Archive for the ‘Media Industry’ Category


Community engagement in the form of public news meetings

News as we know it is changing, shifting — and hopefully — becoming even more robust. From social media to the Apple Watch, the means by which we receive our news is also constantly changing. One thing that won’t change in the way we gather and receive news is the importance of community engagement.

Without a community of some sort, news can’t exist. There would be no target audience, no local events and most importantly, no input about what is being covered and how by news organizations everywhere.

A recent Q & A done by the International Journalists’ Network about engaging your community via social media got me to think about all the opportunities journalists now have to give and receive feedback digitally with the audiences they serve in their respective communities. But what if tech isn’t the only way to move community news engagement forward?

The Indianapolis Star held its very first public news meeting on Friday at a local coffee shop here in Indy. Here was their intent for the meeting according to their Facebook invite:

“We want to hear what matters to you.

Join the IndyStar news team for Coffee+News as we hold our morning news meeting — in public — at 10 a.m. Friday at Hubbard and Cravens, 4930 N. Pennsylvania St., and join in on the conversation.

Share your story ideas, let us know what matters most to you in our community and meet the people behind the news.

At the very least, have a cup of coffee on us.”

So, I went. I was curious to see the turn out, the vibe, who came, who participated and what staff and attendees had to say.

Overall my initial thoughts had to do with the overcrowded room and the loud coffee shop, but the overcrowded problem is a good problem to have when a news organization seeks community engagement and opinion. More is more. The loud coffee shop problem is just the result of underestimating the number of attendees who were going to show up and only reserving a small room in a rather busy establishment.

Regardless of the logistics, the meeting was interesting. It began with the Indy Star staff being introduced (the staff filling up a lot of the room space making the ratio 2 staff members to every 1 community attendee) and going through what they had planned for the day and the weekend’s news budget. Other than a story about a stage collapsing at a local high school, most of the topics at that point in their news process were filler content, but talking through their thought processes about how they decided what stories to cover, when and how was informative. Kind of a yawner, though. At least for people who are educated in or at least have a small idea of how a newsroom makes content decisions. But, in the spirit of transparency, I guess it was needed.

Then came the comments. The floor was opened up for “audience members” to contribute thoughts, suggestions and ideas for the staff to take into consideration. None of the input really had to do with the weekend’s news coverage. Instead, there was a little bit of agenda pushing about past coverage and future coverage — mainly concerning political issues. Yes, there were a few constructive suggestions about covering more entertainment and sports topics, but not a lot that were of value.

What was of value was the newsroom getting outside of the newsroom. The staff being able to engage with the community face-to-face was invaluable. The community, in this specific room, ranged from early 20 year-olds to late 70 year-olds all with various reasons for attending, from concerned citizen to political candidate pushing.

I talked with Jeff Taylor, the Star’s executive editor and vice president, after the meeting and asked him why they wanted to hold this meeting, something that isn’t done by a lot of news organizations, to which he replied, “Why not give people a chance to see us, be transparent, see how we conduct our news meetings, see what our thought process is and give people a chance to weigh in and ask questions?”

He said the end goals of the meeting for them were:

1. To make themselves visible and accessible to the public

2. To get story ideas and input

3. To give people a chance to tell them what they think about how they do their jobs

Did the Indy Star get some story ideas from the meeting? Possibly. Did those in attendance get a platform to vent frustrations they had with the news organization and praise what they perceived as triumphs? Yes. But, the real benefit at this event was the opportunity it presented — personal community engagement and access.

I think it is worth it for the Indy Star, and other news organizations for that matter, to try it again. Maybe change the location, maybe make it more of an open forum for a conversation rather than an actual news budget meeting, but one thing I wouldn’t change is the opportunity for the personal involvement it gave the public.

Social media is great. I am obsessed, professionally and personally. But, call me old-fashioned, it will never be a substitute for the value that comes when news organizations have face-to-face discussions with who they are serving on a daily basis.

“This really helps make us better journalists and makes us think how people perceive what we do, how people perceive what we write,” Taylor said.

Taylor Carlier Headshot

Taylor Carlier | Photo credit: Matt Thomas

Taylor Carlier is the communications coordinator at the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a 2014 Purdue University graduate of Mass Communication: Journalism and previously was the special projects editor at The Exponent. She can be reached at tcarlier@spj.org or on Twitter at @Taylorcarlier.

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For Young Journos: How to ‘not fail at journalism’ job finding

Finding a job as a new journalist isn’t easy. You may have to give up your money dreams, location dreams, beat dreams, news medium dreams — basically you might have to give up on all of your dreams, except for the being a journalist one.

