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Archive for the 'WTF' Category

A pun-filled story that was a bit too “well done”

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I meant to post on this weeks ago when this story first aired on the local TV station, but I got busy and forgot. I was reminded of it again today and since I’m off work today (I’m working Saturday and avoiding the newsroom so if there are any lay offs today there I’m not witness) I thought I’d share my ROTFLMAO moment now. It’s still funny.

The reason I want to share this is its over-the-top, pun-filled groan-inducing writing. I have never seen so many puns in one story before, waaay too many not to be intentional. And the reporter says them (you can watch the video) without even cracking a grin and acknowledging the absurdity.

The story is about how bakeries are coping with the economic downturn. A hint at what’s to come: The title is Bakeries rise in the recession. Subhead: Pastry chefs whipping up dollars.

At the risk of copyright infringement, I’m not going to copy and paste but instead link to the entire story. (For any professors/readers who come across this post after the story has been killed out of the system, I did save a copy if you’re interested it.)

But I am going to bold and bullet each of the bakery-related puns/cliches I could spot.

  • … one type of business is rising to the top
  • whip up dollars
  • … just scraping by
  • … earning money during the recession is frosting on the cake
  • … Quality takes the cake
  • … Creativity is O’Rear’s special spice
  • … is mixing it up
  • … share their secret success ingredient
  • … with a sour economy, there’s a demand for something sweet
  • … each cook up a variety

With the title and subhead, that amounts to a dozen (not a bakers dozen, but close) in one 340 word story. Check out the story and see if I missed any. And comment to tell me what you think. Am I overly critical? I realize it’s not a story about murder or anything, but just seems a bit silly to see a professional organization producing stuff like this.

I am bad at being on furlough

Monday, May 18th, 2009

I don’t know about other people, but being on furlough is hard for me. It’s not just the “uh, how will I pay my bills this month?” difficulty you’d expect. What’s harder for me is to be excommunicated from my colleagues and my daily routine. Even leaving town isn’t enough to make cutting off communication easy. Maybe it’s because this is an insanely busy time on the education beat, but it’s hard to walk away, not look back and genuinely not care for five days. Monday was day one of my second five-day furlough this year.

See, even though I’m not in the newsroom, or even in the city, I’m still following the news. I mean, as I said on Twitter in someone’s reply to me posting about some of the education news that broke today, “I can’t like, not, read news. One of the perks of what I do is I’m interested in it — not just in getting paid to be interested.” That is to say, I would have to step away from all media and people for a week to really not “work.” And that’s beyond a furlough, it’s punishment: Reading newspapers, magazines and Web sites is something I enjoy. Education is a topic I’m interested in reading about, or I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing about it. Plus, I process the world in a such a way that I see story ideas everywhere. I was talking to my mom about her job, and I commented, “Wow, that would be a great basis for a story: What’s the stupidest rule your company ever instituted?” (For the record, I’m pretty sure hers, which she is planning to leave, wins: They have to get a manager to sign off on each potty break!)

So today was a test of my ability to step away. … And I fail.

If I didn’t have computer access, it might be easier. But as I did, I wanted to check in at jconline and see what’s going on. It’s my community, and I’m interested in the news about it. Although some young journalists probably don’t feel this way, I’m not paid to be interested in the news where I live, I just am. I would read the paper/Web site where I live even if I didn’t work in local media. Plus, most of the education news was stuff I wrote last week. But there was one story following up an event I previewed. I posted a link to on Twitter because to me it’s interesting a community rallied behind laid off teachers to raise $98K to save some of their jobs. I’d be interested in that whether it was local or a few states away. It’s a cool story. Then, there was an announcement from the state superintendent about graduation rate incentives I was genuinely interested in because I knew it was coming. It’s a topic I’m interested in, so I’m going to read about it.

