have young journalists as hosts and are meant to appeal to 18- to 34-year-old audiences.

    The trend has swept across large as well as small independent sites. Yahoo’s daily best-of-the-Web segment, called The 9 and sponsored by Pepsi, is produced every morning in time for lunch. At MyDamnChannel.com, a showcase for offbeat videos, programmers have been instructed to promote new videos around noon, right when the two-hour traffic spike starts.

    I was unaware of this jump. Granted, reporters/newsroom staff here are only sent the basic stats report e-mail for each day. So I don’t know the exact numbers for each hour. But our traffic very clearly seems to spike around 8/9 and then again at the end of the work day. I’ll have to look back through a few days when I’m at work again to see if this midday trend holds true here. If it does though, it begs the question of whether we should and how we should cater to that demand? And if it doesn’t, it still leaves open the question of whether we could compete for this attention, and of course, how.

    The first reporter at my paper starts posting around 6 a.m. daily (8 a.m. weekends — but both shifts seem ungodly early when you’re the one on them), and throughout the day local and state, and sometimes big national, stories are posted. On bigger news, the No. 1 slot or the No. 5 slot (that is the top slot w/a photo or the top slot sans photo) will get swapped out or updated and timestamped breaking news. Often, those stories are among the most read. After the 4 o’clock meeting each night, they post a PM Update with four or five teasers for the top stories in tomorrow’s paper. That is also usually well read.

    But if there’s a group of people or even a growing appetite for a noontime video/news bite, it’s worth considering what type of demand that is (seems from the NYTimes story that lighter fare is popular) and then how to cater to it. (Wow, so many food cliches.) Here’s some very preliminary ideas I have off the top of my head, or as Carl (former prof/Stater adviser) used to say: I’m thinking out loud here…

    • A noontime round up of odd news off the wire. These are generally short, and pulling out three or so each day would probably be a cinch. People like weird stories. If you want this to be video, grab one of your more camera friendly staffers and get him or her to quickly tell the stories. Throw in a few stock photos/screen grabs/whatever for effect if you want.

    • A midday news synopsis with very brief (think news tickerish) bits about the stories we’re working on or even the biggest national stories — with links to more details for any stories that are already posted, of course, even if it’s a link to CNN. This could easily be paired with a noon-time 2-minute newscast. I don’t think you need glitzy here, down and dirty headlines could suffice.
    • Maybe like our PM Update a Midday Update. Promote the top stories, video, galleries, forums, whatever on your site to let other people know what their peers are reading. Kind of, “Here’s what’s generating the biggest buzz on (your site).”
    • Get an employee who’s always finding cool stuff online (there has to be at least one) to do a round-up of stories, videos, Web sites, whatever people are talking about online today. Maybe it’s just a quick round-up of the top stories on other sites, like YouTube’s most popular item or whatever is out there on Digg or just whatever cool or crazy news/fun item he or she stumbles on that day. This would probably work best as a blog that you promote or cross-post at noon each day. I’m thinking kind of an “in case you missed it” blog. Something along the lines of Clicked over at MSNBC, with a dash of USA Today’s On Deadline or a more focused version of Pop URLs. I could spend hours following all those links. The benefit of doing this locally (instead of Clicked, etc.) would be it would focus the local audience on the same items. Fostering that communal experience, “Did you see…?”, and community conversation on the comments.

    I’m sure there are plenty of other more innovative and effective ways to capture that noontime media consumer. Those are just some initial thoughts. I’ll have to look around to see if anyone out there has come up with some cool ideas. If you know of one, pass it my way.

    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.