So in order to help journalists find a job covering county fairs in the middle of nowhere for right about the poverty line salary, or a job as the next editor of the New York Times, we turned to Kenna Griffin for a #youngjournojobs Twitter chat. She gave tons of amazing advice, but her Twitter typing fingers could only type so fast. So, the assistant professor of Mass Communications at Oklahoma City University, graciously answered some bonus job-seeking questions for me.

Thanks Kenna for all of your hard work helping J-students!

Kenna Griffin Mug

Kenna Griffin

What are the best three websites to find journo jobs?

The best sites for media jobs depend on the type of job you’re seeking. You probably know that I post a list of media jobs on my website, www.profkrg.com every Monday and a list of internships every Friday. But, also, I recommend looking at local journalism organizations’ sites to see if they have job boards. They tend to be more informed than national sites. Journalism Jobs is a good site to look at if you just want to know what’s “out there.” LinkedIn is always a good resource for job-related things.

Is it better to have an online resume, paper or both? Why?

It’s better to have both. This gives you more methods of distributing your information and displays your multimedia mindset. It’s best to have your materials available in whatever format the potential employer desires.

What are the top three qualities news orgs are looking for in the young generation of journos?

News organizations are looking for professionalism, strong foundational skills in writing and reporting and an understanding of multimedia tools with a willingness to adapt to change.

How should young journos go about promoting themselves/their work?

Young journalists should have professional online presences (perhaps including a blog) that they use to display their work and understanding of the industry. They should participate in online discussion groups and Twitter chats related to the industry. They also should attend professional organizations’ networking events in the community in which they live. Establishing themselves as professionals and becoming known is key to establishing a strong career future. And, of course, they should work for student media and take internships for as many clips and professional experiences as possible.

Journos and fashion don’t always mix. What guidelines would you suggest for interviews?

Dress in business attire. Invest in a basic black or navy suit and dress shoes. You can always adapt to a more casual workplace, but it’s tough to undo a negative first impression. A special note from me: Flip flops are never appropriate work attire.

Should writing clips be paper or digital? Best organization of clips?

As I said above about resumes, have both. That way, you can send them in advance or guide a potential employer to your resume site. However, take a portfolio with you to every interview. Also, take a pen and paper. Nothing says “I fail at journalism” like not being prepared to take notes.

If networking=jobs, how do young journos go about networking efficiently?

Join professional organizations. Almost all of them have reasonable student rates. Many of them have local and campus chapters. If so, join both. Get to know as many people as you can in the industry. Attend every professional conference your journalism school provides. Attend dressed up and ready to network. Also, I’ve met so many amazing people through Twitter chats. Twitter has become one of my favorite networking tools. I highly recommend that students participate in some of these chats.

If young journos only have time to market one skill to potential employers, what should they focus on?

Adaptability. Our industry is changing in ways many of us never imagined. Students have to show that they have the basic skills they need now and a willingness to learn whatever storytelling tools the future presents.

Taylor Carlier Headshot

Taylor Carlier | Photo credit: Matt Thomas

Taylor Carlier is the communications coordinator at the Society of Professional Journalists. She is a 2014 Purdue University graduate of Mass Communication: Journalism and previously was the special projects editor at The Exponent. She can be reached at tcarlier@spj.org or interact on Twitter: @Taylorcarlier.

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SPJ: To Infinity and Beyond

Dear SPJ Member:

If you took the time to read my memo regarding SPJ’s future, then you were among select company. It was made available to membership as part of the board materials for the April 26 SPJ Board of Directors meeting.

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I’m not offended if you missed it. With 7,500 members, it’s impossible to ensure that every member receives all of our communication. Besides, many SPJ members don’t have an interest in the Society’s governance or internal issues.

But as a member of SPJ, it’s important you have an opportunity to help steer the Society.

I hope you will take the time to read the following post and share your comments below.

This is as good of a time as any to point out that the board supports the vision I outlined in the memo, as do most Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board members and several past SPJ leaders. I should also point out that the ideas in this memo aren’t mine alone. They are a culmination of comments, conversations and ideas I have heard from various SPJ leaders, members and fellow journalists over the years. I merely pulled them together.

BACKGROUND               

In August, I was asked by SPJ leadership to provide my vision of where SPJ should be in 50 years. As the Executive Director, it’s my job to have one eye (if not both) on the road ahead. Truth be told, I’ve been evaluating SPJ’s role in journalism and democracy since I was hired as Quill editor in December 2004.