So, I was flipping through my RSS feeds, Twitter and my daily list of sites I visit out of habit this morning. And I came across a blog posting that said one of our local school superintendents was going to be hired by another district. This created a dilemma. No one else at the J&C would be reading that site to see that blog post. So, we’d almost certainly get scooped. In a normal week, I’d post that information and link to the blog from my schools beat blog. But that blog is off-limits this week. Part of me thought when I saw the posting, “Well serves them right for not paying me for a week!” But the bigger part of me said, it’s wrong to know and withhold that information and intentionally let us get scooped. Because even though I’m not working this week, people still associate our education coverage with me.

So, I forwarded the blog post to my editors from my personal e-mail and moved on with my day. Then, I got a curt note back saying not to have any further communication while on furlough. To be honest, that annoyed me. Would it be better had I not just forwarded them the note the same way I’d have forwarded it to anyone with an interest in it? Should I have forwarded it to my contact at the paper located in that city, because I am allowed to contact that person but not my own colleagues? Should I wait a week and a half until I return and it’s old news to say, oh yeah, by the way, I knew this was going to happen last week but I didn’t tell anyone.

I understand the purpose, I guess. They can’t call me. I can’t work. They feel like they’re following the letter of the law. Blah blah blah. Whatever.

But they’re ignoring the reality of the Web and the realities of this business.

For example, I posted the link to the blog post with a message on who was reporting it from my Twitter account. Does that constitute work? I think some of my followers would be interested in it. I pass on links to interesting stories, education and otherwise, nearly daily. But what if people I work with follow me on Twitter, which they do, or are friends on Facebook, which they are, and one happens to see my updates in their news feed. Are they breaking protocol? Am I??

Which is to say, what am I supposed to do with all the lines between work and my life that just blend?

I don’t consider my personal Twitter account work-related. I don’t want them to either. I was on Twitter before they’d heard about it. Any benefit the company gains from links I post or community interaction or sourcing or anything is purely tangential to my being there because I enjoy the conversations and community. Am I not supposed to post anything from the J&C this week because it might be construed as “work”?

And what about Facebook? Just today, I got a friend request from a colleague. Whether or not that person knew I was on furlough is irrelevant. Should I ignore it until I return next week? Should I accept it because, well, again, my Facebook persona is mine. But what if we happen to mention something related to work? Will I or they be in trouble?

And in reverse, what if someone I know to be on furlough contacts me through one of those channels, as has happened. Do I ignore their chat window? Do I block them on gmail from seeing my status? Do I not read their tweets? Do I skip over their facebook updates?

And what about my colleagues who are also my friends. My new roommate is a co-worker. My best friends in this city are, too. Is talking about work taboo? If I wasn’t out of town, would lunch or dinner together be off-limits? How far do you take this?

Also, I can’t, or rather don’t want to, shut off each of my dozens of google alerts that come to my personal e-mail account about the districts/cities/people I cover. It’s inconvenient. Plus, as I said above, I am interested in what’s happening here and in the topic I cover. Beyond work, It’s something I’m interested in following. I can, and did, put on an e-mail responder on my work e-mail and temporarily stop forwarding it to my blackberry. That was easy. But turning off everything else is more complicated and cumbersome to turn back on later.

And should I block jconline from my phone or any computer? It’s my natural compulsion when I am idle waiting on someone to check out the mobile site for news. It’s the natural site I start typing in the address bar when I sit at a computer. It just is.

All of this doesn’t even hit on the fact that, let’s be honest, if I came back from an 11-day absence without a clue as to what happened while I was gone, my boss would probably be pretty annoyed with me. (The furlough is just this week. But I’m off through next Tuesday because Memorial Day and then I’m working the following Saturday.)

I get the point of the furlough. Keep jobs, save money, blah blah. But it’s bad for the people left behind and it’s bad for those doing the leaving. I’m in Ohio now, then going to Florida for a week. But even that doesn’t make up for the guilt that I feel leaving behind all my work for colleagues to pick up. It sucks. I know it sucks because like all my co-workers, I’ve been helping pick up the slack since the first furloughs were announced earlier this year. I am glad to have job, which is what I tell everyone who asks how much it sucks (which is a surprisingly large number of people). Compared to the alternative, it’s great. But it’s hard to just really step away and not care. I do care. If I didn’t care, I would quit. Because, as I’ve said before, I don’t get paid enough to not believe in and enjoy what I do. And since I’m getting paid even less these days, the fact that I do — on most days — like what I do is one of the top incentives to stick with this and see this business through the rough days.

