Posts Tagged ‘Denver’


Do yourself a favor: come to Fort Lauderdale

I’ve been a journalist for 34 years, and the learning curve in the past five years has been just as steep as it was for the first five.

I’ve learned to tweet, blog and use social media to advance my writing and reporting.

I’ve learned how to shoot and edit video. I even spent some time in film school learning about visual grammar and how to tell a story in a minute or two.

I’ve produced my own Internet radio news program. I’ve covered raging floods with my trusty iPad. And I still take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and notepad.

None of this is remotely a complaint. Learning how to tell old familiar stories in completely new ways has been one of the pure joys of being a reporter in recent years.

I look at the world differently now. While on assignment, I think to myself: I can live-blog this, shoot some raw video, write my story on a park bench and tweet breaking news. It’s terrific fun, and somehow I still get paid for it.

One very tangible reason I still have this job (aside from my sheer incompetence at almost everything else) is the fact that I’ve managed to stay somewhat current with all these changes thanks in no small part to SPJ.

Most newsrooms have had to cut back if not eliminate their budgets for training and continuing education. If you want to take a couple of days off now to attend a seminar or a conference, chances are they will be on your own dime and time.

That’s why I think SPJ is such a solid investment in myself. For $75 a year, I’ve been able to access a ton of training and tools that have enabled me to be a better reporter.

I think back to all those spring conferences I’ve attended in Salt Lake City, Denver, Fort Collins, Colo., Long Island, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash. There wasn’t one where I didn’t come back to the newsroom the following Monday and start applying something I had learned.

The pace of learning accelerates even more when I think of what I learned at our national conventions in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Las Vegas and New Orleans.

That’s one reason I’m so looking forward to this year’s convention, Sept 20 to 22 at the Harbor Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale. It’ll be our second year teaming with the Radio Television Digital News Association to present the conference we call Excellence in Journalism. (Information and registration are atexcellenceinjournalism.org.)

First, there’s the hotel itself. It is so unlike any of the earlier convention venues we’ve been to in recent years. You walk out the back door and you’re a short walk from the ocean.

The white-sand beach has sections roped off for a tortoise nesting area. I’m told on a moon-lit night you can go down to the water’s edge and see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

If I were not slated to be at a national board meeting, I would definitely take the hovercraft tour of the Everglades. And I plan a return visit to an outrageously retro Polynesian tiki bar that dates back to the 1950s. (Think “Mad Men” with flame dancers and umbrella drinks.)

But I digress. There’s also some excellent learning opportunities and great speakers.

One of our keynote speakers is Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia University journalism professor who I heard talk earlier this year at an SPJ event in New York City. He is an expert on using social media to enhance your journalism skills. An hour with him will definitely raise your reporting game.

And not everything is high tech. Another speaker is Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter and best-selling author. In my book, Rick is one of the best storytellers of our generation. And trust me, even in a digital age, stories still matter. I think they matter more.

Our partnership with RTDNA has made our conventions even more useful. As all forms of media have converged in recent years, people on all sides of our profession have skills that are useful to share.

For example, one breakout session I’m hoping to catch is “Unleash Your Inner Broadcaster,” presented by the Public Radio News Directors. This is a program we would never have been able to assemble without our friends from RTDNA.

Oh, and one of my personal journalism heroes, longtime public radio host Bob Edwards, will be speaking. He’ll also receive our Fellows of the Society award, one of our highest honors. I can’t wait.

This convention also will mark the end of my year as president. This job has been a joy, and I intend to work it hard right up to the last day.

But one thing I’ll enjoy when I turn the presidency over to the very able Sonny Albarado is this: When the 2013 convention in Anaheim rolls around, I expect there will be a lot more time to soak up the learning there.

But you won’t have to wait that long. Stop reading and register today while you can still get the early bird rate (ends Aug. 28). After all, aren’t you and your career worth the investment?

Unconventional convention coverage

This weekend, I’ll be giving a talk in Charlotte, North Carolina to a group of journalists who will be covering the Democratic National Convention there on September 3-6.

I’m no expert, but I have covered three national political conventions. In 1980 I covered the Republican National Convention in Detroit when Ronald Reagan was nominated. I also covered the Democratic National Convention in New York City when President Jimmy Carter was the nominee.