But it wasn’t until I became Executive Director in 2009 that my vision for SPJ began to clear a bit. This is a result of having the opportunity to listen to SPJ members, think big picture, study trends, listen to association experts and meet regularly with other journalism organization leaders.

This brought me to a few overriding – if unpleasant – realizations:

  1. During the past 20 years, SPJ has focused too much on internal matters and not enough on journalism.
  2. There isn’t a single group in the United States that is effectively serving the watchdog/advocacy role on behalf of the profession.
  3. SPJ will likely not survive as a membership association – as we define membership today.

For the purposes of this post , I am going to focus mainly on items 1 and 2. For more detailed explanation of No. 3, you can read the full memo.

I should say that I don’t see SPJ dying any time soon. We could remain on course and be just fine for the next couple of decades. But 50 years from now, if it remains on its current path, I believe SPJ will be non-existent (or most certainly irrelevant).

More importantly, if the media landscape (as it relates to democracy) doesn’t change for the better, I question if the work of journalists will make a difference.

In August, leaders asked me to evaluate “what is SPJ’s role in journalism?” The broad answer is simple: To be a leader in the industry on all fronts – advocacy, training, membership, etc.

But the more I pondered, I realized the question wasn’t broad enough.

SPJ doesn’t want to just improve journalism. Our mission is based on the belief that SPJ will strive to improve and protect democracy. We do that through journalism.

So, the real question is: How can SPJ most positively affect and protect democracy through journalism?

TOGETHER WE FIGHT

Since 1909, we have felt the best way to achieve this goal is through individual members. The more journalists that are exposed to our mission, the greater likelihood we would be successful in improving and protecting journalism.

For the first 75 years of SPJ, it was probably a decent approach. It works fairly well when the majority of U.S. journalists are in your ranks – as was the case up until the 1950s or 60s. It probably still works well if you have 15,000-20,000 members.  But today, no single journalism association in the U.S. has this many members. SPJ is the largest with 7,500.

Speaking of journalism associations, today there are about 60 in the United States. Nearly all are dedicated to a niche, whether it’s a beat, ethnic group, medium, etc. These groups focus primarily on their members and their narrowly focused missions, as they should. The downside, however, is that no membership association is effectively championing the causes for ALL journalists in the United States.

Journalists and the associations that support them have become fragmented. We have lost our collective voice on issues that are important to journalism and democracy: open records, open meetings, ethics and diversifying news coverage are just some examples. The list is long, and it grows by the day.

Someone must stand up and take on the role of organizing that collective voice. Someone must be keeping an eye on the big picture. I think that someone is SPJ.

Nobody is better suited for this mission. SPJ has a track record when it comes to journalism advocacy. Being a 501(c)6, we have the legal standing to lobby for legislation (many journalism associations are limited by their 501(c)3 status). We have a staff capable of managing the workload that will be required.

In my journalism utopia, SPJ carries the advocacy torch on behalf of all associations. We work to bring everyone together on all fronts, including cross pollination of training and networking. Meanwhile, our peer groups double down on what they do best: providing resources and training to their respective interest groups.

With all groups focusing on their areas of expertise, and SPJ serving a role to keep us all connected, we stand a greater chance of making a meaningful impact.

The question is, are other groups interested and willing?

THE EVOLUTION HAS STARTED

The answer is a resounding “yes.” I meet regularly with executive directors of other associations, and a good chuck of our conversation centers around ways to partner. We all have the same goal: maximizing our strengths while not duplicating efforts. We often ask “how can we work together to make journalism better?”

EIJ14_Generic-VerticalThese talks will continue, and I’m confident new partnerships of all types will present themselves.

To that end, we will host a summit of leaders from various journalism associations at EIJ14. The goal is to find common ground and discover ways to work together. We want to form partnerships that don’t yet exist. Credit for this idea goes to Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editor’s Society. Her work in pulling this together speaks to the desire we all have in maximizing our collective strength.

You have probably noticed that SPJ already partners with other associations. The most obvious example is the Excellence in Journalism conference, put on jointly by SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association. In 2013, we welcomed the National Association of Hispanic Journalists to EIJ in Anaheim. We will do so again in 2015.

But most of you probably don’t know that SPJ also has a business agreement with both groups outside of the conference.

SPJ serves as the back-office bookkeeping firm for both RTDNA and NAHJ. We also manage NAHJ’s membership. We do this for two reasons:

1. Because we charge rates below industry standard, our partnership provides significant savings for NAHJ and RTDNA. This allows them to focus more resources on the programs and services they offer their members. Translation: more money going toward improving journalism – not association management.