I’m going to try to be a better furloughed employee. I feel like Bart Simpson writing, “I will not have contact with co-workers while I am on furlough. I will not have contact with co-workers while I am on furlough. I will not…” But as such, I am wondering who will tell the features editor that I ran out of time last week to do the column that’s due this Friday and is supposed to run next Monday? All the news I had to chase last Friday, which kept me hours over when I wanted to leave, made me forgot to send her a note. So she’s going to be pretty upset when she looks for it Friday and it’s not there. But, I guess the right response, given my experience earlier today is just to say, even though it feels — and is — completely irresponsible, “oh well, it’s not my problem.” At least until next Wednesday when I get back. But, that’s the problem with a furlough. You can’t just dip in and dip out of this business. It doesn’t work that way, especially when your job and your life are all tangled up in the Web. I don’t make the rules. I’m just trying to get the hang of following them.

Why page jumps online are annoying, counterproductive

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I knew it was coming. And yet this weekend, when I pulled up one of my stories and saw it was split into two pages, I was still annoyed.

I read enough newspaper Web sites to have noticed over the past several months a trend was spreading among the other Gannett papers using the corporate template. Specifically, those GO4 sites now (or if they don’t already, will) sport a “Next Page” link at the bottom, just above the comments.

page jump example

I would be annoyed by this anyway because it requires more work on my (the reader’s) part. It also tends to have the same effect on me as on John Gruber: I must have some weird strain of dyslexia. Whenever I see a link named “Next Page”, I think it says “Stop Reading and Close This Tab”. As a writer, I’m bothered that beyond about 350 words now my stories will likely not be read. In print, we have limits on how many stories can jump from a section front because they say research shows people don’t follow the jumps. I’ve already been working on tighter writing, but sometimes it takes more than 350 words (~ 10-12 inches) to make a point. And usually the stories that flow longer are the most important stories we write — the enterprise we work hard to nail.

Why would they follow the jump online when the pages take quite awhile to load because they are bogged down with so many ads, scripts, images, etc. Who wants to reload all that junk three times for information they may (I hope do) or may not find useful? For example, I ran a story I wrote today about money saved through field trip cut backs through a page load test. It timed out! But take a look (here is a PDF of the test in case that link is broken) at how much it loaded before that time out. It was 30.1 seconds and 80 objects in before it gave up. That’s an individual single story without any comments on it. The home page has much more going on, and when you have multiple pages of comments on a story, that adds to the load time as well. I have a cable connection and it still takes awhile to load. I can’t imagine how some of our users still on dial up or who have DSL at best suffer through the load times. But I can guess: They don’t.

Here’s what makes this move even sillier than I’ve already pointed out: The entire story is loaded on each of the pages. So, they’re adding a few extra elements and seconds but not even trimming the extra crap that doesn’t appear on that page.

Now for the disclaimer. I do like to be paid. I understand there is a relationship between ads displayed and money made. So, I guess this is a gimmick to get more page views and inflate page counts. But there comes a point where that is counterproductive. And I think the sites, already teetering on that ledge, didn’t need this shove. (I have an ad blocker at home anyway. See my past discussion on what Web site “feature” pushed me over the edge on that.) I have also come to terms with that reasoning being the same as why my stories appear juxtaposed against “after hours” galleries of bar-hopping snapshots. Actually, I haven’t come to terms with that either, but it’s a discussion for another day.

To be truthful, I’d less annoyed if there was a “single page” option available, ala the NYTimes. That is beside hitting print to see it all displayed in one fluid block, which was my workaround. …

Was my workaround until I posted my annoyance about the page jumps on Twitter and found a new hero: Matt Busse. He pointed me to a script he created that puts the whole story on one page. So it turns out the fact that all the story is loaded in one page is a good thing. It meant this script was possible.

