Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

What’s your story?

Take time to develop your craft, for when a journalist is at their best, their audience is too. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s Tuesday, the 8th, at just after 10 in the morning. At my desk, I prepare to make some phone calls to Britain for research for a story I’m working on. As I began that period of reading and conversations which spanned the next couple of hours, what I thought was a concrete story idea ended up having the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written all over it.

What was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” became “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas.”

Yet, this wasn’t the only story that I had struggled with. I had been generally struggling to find the best story possible, in an age where content is king, and the desire to be first outranks the desire to be right and authentic.

We enter this industry not for the fame or the fortune, but with the goal that the stories that we tell will inform, educate and engage. We are fascinated by the role that journalism can have in our society, through the words that accompany it, irrespective of platform. We desire contribute in the hope that the work we do can be for the common good.

The drive and instinctive skills of a storyteller are things that never leave you. They are replicated in that idea you have for that piece you want to publish or that segment you want to broadcast. The world has its stories, and you want to tell them. As Dhruti Shah, the BBC journalist (who is a journalist that inspires me), put it over on the International Community blog: “You just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you.”

There is potential in this age of the internet and social media for this storytelling to make a difference, but with that potential comes the other side – the increased competition not just for the story, but also the ability to tell stories that can have an impact.

Those feelings are summed up in the nagging questions at the back of your mind: “Are the stories I’m telling the best ones that I can tell? Is my work truly my best?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for SPJ’s Quill magazine on how the internet can help journalists get perspective on their careers, whether you’re an up and coming reporter or a professional trying to figure out your next steps. The same rule applies for storytelling, and the internet provides potential for you to gain that quintessential insight.

Here are some tips on how to best seek that advice to be the best storyteller you can be.

  • Engage with journalists who inspire you. You may work at different organizations or focus on different platforms, but the goals you have as journalists when all is said and done remain the same.
  • Ask for a conversation. If an email address or other contact details are listed, use those to arrange a conversation. If you’re on Twitter, send a simple tweet asking if they could follow you so you could direct message them about a conversation? Then, take it offline.
  • Tap into your own network. Whether its a friend or colleague, have a cup of coffee and a chat. Insights from within your own newsroom or outlet can even help get your creative juices flowing.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most helpful.
  • Stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the future, and as a reminder – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

You may feel uneasy at first, but the time you take will without question be worthwhile in helping you be a better journalist and storyteller.

After all, when you are at your best, your audience will be at their best, too.

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.

What Jacques Pepin can teach journalists

The work of chef, author and broadcaster Jacques Pepin provides lessons for journalists. (Photo: Edsel Little/Wikimedia Commons)

The work of chef, author and broadcaster Jacques Pepin provides worthwhile lessons for journalists. (Photo: Edsel Little/Wikimedia Commons)

Jacques Pepin and I, through our professions, are different. Pepin is the successful chef, author and broadcaster, known to millions as the host of multiple cooking programs airing on public television. I am a journalist who writes primarily about journalism and digital culture.

Despite our pursuits of different lines of work, there are two things that we have in common — our commitment to quality and our ability to tell stories.

For Pepin, he tells these stories through his recipes, curating the experience of enjoying food with family and friends. For me, it is through the stories and essays I write, not just for SPJ, but for the British publication Kettle Magazine, for whom I have served as an editor and contributor for over 4 years.

Yet, Pepin’s work and philosophy can provide lessons for journalists. In a recent broadcast of the PBS Newshour, Pepin did a segment reflecting on the culture of the recipe, and that at the core of a recipe is the idea that comes from it.

“A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure,” Pepin said. “You have to follow it exactly the first time you make the dish. But after you make it again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic.”

The same rule applies, albeit indirectly, to journalism. The ethics and background rules apply and must be abided by the first time you sit down and write a story. You have the information that comes from 6 basic elements — who, what, when, where, why and how. But as the mediums evolve in the digital age, there are more ways for stories to be told, whether through conventional platforms like a newspaper, TV or radio, or through the web and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

What I have come to appreciate about Pepin’s work is the stories that he tells with the experience of food. Every dish, whether he cooks it himself or with the help of his daughter Claudine, granddaughter Shorey or best friend Jean-Claude, tells a story, and though the basic recipe elements either remain the same or differentiate depending upon taste, there is a different story that can be told.