Then in 2008, I was part of a team that covered the Democratic National Convention for The Rocky Mountain News.

Here are a few lessons I learn from those experiences.

1. Think Big. At the Rocky my editor assigned me one big topic: race.

During Barack Obama’s historic campaign, race was one of those big lurking topics that surfaced over and over again.

So I spent time leading up to the convention interviewing people in settings as various as an African-American barber shop to an Ethiopian restaurant where many of the city’s cab drivers hung out.

I even found a German scholar visiting Denver that summer whose specialty was the American civil rights movement.

So don’t be afraid of tackling large topics as a mini-beat during a convention. Perhaps it could be immigration or the Tea Party or income equality. You’ll be surprised how far this approach can take you.

2. Don’t overemphasize the obvious stories like traffic or parking problems. Cover them sure, but don’t lose track of the big picture. I think back to how news coverage of the Woodstock music festival focused mostly on traffic jams, permits and Port-O-Potties. Not many reporters grasped the cultural significance of what they were seeing, not until much later.

3. Designate a Wild Card reporter. Every day will deal at least one completely unexpected good story. Plan on it by designating a reporter and a spot on your budget.

4. You can’t start too early. At the Rocky, our coverage plan started very early that year. It’s not too late though to do great work in advance of the convention.

5. Think beyond the printed page or the broadcast.. A national political convention generates more stories and content than you can’t possibly fit into the print edition or a broadcast, even with a generous news hole or time frame. Use your web-only space to the maximum to capture all these stories. Doing so will make your print edition or your broadcast even better and the readers/viewers will be thankful.

6. Be careful what you tweet. Social media was still relatively new in 2008 when the Rocky decided to run a stream of reporters tweets live on the web page. This worked out fine until one reporter, thinking he was tweeting a friend, used an expletive. There was no way to remove it, so the editors told all of us “Tweet something.” That way the offending tweet quick moved down stream and out of view.

7. Keep your skepticism alive. Question stories just like you would any other day of the year. In 2008, I covered a press conference where police announced they had arrested three men on drug and gun charges in a case with “federal implications.” A local television station reported that police had arrested the men in connection with an alleged plot to kill Obama.  That seemed like a huge story at the time, but as it turned out, federal authorities knocked down the story. This only became apparent through persistent questioning that evening.

8. Tap your sister news organizations. In Denver, the Scripps newspapers from around the country provided additional reporters who help supplement our coverage. That made a big difference.

9. Go remote. Sometimes the best stories are far from the convention floor. For example, when Obama gives his speech in the stadium, I was watching it in the living room of an elderly African-American woman who told me she never thought she would live to see that day.

10. Expect the unexpected.  One night during the convention, I was driving back to the office when I pulled behind an odd looking police patrol car. At first I thought it was one of the other agencies that were helping Denver out that week.

But then I noticed the motto on the side of the patrol car “To Serve and Project.” The windows on the back seat of the vehicle were actually video images by a conceptual artist who was trying to make a statement about immigration enforcement. I followed the car until it parked, then interviewed the driver and got a great story. Conventions are chock full of such stories.

11. Stay frosty. Conventions in recent years are mostly scripted and staged to death. But occasionally, the unexpected happens as it did in Detroit in 1980 when Reagan made a last minute decision to name George Bush as his vice-president.

I remember watching Walter Mears of the Associate Press writing fluidly through all that tumult in the smooth clear prose that made him a great reporter. When events get crazy, try to channel your inner Walter Mears.

12. Have fun. Conventions are about the most fun you can have as a journalist and still get paid for it. Go to the parties. Take in the spectacle. Work hard crazy hours but relish every minute of every long day and night.

I also asked two friends who covered the convention in Denver for the Rocky in Denver for their advice.

Sara Burnett is an excellent reporter who now works for the Denver Post and will be covering the conventions again this year. Here are some of her recommendations:

1. Wear comfortable shoes. Seems trivial, but when I think back on the 2008 conventions in Denver, a handful of memories stand out: Traveling with the Obama campaign from Montana to Denver on the campaign plane, having a prime seat to watch him make history at Invesco Field at Mile High, and the long, hot and painful walk to the Pepsi Center on the first day of the convention. I thought my sandals were comfy enough. Which would have been true if there had been any kind of transportation available. But every shuttle was full and every cab taken. So I walked, with what felt like a 20-pound laptop bag in 100 degree heat. By the time I got through security and to our workspace I wanted to cry because my feet hurt so bad. So wear comfortable shoes.