2. It is an extra unrestricted revenue stream for SPJ. This provides additional money that can be used for lobbying and advocacy. Why is unrestricted revenue important? Because money that comes from donors and grants must be used for a specific purpose, e.g. usually educational programming or scholarships. Unrestricted revenue can be used for any purpose.

In a nutshell, these partnerships are a key cog that will allow SPJ to take on more of the advocacy responsibility. That’s why SPJ is taking steps now to become a unifying force. We are doing this a few different ways, all of which were discussed during the April meeting:SPJ_Come-Work-With-Us_logo

  • HIRING A COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: In an effort to up our game in the advocacy realm, and to help bring other groups together, we have created a new staff position. This person will develop and implement an overall strategy for the Society’s communication efforts. In particular, this person will be proactive regarding journalism advocacy and our role in the profession and democracy.
  • ADVOCACY ENDOWMENT: President David Cuillier is working to create an endowed war chest that can be used to fund SPJ’s advocacy efforts long after we are all dead. It won’t be easy, because as a 501(c)6, contributions to SPJ aren’t tax deductible. But we march forward undeterred. SPJ must work to ensure we will always have the money to fight for press freedoms.
  • SPJ/SIGMA DELTA CHI RELATIONSHIP: Many members don’t know the SDX Foundation exists. It’s the charitable/educational arm of SPJ. It grants thousands of dollars every year to support SPJ’s training efforts. Work is under way to streamline our operations. In the short-term, it means almost nothing to members. But the idea is to let the Foundation manage all of SPJ’s training programs instead of simply issuing grants. This would allow SPJ to focus more keenly on advocacy. With each group having a clear direction, the plan is we will divide responsibilities for maximum results. Moving forward, each will operate in a more entrepreneurial spirit, instead of the status quo.Print
  • ETHICS CODE REVISION: Don’t misunderstand advocacy to mean only “government” activities. I strongly believe that SPJ must be more involved in advocating for better journalism among those producing it. And we must do a better job of explaining why credible journalism is important to the general public. In my opinion, SPJ’s Code of Ethics is one of the best tools available to do both. We must be more vocal in calling out journalism that ignores ethical standards, which can further erode the credible work thousands do every day. Furthermore, if the public better understands the difference between credible journalism and “media,” then democracy is better served.

These are just some examples of the steps SPJ is taking to reposition itself as a meaningful voice in journalism and advocacy. Moving forward, SPJ will take on more projects. We will develop more partnerships. We will evolve as necessary to accomplish our goals.

All of this will be done with one question in mind: How can SPJ most positively affect and protect democracy through journalism?

Thanks for reading,

Joe Skeel

SPJ Executive Director

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Oregonian layoffs a disservice to the future of journalism

Editor’s note: This blog post represents the opinions and ideas of the individual staff member and not of the Society of Professional Journalists as a whole.

One afternoon during my 2011 summer internship at The Oregonian, my editor DeAnn Welker took me up to the fifth floor of the newspaper’s building.

“It’s quieter up here,” Welker said as we rode the elevator.

It was quieter. And darker and emptier. She led me through the carpeted hallway to a large room filled with lifeless furniture. Rows of gray desk tops collected sheets of dust. There were office chairs that hadn’t been swiveled in some time.

DeAnn showed me where she once worked, and the places where her colleagues met daily, as a team, to produce the features section. The newsroom had shrunk significantly since she had started as a reporter several years prior.

At the time, this moment did not make a huge impression on me. After all, just one floor below, the newsroom was alive and well. It wasn’t until last week that I was reminded of the ghost town on the fifth floor.

Last week, the newspaper announced a new company name, Oregonian Media Group, and their plans to concentrate on a digital model in order to be more accessible to their readers. It’s the same model other Advance-owned publications have done.

Buried underneath the lead of this story was tragic news: many contributors to the publication are losing their jobs, the print edition will only be sent to subscribers four times a week, and the organization is selling the building where award-winning journalism has been produced for the past 65 years.

Change and innovation is imperative in order to maintain a sustainable business model. I commend The Oregonian for pushing toward digital journalism and being in tune with how readers engage with the news. Newspapers across the country have made similar moves. And I hope — for the sake of the people who are continuing to do great work at the newspaper — that their new system will prosper.

But what is supposed to be a breath of fresh air seems more like a final gasp.

I won’t pretend to fully understand the economics of running a major news outlet. The changes certainly bring up many issues, but I am concentrating on what I know: how this move will affect young journalists.

During the alterations, I hope that The Oregonian and its owner, Advance, keep in mind that the organization is not only sustaining a consumer product, but is also providing an important public service: quality journalism. Which — go figure — can’t be done without outstanding journalists.

