Archive for the ‘Journalists to Follow’ Category

An intimate inspiration

Radio is the intimate of all mediums, and public radio has a role to play in civic and cultural life. (Photo: Pixabay)

Spring, 2009. A medical trifecta led to me completing the last half of my junior year and my entire senior year of high school as a homebound student. The days saw my mom and I commute to a plethora of doctors appointments, while the nights saw insomnia – a side effect of all the medications I was on.

One night, in my room at my home in suburban Chicago, I wondered what I could do so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister on the other end of the house. I switched on the radio, volume down. Away I went, fiddling the tuning button, past the commercial talk on AM, the pedantic top 40 and genre specific stations on FM, and then, I stumbled upon WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, doing their top of the hour ID.

What followed were the final sounds of the Greenwich Time Signal from London, and then these words: “It’s 7:00 GMT. This is The World Today from the BBC World Service.”

The most intimate of mediums became a friend and a companion, in the hours where one felt isolated, scared and alone. On that night, and nights during my recovery, those sounds provided reassurance to me that all was right in the world, and that I wasn’t alone. I became curious about the world, and the role that stories can have in helping us understand each other, be it written or spoken.

Public radio saved my life, and inspired me to go into journalism.

This past Sunday marked National Radio Day in the United States, an occasion to mark the importance of the medium in this country, and what it means to the civic and cultural life of America. This year’s marking of National Radio Day was special too for public radio, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Public radio continued to be a companion through my college days, and even in times of uncertainty provided a couple of ideas about the work that I want to do in the future, from the search for stories by one of NPR’s most renowned correspondents to the desire by a DJ at 89.3 The Current at Minnesota Public Radio to unearth something you’ve never heard before – and to be the quintessential champion of authenticity.

Radio was designed to be something that connects the world together – to help us understand ourselves, and to do the best we can for the common good. Public media expanded it, and it could be seen especially with the events today involving the solar eclipse – as people gathered to watch in awe the week’s scientific highlight.

Journalism, irrespective of medium, finds itself in a quandary, as it tries to adjust in the digital age. As it does, those who aspire to make it their life’s work wonder if they will be able to make an impact. Many students will be returning to university campuses over the next few weeks with that question still etched in their minds.

It’s a question still etched in my mind, too. While I don’t have the definitive answer to it, I know this – there are people out there who are doing their best possible work, not to achieve fame or fortune, but to inform, educate and engage.

To paraphrase a quote from a funding announcement from WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, their desire is to help people cope better with the world and their own lives. Public media does that and then some, and showcases that when all is said and done, in spite of uncertainty, the work does make a difference. I hope I can do just that.

I have them to thank and them to credit for inspiring me to pursue journalism. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Sometimes it takes an epiphany to get you to think “Digital First”

Steve Buttry, who has the impressive if murky title of “Digital Transformation Editor” for Digital First Media, the entity that now operates the combined newspaper and television properties of the Journal Register Company and MediaNews Group, spends a lot of his time speaking not only to working journalists but to journalism students. He preaches the gospel of digital media as not only the future, but the present reality of the news business.

I happen to agree, and was glad to meet the man at an all-day Digital Media Workshop at the University of Colorado, sponsored by the Digital News Test Kitchen, a cutting-edge media think-tank. Buttry, who’s based in northern Virginia, spent the workshop sharing his views on the importance of embracing the evolving tools and technologies of news, and also giving hands-on tips that journalists can employ to tell stories for the new age.

He had lots of examples of newspapers doing innovative work and trying new ideas, like using a board on one Journal Register paper’s Pinterest page to show the local police’s Most Wanted mugshots (arrests increased). He also offered do’s and don’ts for other social media and digital tools.

In true digital-first fashion, there was a flurry of tweets during the workshop posted by attendees (lord knows when Buttry found the time to re-tweet some of them while he was still presenting), and Buttry posted on his blog about the workshop within a few hours. The post includes helpful links to all the examples of great multimedia and cutting-edge work that he used during his talk, and they’re worth checking out for anyone interested in the best that digital journalism has to offer.

His blog post includes a link to a Storify timeline, a compilation of tweets and photos uploaded live as the workshop progressed, curated by a journalism student, Rob Denton. Denton signed up for Storify when Buttry mentioned it, and created the timeline during the workshop. That’s how easy it can be to try out and learn some of the cool new tools that are available for journalists to use.

On his blog, Buttry also uses a service called Slideshare to upload all the slides from his presentation – a wealth of intelligence available for anyone to learn from. Slideshare is a social network to distribute PowerPoint presentations, and a perfect way to share expertise (assuming that your PowerPoint presentation isn’t a snoozer, and Buttry’s aren’t).

During the Q&A session, I asked if there was an epiphany in his career, which began in traditional newspapers that led him to embrace online media. “It’s really more a process than an epiphany,” he said.

He noted that he went into journalism in part because he knew he’d learn something new every day, and embracing new tools and platforms hasn’t been so different. He did remember that in 1984, he was in charge of a Des Moines Register initiative to raise community engagement by “crowdsourcing” news into a “Hometown” section. The idea didn’t fly with traditional journalists, but he was impressed with the power of the people who contributed.

He also remembered an early introduction to the Web as a research tool through a “Computer Assisted Reporting” (that’s what they used to call online, database-driven journalism stuff back in the day) project for the Omaha World Herald as the closest thing he had to an epiphany.

My epiphany was when I was entertainment editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1994 (we were one of the first five American newspapers to have a website), and I got an email from a reader. He was thanking me for the paper’s arts coverage because he was a local scientist stuck in Antarctica for the winter, and our website allowed him to keep up with the rich local arts scene.

The knowledge that someone halfway around the globe could instantly read what I was publishing online changed my whole concept of news media. I realized that family and friends in Japan could now instantly follow what I was doing, and read my articles. Today that doesn’t seem too shocking, since we could Skype around the world for free and video-chat on Google Hangout, or read live tweets and watch live streamed video from anywhere in the world — or even outer space.

But back then, I have to admit, the idea blew my mind. That’s when I knew the Internet would be the future of news media, and that I had to find my place in it during the dawn of this evolution. I haven’t regretted the decision once.

If you had an epiphany about online media, send it along to — I’d love to hear your stories.

A version of this post was submitted for SPJ’s Quill magazine.


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