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Archive for the 'Twitter' Category

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.

Lessons from the “Twitter Trial”

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Ron Sylvester recently covered a murder trial in 140 character bursts for Kansas.com. His experience provides lessons for other mainstream media outlets hoping to leverage this utility.

From his post when he just started what he dubbed the “Twitter trial”:

Yes, it’s the same as Intro to Journalism. Know your audience; get it right. But in this delivery system it’s live, and it’s fast. I keep reminding myself, I can’t cut corners. Good journalism should shoot for high standars, even in bits of 140 characters at a time.

And at a limit of 140-character, Twitter forces you to write tight.

The audience comments (and interview for the American Bar Association!) show how this was received: Well.

Sylvester has posted some great advice, which anyone considering twitter for live coverage should read.

Among his points:

  • The feedback from the “audience” was great. They were refreshing throughout the day, even those who couldn’t be there or follow the events in the paper.

  • It was a learning process and not without some screw ups. But he corrected them mid-stream and nobody complained about the typos.
  • Twitter isn’t fail-safe. Some of the most dramatic parts of the trial happened during twitter down times.
  • His twitter stream became his notebook. People will read 80 inches worth of 140-character paragraphs in this form, BUT the next day’s story had to be tightened. Writing the next-day story was easier when he already had it outlined.
  • Other technology was also in play — photos & audio were edited on the fly on the laptop to be posted.

I had a few chances to use twitter on a trial run myself this winter/spring for campaign events. Nothing officially sanctioned, as his was, but more a test for myself. I wrote about it and posted some of those updates in my post about live-blogging Bill Clinton’s visit. I used it more as an aside to my real reporting, because I wasn’t just microblogging, I was live-blogging for our Web site. But I know I was getting referrals from followers to other followers during it, and I gained a half dozen or more people with each twitter live event.

I wrote a column last month actually about my personal use of Twitter. (We have a rotating View From Here column for newsroom staffers.) Then, at the next school board meeting, the new school board member — whom I’d only previously spoken to on the phone — came up and introduced himself. Then he asked me if I was “going to twitter this meeting?”

For the record, I’ve yet to twitter a school board meeting — except during some excruciatingly long ones or particularly interesting tid-bits that pop-up. I’m not sure a school board has the same type of high-interest as the Bill Clinton visit or a capital murder trial.

I continue to think Twitter is a great platform for exactly what Sylvester was doing. I like the idea of embedding widgets into the main site rather than forcing users to understand Twitter and how to sign up, follow, etc.

For more interesting things MSM outlets are using Twitter for, check out my discussion at Wired Journalists: How is your news org using twitter?.

18 online updates and one story for Tuesday’s deadwood edition

Monday, March 24th, 2008

If you know Indiana, you know we’re usually fly-over territory for presidential candidates.

That’s why, when we heard late Friday that not only was Hillary Clinton’s campaign coming to Indiana, but Lafayette was going to host her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, we became, to quote my editor describing me and another reporter, “Giddy.”

I was in college in Ohio during the last election. So I have seen several presidential hopefuls in person. But tonight was the first time I’ve been in the same room as anyone who ever commanded this country.

Let me say this, the experience was intense. But not because of what he said or the 3,000+ crowd in the gym, another gym and the school auditorium. It was intense because of my assignment.

The only story I wrote for tomorrow’s paper was a look at the preparations the high school underwent and the excitement from the students. That makes sense, since I’m the education reporter and all. I headed to the school at lunch and talked to the principal and some students. I came back and wrote an online version of the story to kind of give a feel during the day of the atmosphere. Then, before 3 p.m., I’d filed that story for print and moved on.

Today was also a big day on my beat, so I worked a little on another MAJOR story on my beat that will go online early tomorrow morning, followed with a more in-depth story for Wednesday print. The Adequate Yearly Progress results — basically, whether a school is failing or not under NCLB — were released with a 10 a.m. Tuesday embargo.

I was also, throughout the day, talking to the campaign, the schools, etc. checking on information we were hearing and answering questions our readers asked. Lining up logistics with my editor, other reporters and photographers.

And then, at 4 p.m., it was time to really tackle my assignment: Updates from the scene throughout the night. That was three hours before doors opened and four hours and 40 minutes before Clinton took the stage.

All told, I sent my editor 18 updates from my laptop at the scene. I know because I counted the number of e-mails when all was said and done, and I could finally breathe.

my updates e-mailed to my editor

I had started them with subjects, “Clinton update #1,” “Clinton update #2,” etc. By number 11, I’d lost track. That was also about the time he actually arrived. My subjects became: Clinton arrives, clinton iraq, clinton economy, clinton education, etc.

Some of the updates were detailed narratives, describing the crowd, the atmosphere and talking to people lined up. Some were just a short synopsis of where it stood: Police chief says Clinton left previous stop, expected by 8:30.