I was also told, but haven’t tested, that turning off javascript will have the same effect. Though that likely affects other elements too, but it would probably cut significantly the load time.

So that’s my solution for now. Unfortunately, it isn’t something that will get widespread use, and it’s not exactly something the sites will publicize. So my real solution will just be to try and keep every story I write within 350-400 words to try and avoid annoying readers with a page jump. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will be challenging for me and mean some important information or anecdotes don’t make the cut. And, it will be counterproductive to displaying ads. So we lose in the end anyway.

When tracking productivity reduces it

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

What if every evening, at the end of a long day, you had to email your boss and your boss’s peers/bosses an outline of everything you did that day. When you got in. When and who you called. Who you talked to. Who you left voicemails for. What you talked about. What records you looked up. What records request got denied. When you checked your e-mail. When you sat around waiting for an interview to start because they were running late. When your story fell through and why. When you got pulled in on another story. When you talked to your editor. When you updated this productivity report. When you realized this was a waste of time.

Well, I made the last one up. But the rest of it is what reporters at the South Bend Tribune now have to do, every day. I came across this in a memo posted on Romenesko. (Yeah, I know I said I quit reading. But it’s like a train wreck. You can’t help rubbernecking sometimes.)

This is targeted foremost to all reporters, who would send a daily e-mail the last thing before they leave for the day (or at the latest, the very first thing – 8 a.m. – the next day). These e-mails would go not only to your most immediate editor but to at least five editors, including me. This daily e-mail would lay out specifically what you accomplished that day, what you need to finish or follow up on the next day, and what you plan to do that next day. We mean everything, from the most mundane county council advance to the beginning interview in the most ambitious investigation that may or may not see the light of day (or publication). It also would allow you to bring up any other communication you need to share. From there, yes, your editor will be able to tell how busy you were, but more importantly, he or she will know your accomplishments and your struggles. From that, our morning planning meetings can be even more efficient.

I can understand that given fewer staff members, it’s critical that those left behind are maximizing their time. I get that. Honestly, I could understand the editors of the paper wanting this report kept for a week. It would give them a baseline of productivity. That way they could assess who is doing what, how efficiently, and then maybe reorganize or reassign or whatever to make the best use of time.

A week’s record, actually, could be helpful for the individual employee to see his or her own time dumps as well. I, for one, know I am most efficient at reporting probably from about 9:30-11:30 a.m. and about 1-5 p.m. This is partially because I typically start around 10 a.m., and because I usually file copy for tomorrow beginning around 4 p.m. And I’ve found reaching people at lunch is a crapshoot. So that’s when I try to do administrative things, return e-mails, write briefs, eat lunch, etc. I know that about myself. I plan my day around that. Time management isn’t necessarily my strong point, but I don’t think spending MORE time writing about how I spent every minute of my day will make it better.

It’s not that I have a problem with the editors wanting to communicate with their reporters. It’s that I feel like this is an exercise in wasting their time. It seems to me that having your reporters take a significant amount of time to log and write up everything they did each day and then having five editors read over every one of those reports will negate any efficiency you hoped to gain. In fact, adding more work that doesn’t contribute to a more robust online or print product seems to be a loss of productivity. The opposite of what I take is the intended effect.

My editor doesn’t need to spend an hour every morning reading over every minute of my and other reporters’ previous day. Seriously?! He has better things to worry about. You know how he knows what we’re doing or how we get answers to our questions: We talk. He walks over to our desk or we walk over to his, or we send an iChat or an e-mail. Can you check on this for tomorrow? Is that update ready for online? How much longer on that story? But mostly, he worries about his own job. He helps us but trusts us to do our job. He’s not a baby sitter, and he shouldn’t have to be.