According to a Poynter article, editor-in-chief Peter Bhatia said that the goal of the Oregonian Media Group is to have a newsroom staff of 90. Aaron Mesh of Willamette Week reports that at least 90 Oregonian employees have already been fired. It’s unclear how many of them are from the editorial department.

It appears The Oregonian is cutting costs by replacing longstanding reporters in favor of less-experienced reporters who will require lower wages. In fact, they already have job openings posted online.

The scale of the layoffs causes one to wonder if Advance has lost sight of the newspaper’s values.

How does Advance think The Oregonian will be a better publication by firing experienced reporters? Everyday, media enthusiasts wonder why people don’t read newspapers anymore. There are plenty of complicated reasons, but The Oregonian has just provided the public with a very simple one — lower quality.

I’m sure the new journalists The Oregonian hires will be eager to do a good job. But without a plethora of experienced mentors, The Oregonian has robbed these new reporters of the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Journalists learn best from other journalists. Shoving talent out the newsroom and infiltrating it with naïveté can only muddy the waters.

Looking back on my internship, I often think of the people who took immense amounts of time to provide guidance — Welker instructed me how to write a solid nut graph, David Stabler taught me how to choose musical words, and Dave Killen showed me the ins and outs of Final Cut Pro.

If well-practiced journalists aren’t there to teach, how are young journalists supposed to improve? Even more importantly, who’s going to inspire them to meet high standards?

After all, it’s not 140-character tweets or even 300-word blog posts that encourage journalism students to pursue noble endeavors. It’s the moments of life captured by journalists that make readers capable of understanding the world around them — if only for a moment.

Among the fired is a versatile reporter, who moved seamlessly from being an art critic to covering business news. Another has had the bravery and patience to cover his own neighborhood. Another pays utmost attention to every piece she edits — even if it’s just a 200-word blurb about cherries. And yet another carries his camera at all times — at major sporting events, in Ireland, and when Portland is dark and only neon signs glow. And no one but Ryan White can make readers laugh out loud at the ridiculous theatrics of a Britney Spears concert.

These journalists aren’t indispensable. They’re needed.

I don’t discount the intense pressure on The Oregonian to keep up with new technology and fast-paced news. But here’s the secret: Newspapers will become better at technology as young adults who grew up in the Internet age enter the workforce.

However, good journalism practices — strong ethical standards, detailed reporting, captivating writing — can’t be self-taught. That’s what is at risk if news organizations favor quick and cheap above experienced journalists and quality journalism.

The Oregonian may have considered many issues when they decided to make their changes, but they forgot about future journalists — interns at news outlets all over the country, students grinding away at their campus publications and soaking in all they can in their journalism classes before they graduate.

The Oregonian forgot about its legacy.

Ellen Kobe is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and was a features reporter at The Oregonian in the summer of 2011. Connect with Ellen through email, ekobe@spj.org, or Twitter: @ellenkobe.

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Notes on the news, Twitter and public hunger for accuracy

There was a lot of bad.

The bombings — tragic.
A city gripped by fearful uncertainty — terrible.
News media spewing inaccurate information — beyond disappointing.

Much has already been said about the journalism mistakes: the impact on the industry, the misuse of social media and what to consider the next time big news breaks.

Among those valuable takeaways, it’s important to highlight news consumers’ reactions to media blunders.

More than ever, they’re not having it.

That’s my unscientific observation. In my year with SPJ, I’ve monitored the social media reactions to the SCOTUS ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., damage caused by superstorm Sandy, the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and now the Boston Marathon bombings and the manhunt that followed. (There was the U.S. Presidential election, but that went smoothly. Did I miss anything? Probably.)

As big breaking-news events occurred, news consumers became increasingly intolerant of inaccurate reporting. Via Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, they ask for verification and urge news deliverers to exercise patience and ethical judgements.

Setting aside the inaccuracies churned out on those same platforms, it’s wonderful to see a hunger for quality journalism. Plenty of journalists got it right, but the ones that didn’t must take note of their audiences’ reactions. People want — they demand — informative, accurate reports.

Give the people what they want.

___

FYI, the SPJ Code of Ethics is a great reference » http://spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email, cdigangi@spj.org, or Twitter,@cdigang.

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Applying for a journalism or communications position? (Don’t) do this.

Here at SPJ HQ, we have been sifting through scores of internship applications for our two summer positions and the yearlong communications internship.

Based on what we received, we compiled advice for job-seekers. Here are some application dos and don’ts, based on this year’s applicant pool. (Kudos to those of you whose materials included the dos.)