2. Have clear delineations of work. We split up the teams of reporters to include: The presidential candidate; the VP candidate; the “other candidate” (Hillary Clinton); the Colorado delegation; the parties, concerts and celebrities; fundraising and fundraisers; protestors; police; Republican response and economic impact on your city (to name a few). Know in advance what each person is supposed to do but also be ready to be flexible, and have a few people who are there to cover whatever breaks that you didn’t expect.

3. Don’t be overly focused on the convention hall. Many of the best stories don’t happen during the highly scripted made-for-TV evening programming. In 2008 I went to a really interesting Q&A with David Plouffe that happened in the middle of the afternoon, for example. Another big story for us was a mass arrest of some protesters.

4. Get to know the sources you’re going to be covering well in advance and have a database of their cell phone numbers, etc., so you can reach them easily and so that you can be sure they will return your calls when you need them to. There will suddenly be national news outlets and the Anderson Coopers of the world there – and if something huge happens, people’s natural instinct is to talk to the reporters/anchors they see on TV before they talk to you. Having a relationship with them before the convention starts will help get that return call.

4. Have alternate forms of communication. Especially in or near the convention hall you may have cellphone reception problems. have a laptop or ipad or whatever else you need ready in case your phone doesn’t work.

5. Go to some parties. As journalists in a host city, by the time the convention finally starts, 90 percent of your work has already been done. So don’t let the craziness of that week overwhelm you. You will be tired but you should be sure to go to some parties. Develop some new sources (or improve relationships with existing ones). Meet people you’ve always wanted to meet. And have some fun.

Next, here is some sage advice from M.E. Sprenglemeyer, another excellent Rocky alum who now owns and edits a weekly paper in New Mexico.

ME did some extraordinary reporting during the last presidential campaign. He took the bold innovative step of moving out of DC where he served as the Rocky’s Washington correspondent and move to Iowa for the year.

It provided him with invaluable insight into the campaign as well as access to the candidates.

ME’s basic advice to reporters covering this convention is this: think unconventionally. Here are a couple of his   suggestions as well as an observation of my own.

1. Think outside your Rolodex. One of the things that made ME’s pre-convention coverage brilliant was the way in which he expanded the pool of people he interviewed well beyond the conventional cast.

No where was this more apparent in a series of 10 stories he wrote for the Rocky called “Unconventional Wisdom,”

The frame of the story was simple yet large: interview people, famous and obscure from previous Democratic conventions for their insights and advice to  the current candidates. (Remember this was when Hillary Clinton  and Barack Obama were in close competition.)

2. Look for the not-so-obvious people. One of ME’s favorite stories from this series was his profile of a soldier whom Obama cited in a pivotal speech he gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Click here for a link to that story:

It turns out that Obama kept in touch with that soldier, Seamus Ahern, long after the convention and got a fair amount of his information about the war from that exchange.

So look for that person who is “one off” the principal newsmakers and don’t be surprised if you find a great story.

3. It’s not too late. Many of you have been planning for the DNC for over a year. With the convention now just over a month away, you can’t do some of the things ME did in the lead up to the 2004 convention.

But there is still time to do these projects. Perhaps a single story interviewing people from past convention. Or perhaps focus on one convention that seems relevant to this race. ME is convinced he could start work on Monday on a story like this and have it done in time for Sept. 3.

Credentialed journalists are assigned to a coveted bit of real estate, a place to write their stories. But spend as little time there as possible. Don’t be a spectator to the same event that every other journalist in the room is watching.

5. Avoid writing anything that a person watching the convention can get by watching television. Your readers/viewers expect something more from you. There are so many stories at a convention. Find one that the national networks overlooked. Give people something they didn’t see.

6. Analyze the Speech. To prepare for covering Obama’s acceptance speech, ME watched and read several decades worth of acceptance speeches from past convention.

Presidential campaign speech writers are a small fraternity. They are a bit like film makers or jazz musicians in the way they borrow riffs from one another. It’s not plagiarism so much as paying homage to great speeches of the past.

By doing this advance research, ME was able to deliver on deadline a crisp analysis story that pointed out those allusions to speeches by other candidates.