I adapted my method in the middle. I wasn’t looking at jconline throughout the event, so I didn’t really know how my editor was playing what I submitted. I was trying to get my next update reported and keep the information fresh. There were a few other reporters in the crowd as the event start approached, and they were also there helping catch some color from the lines and feeding it to me to send in with my updates. By about 7:30, I just started typing them with time stamps and then jumping in with what I was hearing and what was occurring. This, as it turns out, was a pretty efficient way of writing the event backwards, much like a twitter stream.

Actually, at the same time I was writing for and filing updates to jconline, I was also trying to post updates on Twitter. Though, obviously, my priority was on the J&C, which reaches far more people than my Twitter account. Though it was cool, and you kind of see it in my updates, I was even interacting with other people back at the J&C and also across the room from me.

Bill Clinton event live blogging on twitter

You can look at jconline and see, my updates were fairly regular. As Clinton began to speak — an hour and forty minutes after doors opened and the crowd started streaming in — I started to chunk the topics into five or six graph break downs. I tried to mirror that while the e-mails sent with my snappy posts on twitter. What Clinton said, a little context and any crowd reaction.

It was difficult, as you’ll see I noted in one of the twitter updates, to both be there and not be there. I was present, but I spent a lot of time basically taking diction and then trying to make it digestible, readable updates. While stream of consciousness might work for twitter, it wouldn’t cut it for the J&C. So I was using a skill I’m not sure I’ve ever had a chance to practice: I was both listening to what he was saying in the present and writing a story live about what he had just said while monitoring the discussion for what would come next.

I’m sure my writing wasn’t my best work — for one thing I used the word crowd entirely too often, and most of the speech updates start “Bill Clinton discussed.” But I wrote fast, and I wrote a lot. And give me some slack, I’ve never — in fact I don’t think my news organization has ever — done anything like this.

Twitter aside, my work for J&C was half live blogging and half writing for the newspaper audience online. All my work was funneled through my editor to be posted. So there was about a five-minute delay. But considering how furiously I was filing, I am glad he was there to read over my shoulder and relay any questions or fix obvious mistakes.

As you can see from my Gmail outbox above, a few of my updates, especially early on, included e-mail exchanges with my editor. I talked to him twice, after I sent the first update and once immediately after I sent the last one. None of those updates, by the way, will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper. Some of the reporting may in another reporter’s story, but my entire assignment/direction on this, as taken from the budget, was:

• After school lets out: Are people lining up. Meranda
• At 7: An updates as crowd assembles. Meranda
• Update from the scene as Clinton speaks. Meranda

So there was a lot of figuring it out on the fly. And you know what, like I said, it was intense. But it was awesome! It was even quite a bit of fun.

I don’t know if every event deserves such rapid-fire updates, but this was something that was changing by the minute early on, and which had a great deal of interest in our community. It’s not every day a president drops by small-town Indiana. I’m not sure how many page views we generated today or if that even matters. I’m not sure what part my updates played in any of that, but I hope our readers who were planning to attend, did attend or couldn’t attend benefited from the pretty comprehensive look at the day the former president visited our community.

With that said, it’s now approaching midnight. I worked from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today coming off a 2 to 10 p.m. shift Sunday. I need to get in around 8 a.m. tomorrow to finish the AYP story for online.

In short, though I’m pumped with all that journalism-is-alive adrenaline from my day, I’m also exhausted. I think it’s time to put the computer away and wind down from probably the most exciting day of journalism career to date.

A by-the-numbers approach to what journalists are angry about

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

By now, you’ve probably checked out AngryJournalist.com.

I blogged about it a few days ago when it had fewer than 200 posts. (I daresay I was the first to compare it to PostSecret? At least the first I saw.) I predict by the time most of you read this, it will be fast approaching 1,000. Right now it’s at 867.

Curious as I usually am to quantify trends, I decided to use some imprecise methods (mainly the find feature in Firefox) to calculate what it is getting journalists so riled up.

You should know, these numbers were compiled when it was at 829, so the last 50 or so aren’t included in the calculation. Also note there may be other terms that appear more frequently, but these were ones that popped out at me or I wanted to search. (My apologizes to those following me on Twitter who already saw these numbers as I live-blogged my research while considering this post earlier.)

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at how frequently each of these terms was referenced in posts by angry journalists.

About the companies we work for:

“Gannett” had hits in 8 different entries — more than any other media company I could find on there.
“Corporate” alone gets 17 hits, though several combined w/Gannett.
• Even the professors and j-school students were getting into it, 37 hits came back referring to j-school (I took out non-j-school related hits with “school”) and 21 on “student” alone.