When applying for journalism or communications positions:

  • DO include a cover letter. DON’T misspell the name of the person you’re addressing. Also, DON’T mistype the name of the organization you want to work for.
  • DO read and follow all directions. DON’T forget to send all required materials.
  • DO include links to your website, relevant online profiles and anything that helps an employer learn more about you. DO include your twitter handle alongside your name, email address and phone number. In this industry, it’s just as relevant as the standard contact information.
  • DON’T mess up your own contact information.
  • DO carefully choose relevant writing samples. DON’T send a college term paper as a writing sample. If you don’t have clips, consider starting a blog about topics related to the position.
  • DON’T apply for a position that you are not interested in. DO clearly articulate your interest in the position by citing related experiences.
  • DO tailor your résumé and cover letter to the job you seek.
  • DO research your potential employer. DON’T repeatedly tweet at him or her.
  • DO find the “about” tab on the organization’s website.
  • DO whatever you must to send a legible application. You may look at your application and think, “That’s great penmanship!” but next to typed applications, it looks sloppy.
  • DO structure your letter like a letter. DON’T send a one-paragraph essay for the one-page essay portion of the application. DON’T send a three-page essay for the same requirement.
  • DO follow up. Once.

There is plenty of job-application and résumé advice out there, so take advantage of it. This is a small list of tips based on the more than 100 applications that have come across our desks so far.

Here’s a final thought for you from Tara Puckey, SPJ’s chapter coordinator who is also processing internship applications.

“This is a large stack. If you want me to notice you, you have to do something different.”

No matter what job you want, keep that advice in mind.

 

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email, cdigangi@spj.org, or Twitter, @cdigang.

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Chat tonight: Manti Te’o and journalism’s history with hoaxes

Failure. Disappointing. Sloppy. People had a lot to say about the role of journalism in the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, and much of the commentary assailed the media.

The criticism has merit, but in the weeks since the scandal unfolded, the more bizarre and complex the details have become. The media cannot be wholly blamed for or excused from the mishap, and all that mess is meaningful to journalism and its mission to report the truth.

Instead of compiling an expert-laden media analysis, SPJ wants to talk to you about it. An issue of this magnitude deserves wide discussion, which is why SPJ will participate in tonight’s #muckedup chat about the media’s tangled history with hoaxes.

Join us tonight at 8 EST for the chat hosted by Adam Popescu (@adampopescu) for Muck Rack. The more SPJ members we can include in this conversation, the better — the topic means a lot to the growth of journalism.

Follow the #muckedup hashtag to participate, and we (@spj_tweets) will see you there.

 

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email, cdigangi@spj.org, or Twitter, @cdigang.

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Nov. 6: A journalism case study

On Election Day, I sat as a spectator in the arena of journalism, eager to watch unprecedented news coverage unfold. “The first social election,” some called it.

I knew I wouldn’t catch everything, and I certainly didn’t, but my goal on Nov. 6 was to document the election from journalists’ perspectives. My observations are just that — trends I saw among hours of online coverage, which I consumed from one tiny computer monitor with one set of eyes. Given my resources, there’s nothing scientific in my analysis. Nonetheless, I think it has value.

My method: Monitor journalists’ and news outlets’ Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and Instagram activity; check related RSS feeds; repeatedly expand the sample size by exploring others’ Twitter lists, seeking impressionable accounts through Topsy and Hashtracking and browsing news sites to identify election reporters; finally, Storify as much as possible.

After less than an hour of this, I formed four sections within SPJ’s Storify “Journalists on Election Day”: “resources and tips,” “status updates,” “election coverage” and “just for fun.” Nearly everything I collected fit one of these categories, though some could have gone in more than one. It’s amazing what people can fit into a post of 140 or fewer characters.

Twitter was my most plentiful resource. I collected information from more than 180 accounts and learned a lot from the posts I read.

On perhaps the greatest day for civic duty in the U.S., journalists provided a variety of public services. They posted photos of polling places, sent updates of wait times in voting lines, posted links to voting resources and giving citizens multiple ways to access election results. I saw a great effort from journalists to communicate with their audiences.

In terms of election coverage, journalism impressively embraced interactive graphics and (gasp) math. In the four newsrooms I’ve worked, in the scores of conversations I’ve had with reporters, I’ve heard few kind words for math. (And I majored in English writing, so I’m guilty of cringing at math, too.)

“I do words, not numbers.”

“Well, I’m bad at math, so I chose writing.”