7. Find a green delegate. Many news organizations do mini-profiles of the delegates from their coverage area. This is a sound practice. But ME suggests going one step further: focus on seeing the convention through the eyes of a first-time delegate. They are more likely than most to retain a sense of wonder about the convention. This is a valuable point of view to explore.

Finally, here is some advice from my friend Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association.

Mickey is a photo-journalist turned lawyer who has done yeoman’s work this year representing journalist who were arrested or detained  while doing their jobs covering various Occupy street demonstrations this year.

If you are covering protests outside the convention hall, here are links Mickey offers with some practical suggestions for journalists trying to cover the story and not become part of it.

NPPA list of resources regarding rights: https://www.nppa.org/member_services/advocacy/restrictions_on_public_photography.html

CPJ blog on what to know regarding covering conventions: http://cpj.org/security/2012/07/what-to-know-““about-covering-the-conventions.php

RCFP hotline: http://www.rcfp.org/reporters-committee-announces-political-convention-g-8-hotlines-journalists

RCFP new app: http://www.rcfp.org`/reporters-committee-launches-rcfp-firstaid-mobile-app-reporters

If you are arrested in the line of duty,  Mickey will be here in Charlotte to represent journalists if they do get in trouble for doing their job.

Keep in mind also that SPJ has a Legal Defense Fund that can make grants of up to $1,000 toward the legal defense of people who are arrested in the course of covering a story. Here is a link to our LDF website:

 

 

My dream newsroom layout: Shape of things to come?

A lot of ink and pixels have been spilled on the “future of journalism” — on what business models will best lead us through the leap from “legacy media” to digital.

Not as much attention has been paid to the shape and architecture of the newsroom.

I think the current configuration of most newsrooms – both in print and broadcast – is outdated. The days of reporters and editors hunkered down in front of a desktop computer seems archaic in a time when technology has made our jobs increasingly mobile.

So, here is a brief description of what my dream newsroom would look like. I offer it knowing full well it runs contrary to the conventional newsroom we’ve all come to know and love for its quirks and eccentricities. And I know it would be outside of most people’s comfort zones.

My dream newsroom actually has an address: 1628 – 16th Street in Denver, in the heart of what is known as LoDo or Lower Downtown Denver.

It is the address of my favorite independent bookstore, The Tattered Cover, which occupies several floors of a classic red brick warehouse built in 1896.

If I were designing a newsroom from scratch, I would embed it inside a bookstore like the Tattered. I’d put it in one of the upper floors, spread across the large open hardwood floor with large windows that overlook the neighborhood.

But instead of the usual set up of desk/phone/reporter, I would have an array of long library tables with the classic green lampshade lights in the center.

Every reporter would be equipped with a computer tablet, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone. There would be plenty of file cabinets along the walls, but data would also be backed up on a cloud system that would allow everyone to retrieve documents.

You take a seat anywhere, file your story, talk to your sources, your colleagues, check your file cabinet, grab some coffee, and you’re on your way.

Part of this has to do with my long-held belief that there’s no news in the newsroom. There are gossip, witty remarks and companionship, but the news for the most part is out there beyond the brick walls.

I’m reminded of something Jimmy Breslin once said about how reporters of my generation grew up watching television and later transferred that skill to staring all day at a computer terminal.

People who do this spend their days talking with other reporters. They don’t tend to do much talking with longshoremen, cab drivers, grave diggers and people in unemployment lines or cops smoking cigarettes outside the station house.

Instead we follow a very human impulse to band together and hang out to the detriment of chasing the news.

The advantage to this hive-like newsroom would become apparent in times of crisis and breaking news. It would be possible to empty out a newsroom and have people set up somewhere closer to where the action was happening.

There are a few other advantages to the newsroom-embedded-in-a-bookstore. The Tattered had a great coffee shop. I could see the staff taking refuge there throughout the day, right next to the out-of-town newspaper rack.

And did I mention the free coffee and tea? Yes the stuff that fuels most newsrooms would be a perk of this newsroom.

It also wouldn’t be bad for reporters to have some casual secondary exposure to new books. I’m convinced one of the keys to good journalism writing is to read widely, especially other good writers.