The only upside I could see to the memo is it would keep the staff honest. Maybe I didn’t need to go across the street and get a soda? Maybe I shouldn’t have spent five minutes talking about how much furloughs suck with the copy desk? But if I’m producing enough stories and they are good, why shouldn’t I be able to take a five-minute break?

I’m not against tracking productivity, per se. The editors do track our byline count. They don’t tell us these numbers, or even what our target should be. It varies from reporter to reporter, beat to beat, month to month. When we’re low, we do get notes telling us that. But for the most part, it’s just something we’re semi-aware exists. Not something we’re obsessing about, every minute, of every day. I have my own issues with the counts, but at least it doesn’t waste my time to track it.

Reporters here do keep daily/weekly budgets. It outlines what I’m working on today, what I’m planning to file and when I have specific interviews/meetings/events. This helps my editor know where I’ll be and when to expect my stories. It tells him not only when I’m busy but also when something can bump to another day so I can be pulled in on something else. It seems to be a before the fact planning budget is a lot more helpful than an after the fact accounting of my every task. Some days are just slower than others, and some days look like the ridiculously detailed example report in the memo.

(UPDATE: We interrupt this post to point out a hilarious take on this required memo by William Hartnett: I will now share with you an example of my daily productivity summary so that you may better understand my accomplishments and struggles)

I know my paper is about half the size of South Bend’s, which itself isn’t that big. We have about 10 local reporters under my editor, plus a couple in features and in sports. But if you’re an editor, whether you have 1 or 100 reporters, do you really need to micromanage your staff’s every minute? Is it really the best use of editors’ time to have five of them reading dozens of these memos every morning? Seems to me — and I’m still practically a rookie, I know — they have better things to do, like update the Web site or put out the paper.

Overheard in the Newsroom provides a needed laugh

Monday, January 19th, 2009

OK, let’s break from bemoaning the state of journalism to enjoy one of its less serious and unreported aspects: The stupid things WE say in the newsroom.

I can’t believe this didn’t already exist, but I’m thankful someone has now blessed the Internet with Overheard in the Newsroom. A spot where those “only in a newsroom” ROFLMAO comments can be commemorated and shared with all.

Actually, this stuff does exist, in notebooks and files and quote boards (OK, so maybe that was just the Daily Kent Stater?). In fact, I think most newsrooms have someone who unofficially keeps these things on file, because sometimes you just need a laugh. My own Twitter account documents some of the funniest moments I overhear in my office. But the only people who see that are the 400 or so who follow me, and they have to put up with a lot of other tweets to get the good stuff.

Anyway, here are a few of the funnies from this new site:

Reporter 1: Chess release … I mean press release. There should be chess releases.
Reporter 2: Totally. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Knight to f4

Reporter starting her shift: “No one died on that plane. So why is it still on TV?”

And finally, I’m pretty sure I’ve said the same or very similar things working late cops shifts:

“If anyone’s gonna die tonight, I hope they do it before 10:30 p.m.”

In college, I used to keep the Overheard at KSU blog, which was similar to this one but about my campus. But then I graduated. And since I was no longer at Kent State to overhear anything or promote the site, it kind of died. But at least there are some funny comments preserved in time.

Here are a few overheard in the newsroom moments I quickly found skimming my own Twitter feed:

1.) Perils of listening to scanner: Reprtr1, “Did you hear explosion?” Ed, “I heard missing child.” Me, joking, “I thought they said landslide.”

2.) Scanner traffic among school bus drivers: “Watch out for the Yahoos, Deb.” Reply: “Don’t you want to just run over them sometimes?” lol

3.) Oh, PHI helicopter down in Romney. Engine failure. No injuries, just transport their patient to hospital. … I called police to get location, the first thing dispatcher says when I say my name: “It sounds worse than it is”

4.) Here’s something funny: Just got a call from sheriff’s dept asking if I still have/can send them a press release they sent yesterday. Lol.

5.) My editor just asked me if I “have a green card” because I’ve never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas. He said that’s un-American.