You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it (I’ve said it), but that doesn’t mean journalists don’t understand the importance of math — there are plenty of journalists who like math, even love it. But after Election Day, its significance has never seemed clearer. I won’t rehash the commentary from dozens of articles on Nate Silver, but if the emergence of data journalism hasn’t motivated reporters and editors to prioritize data literacy, Election 2012 should.

Ethical debates have gained momentum as a result of the election and use of social media. Instagram use among journalists has great advantages in serving consumers, and it also encourages impressive citizen journalism. The New York Times boasted an impressive collection of readers’ Instagrams on Election Day, too. But the use of Instagram’s editing features and its impact on photojournalism remains a debated ethical issue.

Even ethical topics with deep history, like whether journalists should vote, sparked fervent interactions on social media. It’s more than just voting, though, as journalists frequently take to the Internet with their political commentary and opinions.

Speaking of commentary: The “just for fun” and “status updates” segments of the Storify are, at least from my perspective, highly entertaining. Among the more serious messages like those urging others to vote and describing polling-place atmosphere, you can find many a funny message about caffeine, pizza and the inevitable system failures before a deadline.

As election returns poured in, I scaled back my rate of aggregation, first because this expected coverage didn’t add much value to the Storify and second because I could hardly keep up. What I noticed was an increase in care and accurate reporting from other breaking news that has emerged on Twitter (Hurricane Sandy, the SCOTUS decision on the Affordable Care Act). Perhaps this is indicative of a maturing digital media.

Despite the limits of my journo-tracking, this sample displayed many trends in breaking-news coverage, and I hope news organizations reflect on Election 2012 as they consider how to best deliver journalism amid industry and technology advances. Major news events double as learning opportunities, and journalists need to capitalize on them, specifically this one.

 

Journalists: What did you learn on Election Day? How will this year’s election coverage impact your approach to planning, reporting and editing? If you wish to weigh in, please engage with this discussion on our Facebook page, or send me an email. I may quote you in a future blog post.

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email, cdigangi@spj.org, or Twitter, @cdigang.

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Messy SCOTUS coverage is damaging for media

Today, I am disappointed in journalism.

Not everyone botched the announcement of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act ruling, but plenty of trusted media outlets did a disservice to their audiences by prioritizing speed instead of accuracy.

Like half a million others, I turned to SCOTUSblog at 10 a.m. today, toggling between that and my Twitter feed. At 10:08, the explosion began: The Associated Press said the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. CNN said it was ruled unconstitutional. The Daily Beast said it was struck down at 10:08 but retweeted The AP at 10:09. Confused, I went back to SCOTUSblog to read their measured reports.

twitter feed

My Twitter feed in the seconds following the ruling announcement.

From the SPJ Code of Ethics: “Journalists should test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.”

Many of the erroneous tweets and headlines have disappeared from their primary sources, though those blunders live on, thanks to screen shots and the copy-paste function. But the confusion was costly from a future credibility standpoint. The networks and publications that got it right should take note of the ridicule and criticism raining down on their Twitter-happy peers.

Most of my frustration came from seeing the incorrect reports retweeted. As the minutes after the announcement passed, I continued to read posts of misguided happiness and anger, all because a friend of a follower of a follower of a news organization perpetuated the seemingly reliable information.

(Jeff Sonderman of Poynter has a good roundup of and reaction to the inaccurate reports/tweets.)

The social media response to the blunders proves that people would rather get correct information as it becomes available, rather than quickly receive an imperfect report. The point of engaging with a news outlet is to stay informed.

I don’t want to have to congratulate the journalists who waited to verify the ruling to publish the result. They just did their jobs correctly, which I expect of them. I am disappointed that this expectation was not met by others.

The winner in this brawl to break news is SCOTUSblog — it’s a non-traditional outlet started by law professionals, and they presented reliable coverage of the complicated ruling. By 10:22, they had 866,000 people tracking their live blog.

But for the millions who referenced Twitter, breaking news alerts, live TV and 24-hour-news-cycle websites, the day was one of defeat. Regardless of one’s opinion on the legislation, news consumers were exposed to a slew of unreliable reports before being corrected.

I hope health care isn’t the only industry that sees reform after today’s ruling.

Christine DiGangi is the communications coordinator at SPJ headquarters. She graduated from DePauw University and has worked in journalism and communications. Connect with Christine through email, cdigangi@spj.org, or Twitter, @cdigang.

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Why journalism should and should not copy bicycling culture

Posted by Scott Leadingham

Hang on for a moment while I invoke two strange bedfellows – comedian Bill Hicks, who built his routine on smoking, and bicyclists – in writing about what journalists should do better.