The Tattered  also had a large room for book signings and author talks. Imagine if the same space could be used on a regular basis by reporters interviewing newsmakers.

One other important feature of this model: it puts us where the audience is. People who buy books tend to read papers. Why not create a place where people could leave news tips?

Now, I know some distance from the public can be a good thing. There are a lot of obsessive people out there who tend to cling to a newsroom like barnacles. I remember one woman who kept telling reporters in one newsroom that she was a Russian spy.

But I also know that many newsrooms have created an almost impenetrable barrier between readers in the form of voicemail and phones that never get answered. A more permeable newsroom could lead to more stories.

I know my dream newsroom would be hell for a lot of reporters who like to claim their own space with their favorite coffee, pictures of family, knick knacks, gadgets, toys and all the stuff that makes the newsroom our second home.

But the news really is out there, and technology enables us to spend a lot more time hanging out in the places where news happens is something we should be taking advantage of as much as possible.

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Notes from the Executive Committee meeting in Charlotte

Live from Charlotte

Our recent winter meeting of the SPJ Executive Committee on Jan.  28 in Charlotte, N.C., marked an important first: a live webcast of most of our daylong meeting.

It was not without some technical snags. We couldn’t access a WiFi network and the cord to the desktop computer was a bit short.

And the configuration of the room made it difficult for the Web audience to hear everyone.

But we made adjustments, moved some furniture closer and spoke a more clearly to the webcam.

About 11 members tuned in, and by the afternoon, several of them were emailing us with questions and observations that were helpful.

It was a good first effort, one that I’m sure we can improve upon when the full board meets in Indianapolis in April.

A tip of the fedora here to board member Michael Koretzky who has been advocating for these webcasts for several years.

Strategic Plan Revisited

During our meeting, we began work on updating our long-range strategic plan, which the SPJ board first adopted about five years ago.

When it was originally drafted in November 2007, the Executive Committee wanted the plan revised periodically.

In Charlotte, we quickly reached a consensus that no major overhaul was needed. In fact, many of the goals set in the document describe the work we’ve done since then.

But we did agree to update that plan, and we’ll take up the section that deals with Society operations when the Executive Committee reconvenes in Washington D.C. in July.

Prepping for the DNC

We heard a presentation from leaders of the Greater Charlotte chapter on their plans for raising SPJ’s profile when the Democratic National Convention is held there in early September.

The chapter has some ambitious plans, including a training seminar for journalists who will cover the convention, and a style guide that would help visiting journalists get to know the city.

The committee endorsed the chapter’s application for a grant to help them carry out these plans, subject to the approval of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board.

We also agreed to send a letter questioning Charlotte officials about a recently adopted ordinance that could make it difficult for photojournalists covering the convention to do their jobs (as well as for residents who live in that area).


International SPJ members

We heard a report from the International Journalism Committee on ways in which SPJ might go about growing its membership in other countries.

The committee’s overall sentiment was to welcome such members and charter chapters oversees while taking care to build in safeguards that will promote journalism that is independent and professional.

After some discussion, the board agreed to focus first on individual members, noting that SPJ already has a small number of members overseas.

We also instructed the committee to come back with specific policy proposals that we can put before the full SPJ board in late April.

Virtual chapters/Affinity groups

We discussed a report from an ad hoc committee that examined the feasibility of organizing members into virtual chapters or affinity groups based upon mutual professional interest such as court reporting or online journalism.

The ad hoc committee recommended against creating virtual chapters with some members seeing it as having a potentially negative effect on geographic chapters. We agreed.

But we also decided to further explore setting up some affinity groups on a trial basis. Our first step in this direction will be to poll members and see what sort of groups they might be interested in joining.

In other matters

The committee also endorsed several proposals, including:

-A strategic communication plan to bring some uniformity when SPJ issues press releases as well as a means to measure the impact of those statements.

-A plan to create a public service announcement consisting of a series of eight one-minute videos that feature various journalists and how their stories helped members of the public. We suggested some ways in which production costs of the video can be minimized. The plan will be subject to a vote by the SDX Foundation board.

-A plan by the Diversity Committee to continue with the diversity fellows program at the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference as well as finding ways to work with the fellows during the rest of the year.

We also heard report from a committee that is working on implementing the one-member, one-vote system approved by delegates in 2011. Watch for more details on this plan in the months ahead.

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