A few laughs at stuff journalists like

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

On a lighter note. During my month hiatus, across my Twitterfeed came a site worth sharing with you all, or at least those who haven’t already laughed at it.

Stuff journalists like. It’s brilliant, and for the most part spot on. I’m surprised it took so long to come to existence. It’s in the same tongue-in-cheek vein as Stuff White People Like, which sadly is also pretty funny. And we could all use a few laughs these days.

A few of my personal favorites from SJL and an excerpt from the posts:

  • Readers’ feedback — I don’t necessarily agree with nasty comments being validation of my work. But I did laugh about the fact that many audience members tend to be “experts” on whatever you’re reporting and relish any opportunity to point out a flaw, even when they’re dead wrong:

    Journalists like nothing more than to stagger back into the newsroom in the morning, not more than six hours after leaving the night before, to get an email from a reader on the difference between straitjacket vs. straight jacket – for the record both are correct. Four five years of higher education can’t even begin to compare to the infinite value of the feedback journalists get back from their loyal readers.

  • “The Wire” — No seriously, if you haven’t already fallen in love with this show, go rent a few episodes. It’s fantastic.:

    [A]s good as seasons one through four are, it is season five that journalists really love. Going inside the Baltimore Sun’s newsroom for season five, reporters feel smug hearing terms like “main art,” “double truck,” or “below the fold.” Journalist like telling their non-journalists friends what these words mean, and that they really use those terms in their own newsroom.

  • Twittering — Sad, but true. Though in my case, my co-workers like making fun of Twittering much more than I actually like it. I’m just sayin':

    Seeing their work, be it ever so brief, releases that chemical in every journalist’s brain that ensures them they are ahead of 99 percent of the world when it comes to reporting on the presidential debate, hurricane or community bake sale.

If I had to throw my own in there, I’d probably add, “complaining about other journalists” to the mix, especially about those working in another medium in your market. Maybe it’s not complaining so much as feeling superior to them, even if you have no reason other than that you can. At least, I assume this is something all journalists do, certainly it’s been my experience, but I’m young. Others I’d add to my list: Google, reverse phone look-up, charticles, election night and databases/Excel. To my more tongue-in-cheek list: conference calls, press conferences and man on the street interviews.

What’s on your list?

Updated: Where’s the RNC coverage in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press?

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

My managing editor brought up a good point today. If you were the paper of record in a city where the nation’s eyes are focused for the week, wouldn’t you think the focus of that attention would merit a mention on your front page?

Now, because I’m not in St. Paul, Minn., I haven’t physically procured a copy of the Pioneer Press in print today. But I’m hoping, given their more than prominent online coverage, that this (below) is not the actual or I guess only front page they had today.

Pioneer Press sans RNC front page
(Via Newseum)

My guess, when Henry (my M.E.) brought it up was maybe they had a wrap or special section on the outside. Though, he pointed out, the barcode is still on this page, and from what I can tell, they’re labeling this the A-section. I thought about perhaps there being more coverage inside, except, if you were going to bury it inside you would at least refer to it out front, right?

So I’m left confused, and hoping I’m just missing something, as to why the dominant story is written by New York Times reporters out of New Orleans when national news is being made in your backyard. It’d seem to me most papers would lead with the arrests or the speeches or the chaos or the celebration or some local angle.

The other paper of record in the Twin Cities, the Star Tribune, as Poynter noted in its round-up of front pages today, went large with the convention.

Can anyone in St. Paul share some insight? Is the only mention on the front page of this paper of the Republic National Convention really a teeny refer to submit your video online at the bottom of the page?

(I took a look at their Front Page PDFs on the Pioneer Press Web site, and while it looks disorganized in general, there doesn’t appear to be any indication there was another front, and it does label this front page as the A1 section.)

UPDATE:

Steve Mullis has answered my question and provided a photo of the actual front page/RNC section. I had originally put this question out on Twitter but no one could answer it, so I’m glad the blog worked. And I’m even more glad to see they didn’t ignore this story.

Pioneer Press actual RNC front page