Bill Hicks, who died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer, was nothing if not passionate. His rants and stage presence are famous among stand-up comedians. He’s particularly well-known for his stance on smoking, or, more accurately, on why non-smokers made him so angry. In one bit he polls the audience and asks who smokes and who doesn’t. When the non-smokers voice their presence in laudatory, enthusiastic tones, he calls them a bunch of “self-righteous slugs.” (Warning: his language is rather “colorful.” Don’t watch if you object to such language.)

 

“I’d quit smoking if I didn’t think I’d become one of you,” he says in the bit.

That line reminds me of my interest in biking (the kind with carb-loading and spandex, not chaps and Sturgis).

I’d become a hardcore bicyclist if it weren’t for hardcore bicyclists. In fact, I remarked to a friend recently that “the worst part about biking culture is biking culture.”

Forgive the gross generalization, but it’s been my experience that bicycling breeds an upper-crust crowd comparable to the snottiest fox-hunting, caviar-eating, polo-playing societal elitists out there. Go into any bicycle shop (not big box retailer) and ask about the lubrication benefits of using WD-40 on your chain.

“Eh. That’s a cleaner, not a lubricant. Don’t EVER use it to lube a chain!” is a likely response. “Here’s our selection of specialized lubricants – $10 per three oz. bottle.”

This notion of superiority, the kind coming from people on bikes that cost more than my car, keeps me away from becoming fully immersed and involved in biking culture.

Transfer that to journalism.

It’s not a new sentiment to say there’s a certain amount of arrogance in the profession. One doesn’t lead to the other, of course, but perhaps it’s more apparent in an industry that sees its practitioners’ names, faces and voices constantly before the public. As Linda Thomas aptly noted in a recent Quill piece on journalists to follow: “ … having the title of journalist doesn’t make you more interesting or important than anyone else.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned in this era of “citizen journalism” and CNN iReports, it’s that acts of journalism can come from any source and any moment. And now comes the obligatory invocation of informative video and messages disseminating from Iran in 2009 from “ordinary people” and not journalists. As my boss often says: Great journalism happens everywhere. I’ll add my own addendum: And by those who didn’t mean for it to happen.

So that’s what journalists should avoid in the bicycling culture – the notion that anyone is better for any reason, primarily based on the quality and price tag attached to one’s equipment and training.

BUT WHAT SHOULD JOURNALISM COPY FROM BIKING?

Call it a “God smack” or cruel irony or karma or whatever, but I recently found myself needing help from the very people I’d previously scorned: hardcore bikers.

Two days after remarking that the biking culture was the worst part of biking, I committed the cardinal sin of long-distance riding: no spare inner tube in case of a flat. Six miles from home, and no nearby bike shop open at the time, I began the long walk of shame down the bicycle friendly paved trail through Indianapolis. Nearly every biker I’d deem “hardcore” stopped to help or inquired of my situation. These were the type wearing team riding jerseys and specialty bike shoes more expensive than my monthly rent. One guy, who it turned out worked at the kind of bike store I avoid, offered to change my tire on the spot with his spare tube.

I denied all help, however, reasoning that I needed to learn my lesson, even if that meant walking well into the darkness of a muggy summer night. It occurred to me later that no “casual” biker – of which I saw at least 30 – offered assistance or even moral support. Nothing so much as an “are you okay, dude?” from the people in cotton t-shirts riding mountain bikes.

Perhaps that’s because they, like me, had no spare parts to offer. They, like me, weren’t prepared (another cardinal sin broken, this time from my Eagle Scout training).

Whatever the reason, I knew immediately that the “hardcore bikers” that I so passionately didn’t want to become were exactly the right model for journalists.

It’s that kind of willing-to-help attitude that more experienced journalists (the type winning Pulitzers and Sigma Delta Chi Awards) need to selflessly pass on to a new generation of reporters. Instead of getting locked into the box of “how can I turn this award-winning project into a best-selling book” (not that there’s anything wrong with that) perhaps the first thought should be “how can a younger journalist benefit from my experience?” The book deals and fellowships will fall into place. Heck, some news outlets are still lucky enough to have staff coordinate such opportunities for their high-profile journalists.

But the mentoring opportunities, such as SPJ’s program, for some strange reason aren’t as sought after as a Pulitzer or Peabody nomination. It’s not because there’s no one out there seeking help. Just take a look down the hall from your office. There’s a young reporter out there, perhaps limping along, waiting for you to put air in his tires. Stop and help. Don’t just blow smoke in his face as you walk (or ride) by.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. He quit smoking on December 31, 2009 and to his knowledge has not become one of “those” non-smokers. Twitter: @scottleadingham.

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