Monday, October 18, 2010

Two news comment policies to enhance the dialogue

This past weekend, my old employer and hometown news source instituted a new policy on comments -- for its staff.

I thought it odd that in 2010, editors would have to encourage reporters to monitor the comments on their stories. We should be doing that already. But working in a newsroom in a city roughly twice the size of my hometown, I'm one of the few reporters who actively comment on their stories. So I guess it's necessary to encourage staff to do this.

Coincidentally, my personal philosophy mirrors the News-Leader's policy:

"Whenever possible, reporters are being encouraged to respond to direct reader questions or inquiries by providing additional facts that are readily available to the reporter. Likewise, reporters are encouraged to respond if a quick comment can clear up misunderstandings or confusion about the story -- and even to confess when the initial report fell short."

Reporters and editors are required to use their real names. Comments from the rest of the community are not. If you look at the comments section of the same item, you will find very few relevant to the original post. Mostly, it's the same old off-topic bickering you might find in any post in sites around the country.

But elevating the conversation is a mission worth pursuing and I salute the News-Leader, and its parent company Gannett, for their efforts.

It also reminded me with a conversation I had with Rob Curley during my recent visit to Las Vegas. Last month, the Las Vegas Sun has stopped anonymous comments on its stories.

As Curley said "being yourself online is the new black." He pointed to Facebook's terms, which require users to provide their real identities. And there's just about nothing bigger than Facebook.

The Sun still has a system for allowing anonymous comments. As Curley pointed out, there are times when people need to shield their identities, such as when they are talking about their employers. But those comments appear on a separate page, instead of below the story. Editors must decide when a comment is "trusted" and relevant to the discussion, before it's moved over to the story.

"We're even building a a feature into the system so that anonymous comments can be recommended to be moved over to the story pages, similar to how readers can now suggest that comments be removed," Curley said in the comments section, replying to readers.

I've always agreed that people sign their letters to the editor and put their names on comments. I have a byline. I put my name, my phone number and email on everything I do. I sometimes get anonymous letters and emails and I stopped taking those seriously long ago. I always figure if they want me to take them seriously, they'll sign them.

I will also add information, or correct erroneous statements about facts in a story, when I see them in the comments section. I hope by doing so, it might steer the conversation back to relevancy.

And as I've noted before, I get a higher level of discussion on both Twitter and Facebook than I usually see elsewhere. And those are two place where people say who they are.

That's why I favor the Sun's policy.

I think those who comment on our web sites will act exactly as we expect them to. If we let them prattle on anonymously, it will draw those who favor that forum. If we participate in the conversation, and require people to say who they really are, we will get -- and deserve -- a higher level of discussion.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The ultimate in mobile: Multimedia with an I-Phone

Andy Bull has set up a course on producing multimedia reports with an I-Phone.

It begins Oct. 15. Andy said it will cover both the tools and apps with the I-Phone as well as creating a platform to showcase your work.

(via Sonya Smith at Mojos Unite!)

Get a good head start on hardware and apps to turn your I-Phone into an essential multimedia tool, courtesy of Multimedia Shooter.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hot links: the journalism sessions I couldn't attend in Vegas

NO PLACE LIKE HOME, KS -- The SPJ Convention has been over for days but people are still talking and blogging about what they learned. And we can catch up on the sessions we missed.

Among them:

  • Deb Wenger reports on a talk by CNN International's Etan Horowitz: Used to be, broadcasters tried to put TV on the web. Now they put social media on the air.
  • Wenger also adds info on Victor Hernandez’s sessions on all-platform journalists, with a list for gearheads like me.
  • Libbi Gordon of the University of Missouri sums up her analysis of the convention: "To the youth and young adult market, using the Internet and social media is second nature. YAYAs will thrive in the online journalism."
  • No journalism convention would be complete without talk of layoffs of downsizing, and Tim Eigo, editor of Arizona Attorney magazine, reports on a conspicuously empty Gannett booth at the trade show: "Is that angst in your pocket, or are you just sorry to see me?"
  • Marnie Kunz writes: "Matt Villano offered helpful advice on diversifying for freelancers and not keeping your eggs in one basket ... . And it soothed my frazzled soul."
  • Amanda Maurer reviews Google 101 for Journalists: the session everyone who missed it wished they'd attended.
  • And Vince Duffy of Michigan NPR and the most dapper man in radio, blogs highlights of the convention for the RTNDA, which will team with SPJ for next year's convention in New Orleans.
Did you attend a session or blog about the convention?  Leave details or a link to your post in the comments.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    This is also CNN: getting out of the way of innovation

    LAS VEGAS -- After blowing up their silos, CNN began hiring All-Platform Journalists, or APJs. They do about everything, but don't call them one-man bands. That'll just rile up Victor Hernandez, who thinks it makes them sound like a carnival act, instead of the innovative, hard-working reporters they really are.

    Hernandez talked a lot about being "platform agnostic" at the SPJ National Convention, and it's something we all need to start taking much more seriously -- finding the best way to tell stories, instead of digging ourselves in where we're most comfortable. If video is the best way to tell the story, use it, instead of falling back on text, because there's a news hole somewhere that needs to be filled. If text provides context and explanation, then tell it that way, even though someone still thinks there has to be a video over a talking voice.

    Or use both. Text with video.

    Journalists are listening. I hear a lot less whining that "I'm a newspaper reporter, so I shouldn't have to learn this video." The multimedia presentations this week were packed. People were eager to learn to work on all platforms.

