Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reporting for web only during the Scott Roeder murder trial

My first day as a web-only reporter ended promptly at 5 p.m. – a rarity in my three decades of journalism. That’s when court let out in the Scott Roeder murder trial in the shooting of a Wichita abortion doctor. It has been receiving national coverage.

I had been accustomed to staying late after court to rewrite the day’s events on the web for print. But for this trial another reporter is handling the print story, which also appears online as the day-after report.

Despite leaving early, I was exhausted. A courtroom deputy commented on how my fingers were flying across my Bluetooth keyboard with my Blackberry. One of my Twitter followers posted a picture of me taken from a screen grab of the television coverage, as I frantically filed updates. Note: I need to learn to sit up straight on those wooden court benches.

I was actually writing two updates. In addition to the filing Twitter updates, which were coming anywhere from 1-5 minutes apart, I was filing longer dispatches for our web site, which they were posting time-stamped, blog style. Online wanted those every 10-15 minutes.

All fed onto our trial page. We know some people watch the Twitter feed from our page, without ever having to go to Twitter. For people who don’t want to watch the up-to-the-minute tweets, they can come back to the page every so often and catch up with what’s going on, while having the Twitter stream available to see what’s happening at that minute.

For additional multimedia, we have a still photographer in the courtroom, and a laptop in the pressroom downloading the video pool stream. Travis Heying, at one point, was shooting stills in the courtroom and running into another part of the courthouse on breaks to edit and upload video from his Mac. Later in the day, Mike Hutmacher took over as the still pool reporter in the courtroom and Travis took care of video.

Also notice our links section on the trial page. We are linking to other local and national coverage, including blogs and commentary on the case.

Inspiration for the links came from a session at the SPJ National Convention last year called “All the News That’s Fit to Link.” If you’re an SPJ member, you can hear an audio download of that session.

Bill Adee, editor of digital media for the Chicago Tribune, spoke in that session about the success his staff saw when they started linking to other coverage within their own.

“People aren’t going to stop reading when they finish your story,” he said. They’re going to get on Google and search out other information. Why not be the launching spot to guide them.

After all, as Adee and panelist Scott Karp pointed out, knowledgeable humans ought to be able to put together a better list than a Google bot.

With this trial, we’re trying to put together all the learning we’ve been doing about web reporting over the last several years and put it into practice.

I’d love to hear what others think about our efforts: what you like, what you don’t like, what we’re doing right and what we could do better. After all, the news is always an evolutionary process.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't wait until the end of the reporting to think multimedia

When it comes to multimedia, journalists should think out a story in an inverted pyramid. But we don’t, especially in investigative or enterprise stories.

We’re used to digging for the story over days, weeks, and months. Yes, some of have spent years on a story. We’ve got piles of documents, stacks of notebooks, and we’re ready to write. Then the online producer asks, “What else have you got?”

Too many times, multimedia and the web packages become an after thought. Unlike the normal path ofinvestigative stories, when you’re ready to write, it’s often too late to be thinking multimedia.

Mark S. Luckie, whose blog 10,000 Words provides a great resource for multimedia journalists, says investigative reporters need to think in terms of how the web can help them tell there stories.

“The web serves as an all-encompassing platform for publishing interactive maps, multimedia stories built in Flash or other software, video, audio and other forms of media besides text,” Luckie wrote on The Muckraker Blog for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

But we have to think of them as we report the story, not at the end.

“The responsibility, however, requires the judgment to know which media is appropriate for a particular story. For example, interactive maps are great, but they aren't appropriate for every story,” Luckie writes.

As we gather documents and notes on a story, we ought to be thinking in terms of video clips and recording audio during interviews that we could turn into multimedia later. Also, keep feeding your web producer bits that could make an interactive map or timeline.

I’m in the middle of a long-term investigative project. As with these kinds of stories, I’m not certain where it will lead. The other day, one of our interns was helping with research. She had gathered a mountain of papers. Somewhere in all that paperwork, we expect to find the story. I pulled out a video camera and shot a minute of her working with all that paper.

We may never use it, just like we don’t use a lot of the notes we take. But I’ve filed it away in a box where I will keep multimedia for the project, just in case.

Update: ProPublica has a great example of how web tools can exaplain complex information with its map on the unemployment insurance drain.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Prying the print byline from the hands of an old newspaper reporter

Last week began the trial of Scott Roeder, the accused killer of a Wichita abortion doctor.  It’s the latest story I’ve covered through my courts beat that has gained national attention (strange how many national crime stories have come out of Wichita). The trial is still in jury selection so the true onslaught of national media has not yet arrived, but we’ve already been making plans on how we’ll cover the story.

But one suggestion kind of shook me.  My editors pulled me into the office and told me they wanted me to concentrate on producing for online: doing live updates on Twitter, as I had been doing for the past two years, filing behind-the-scenes notes on my blog and updating the main story each day that would go on our web site.

True, this was kind of my dream when I first started throwing myself into online years ago.  This is the future of news.  It’s where the audience is growing. I would be the lead reporter on our web site with a story on the national stage.

But I hesitated.  The old newspaper reporter of 33 years still takes pride in that print byline on the front page, above the fold.  After all, that’s when I can take the day’s 140-character dispatches from Twitter, the brief blog posts, the scratched from banging out the latest online update, and turn them into a well-written story at the end of the day.  Someone else would be doing that now with “my story.”

I was the only one who felt this way.

“Do you like working all day and all night?” my wife asked. “If they offer you help, take it.”

“Who still reads print anyway?” said my friend Emanuella Grinberg of “Your biggest audience is online, anyway.”  She should know. She's a full-time online reporter.

Of course, this is what I had been preaching on this blog, and to my colleagues for years.  I know online will eventually replace print.  But it also showed me that like others in this business. I was a little more hesitant to give up the print cycle than I would like to have admitted.

And for just a moment, I felt my age.

“Sure, no problem,” I told my editors. “I’ll do online only.”