On what we cover and how we do it:

“Community” appears 20 times.
“Politic” came in with 17 hits, all across the board from politicians to political correctness, campaigns, events, interests, beliefs, etc.
• Speaking of politics, I wouldn’t put much stock in these poll results, but Hillary “Clinton” was mentioned only 2 times. “Obama” on the other hand should look elsewhere for support, at least from the 5 angry posters who called him out.
“Britney” (that would be Spears) annoyed at least 8 journalists enough to cite her as a source of anger.
• The word “web” popped up 77 times, though several posts used the word many times.
• And “blog” alone garnered mention 32 times.
• There are 8 references to “inch” that had to do with story lengths — from both sides, some that they don’t get to write long enough and others that they’re demanded to write longer.
• And 4 journalists complained about “overtime”, or lack thereof (at least the payment for).

You can’t say that in the newspaper:

• An even 100 uses of “fuck” in those 829 posts.
• Slightly lagging the f-bomb, “shit” was evoked 82 times.
• Mostly in reference to co-workers and bosses, 25 distinct references to “idiot”

And the winner, the thing which most journalists seem to be angry enough to vent about?

• Coming in an unsurprising third? “Pay” topped out with 64 uses.
• But even more than “job,” which made 159 appearances, …
• It’s our bosses (“boss” by the way had 42 hits) we love to hate: “editor” popped up 183 times. (Some were in editorial, but that was probably fewer than a dozen.)

Anyway, as I said before, this was mostly an experiment based on my curiosity. It’s imperfect at best. But it does give you pause. Or at least crack a smile.

Fire news spreads faster than ever

Friday, January 25th, 2008

The Monte Carlo Casino on the Las Vegas strip is on fire. For that news, the Las Vegas Sun has got you covered.

las vegas sun monte carlo fire
and an update
las vegas sun 2

Here in Indiana, thousands of miles away, I might have caught this news blip on tonight’s news. (Except I only watch when I’m at work, and I’m off today.) If I was a 24-hour-TV-news junkie, which I used to be and am still recovering from, I may have caught it on CNN. (But my TV’s in my living room down the hall collecting dust. No, really, it’s been about a month since I turned it on.)

I learned, instead, via Twitter. It was also the way I heard about the recent market turmoil and the death of Heath Ledger.

I know I’ve been writing a lot about Twitter of late. But that’s because it’s become increasingly part of my daily routine. Where once Facebook was a dominant force for keeping in touch and updated, these days I find myself updating and reading Twitter instead. (To be fair, my Twitter status is fed to Facebook.) And I find it far more useful and helpful for me.

On a related side note, I love the Las Vegas Sun’s approach to the story. They’re updating the blog with new info. But I like the approach on the front of the site. It’s bullet by bullet what you want to know. No B.S. no he said, she said. Just what is going on, what has already happened, who is affected, and where to get more information. Nice and concise.

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.

Micro-blog political reporting gets NYT nod

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Did anyone else catch that Twitter went mainstream today? Kind of.

Though I’m still defending myself from the Twitter jabs my peers pour on — even the most tech-savvy of them doesn’t “get it” — The New York Times, thankfully, does.

The NYTs’ fourth most e-mailed technology story of the moment is this gem, Campaign Reporting in Under 140 Taps.

It’s a look at several political reporters micro-blogging the presidential campaigns through Twitter and the like. Nothing particularly enlightening, though a few comic anecdotes.

As Mr. Knox makes clear, news has always come in different sizes. Despite the new gadgetry, these journalists are actually rediscovering telegraphese — the clipped (ideally witty) style that flourished because of word limits imposed by an earlier technology, the telegraph. Today, it is the limits imposed by text-messaging.

“It’s a sign of just how impatient this generation is,” Ms. Cox said. “I don’t have to open up a computer, and it’s no more than 140 characters.” …

To Josh Tyrangiel, the managing editor of Time.com, “the business thinking is the same as almost all of my business thinking: Why not?” The more exposure to Time.com’s material, the better, and no one can afford to be choosy about the setting. So Ms. Cox also has a Flickr feed for her photographs from the campaign trail that Mr. Tyrangiel is happy to promote. Ultimately, he said, it is a hopeless fight.

“If you tell people how to consume their content, they will ignore you,” he said, a truism that experience had taught new-media executives. “Let people do what they want to do and try to be in their circle of choice.”

Why it matters though is, and I have no idea where this ran in print or if it did, this will get Twitter before a mass audience of people who may not even be as tech-savvy as my peers who tell me “Twitter just sounds like a dirty word” or joke when I ask if they read an interesting story about whether I saw it on Twitter.

I just laugh. Roll my eyes. Give them a plea to try it out. And then succumb to the inevitable “Dear blogger” jokes that aren’t far behind it. But they mean well, and one day they’ll get it, too. I’m not giving up on trying to win them over just yet.

BTW: You can follow me on Twitter here. My updates are protected, but I’ll add you. (Since it’s mostly personal observations, I want to know who’s reading.) They’re also fed to my Facebook status, where you can also add me by searching my name.