    Hernandez said the skills are developing, but there's still one piece that needs work:

    Some examples:

    Or look what APJ Sarah Hoye did on a multimedia project on natural gas fracking with CNN Money's Steve Hargreaves. It included this video, which follows more of a documentary style than the typical TV formula:

    Of course, inspiration for following a different path remains print icon Jimmy Breslin, who wandered off from press pack covering the funeral of John F. Kennedy to interview the man who dug the president's grave.

    So as we left the convention, we carried the question: Are we moving toward the future or living in the past?

    At least that's what Mark Briggs wondered, while leaving Las Vegas to the tune of John Mellancamp:

    "If you’re not part of the future then get out of the way."

    How CNN rethinks its newsroom

    LAS VEGAS -- The struggle is one felt in newsrooms across the nation. The demand to change is there. We hear it from our audience. They consume news differently than they did. They want more. They want different. But newsroom structures and old habits are difficult to overcome.

    “We’ve always done it this way,” becomes a mantra. Those who try to innovate may face hurdles from their own organizations. Rocking tradition can get you labeled a troublemaker, even if it succeeds.

    This is a culture in many newsrooms. I know this from conversations with reporters, producers and editors I talk to from around the country each year during the SPJ Convention. I hear the same frustrations repeated as often we as hear “We’ve always done it this way.”

    Such struggles came out in the session “Smashing the Silos” where some of CNN’s most innovative management talked about how they broke some conventional cultures to open the doors to innovation.

    Victor Hernandez, who I’ve gotten to know the past several years, and always seems to be a little bit a head of the curve, is director of domestic news for CNN. He talked about how continuing to do journalism the same way creates what he calls “Zombie Journalism.”

    Rich Barbieri, deputy managing editor at CNN Money, spoke of how to slay the dragons of tradition and encourage staffers to try something new.

    Mike Toppo, senior director of news operations and production at, discussed ratings, page views, but also other measures of success – like a story’s impact on its audience.

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    View their presentation:

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Journalists' signal to noise ratio for Twitter

    LAS VEGAS -- Even as Twitter becomes more popular among journalists, a lot of people still have problems figuring out just how they should use it. Some insist on posting only links and pushing out information, not engaging in the conversation. Others have questions about including both professional and personal information. In his session this morning on social engagement for journalists at the SPJ National Convention, Jeff Cutler described his 70/30 ratio.

    Also get Jeff's complete notes on the session (pdf).

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    What happens in Vegas gets blogged

    I'm headed to Las Vegas today for the Society of Professional Journalists National Convention.  I'll blog what I'm learning, and I always pick up some valuable tips. SPJ provides some cutting edge sessions.

    You can also follow the #spj10 hashtag on Twitter to see what everyone is talking about.

    If you're in Vegas, send me a message on Twitter or stop by the 60 Sites in 60 Minutes session I'm doing with Jeff Cutler at 3:30 p.m. Monday in Melrose A. We'll also be hosting a tweetup Monday night. Watch Twitter for the details.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    Make an editor happy: take a picture with your phone

    Today, I covered a drowning in the river that runs through our downtown.  I did the normal coverage of an event. I sent updates to the web and tweeted it.

    Our photographer had a good vantage point on the other side of the river, but I knew he had no way to post. I held up my Blackberry and took a picture, then sent it to our online team. It wasn't a great photo, and I couldn't crop it on my phone. But they used it.

    When I returned to the office, I was greeted with, "Thanks for the picture," from Eba Hamid, our web producer.

    For a while it was in the featured position of our home page. Until, of course, they got a real photo from our real photographer.

    "We need to remind more reporters to do that when they're at a scene," said Lori Buselt, our web content manager.

    Sometimes, it is the little things that make a difference.

    Sonya Smith and I recently had a conversation about smartphones for reporters at Mojos Unite, which has some good suggestions. It also reminded me to take that picture today.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Getting to the source documents

    It started out as the easiest "web extra."  That's what our bosses used to call it in the ol' days of the 1990s. What can you put on the news web site that increased the value of the print story?

    Links and source documents, of course. Links to relevant material and .pdfs of research documents to show people we just weren't making all this up. The links caught on. People made careers of compiling links.

    The docs?  Not so much. Just last year, our web team was saying no one clicked on the .pdfs. And who could blame them?  They're a good way to cut down on the paper on your desk (see previous post), but kind of clunky to share.

    That changed recently, when I started using Scribd. It's among the growing document sharing sites popping up. There's Docstoc and DocShare and the old standby, Google Docs. They're communities based around documents, and some like Scribd allow you to embed your documents in the story, as you would a video.

    When I signed up for Scribd, it allowed me to connect to my Facebook page. My Facebook friends who were already on Scribd immediately found me, and I ended up with a dozen or so followers before I'd uploaded anything to read.

    Frankly, following me on only Scribd may be a bit of a disappointment, unless you're a legal geek.  What I'm posting now are legal documents from stories I'm covering on the courts beat.

    But something happened when we started embedding those documents on the page with stories -- people started reading them. I've only been using this for about a month, so traffic isn't great, but it compares to some of our video views.

    This is important, because it allows people to connect with our sources. The reporting process becomes more accessible, and that's crucial in a time where public confidence in the news media is at an all-time low.

    My next step is contacting, Document Cloud, made especially for journalists. It boasts extra reporting tools, allowing you to make annotations, lists and time lines from dates in the documents. I'm still waiting for approval. Because it's restricted to journalists and researchers, they say they need a note from my editor that I'm really who I say I am.

    Kind of like being back at school, and the teacher aksing for a note for my mom.