Good journalism and good storytelling has the power to make a difference in the world. It not only informs and engages, but also has the ability to inspire. It is the type of storytelling that I hope to do as I continue my career.

Pepin is curating a unique experience with every dish he makes, which makes his programs on public television (and indeed other public media programs) so worthwhile. Pepin also gives a reminder to all of us about the importance of a good story, and how much benefit it can have.

Happy cooking, and happy storytelling.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

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.

Tips on Writing a Digital Story

With society becoming more digitalized, journalists  too must adapt to the changes, along with how create a story in the digital age.

With society becoming more digitalized, journalists too must adapt to the changes, along with how create a story in the digital age.

“The social media aspect was something that was just not there five years ago,” said Nick Komjati a student studying to become a sports reporter at the EW Scripps School of Journalism, which is a part of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

With print newspaper readership and sales declining at a rapid pace, and social media consumption skyrocketing, students and professional journalists alike are now learning how to write, film and produce stories in the newly digitalized format.

Brett Atwood, the director of integrated communication at Washington State University, posted a lecture titled “Multimedia Reporting”. Here are some of the main points of the lecture and how some big tech companies are helping journalists with this change.

Before discussing how to write a digital story, it’s important to understand what web journalism is, and how it differs from print journalism. “Web Journalism” consists of breaking news, links of credible sources, along with social media integration and reader interactivity.

Unlike print journalism, journalists have many more freedoms, in terms of writing and crafting a story in the digitalized format. Some of these differences include stories that are read or presented in a non-linear fashion and the writer has unlimited space to write the story. With the unlimited space, reporters can now break up longer stories into chunks and during breaking news situations, stories can now be updated quickly, with the latest information. Also, reporters now have the option to embed polls and slideshows, along with audio and video pieces that are relevant to their story, to help readers better comprehend what they’re reading.

So how can you write a the perfect digital story that’s both appealing and informative?


Links can be a very important factor in your story as it can show readers where you got your information, whether that be a report or a study from another site, but there are a few components you need to remember when utilizing links within your story. First, don’t overdo it on links, for it can possibly completely redirect readers from your story and the site on which it was published. By doing so, you will not only lose readership on your story, but your publisher’s site will lose its revenue from ads. Also, use only quality links and beware of the integrity of the site you’re linking to for it may contain hidden spyware or illegal content, even if it pertains to your story.


As in any story, the headline is more critical than ever. It can help determine how or if your story gets indexed on keyword searches on Google or any other internet browser. It also serves as a tease to persuade the reader to continue to read your story.

Social Media

Just like many other businesses utilizing social media to help promote their brand or their services, social media is critical for discovery and distribution of your reporting. It can also be used to help research topics and roundup sources. With social media sites being the number one source for breaking news sources, it helps draw people to view your story.

Huge tech giants are also helping aid journalist in enhancing their online stories. Services such as Google News Lab, Facebook Media and Twitter for News all alow you to embed widgets and add ons to your reporting to help with the apperance and user interactivty in your story.

Enhancing a Digital Story Even More

By embedding photo galleries and slideshows into your stories, it helps give your readers a clearer picture into what’s occurring in your story. Soundslides and Slideshare are both great and user-friendly software with which to start.

Cutline Captions

When using photographs in a story it’s always important to remember to include a cutline caption in every photograph used, so the reader can understand why that particular photo is significant to the story. When labeling a photograph it’s helpful to remember the who, what, when, where, why and how the photo was taken.

With technology constantly changing and evolving, Atwood says online journalists need to know how to write, shoot and record. “Be prepared to do it all, including audio, video editing and maybe even some light coding,” he said.

Watch Bred Atwood’s full Multimedia lecture here:

Examples of interactive articles:

Follow me on Twitter: @jonathanhmayes

Transparency for All

I wake up anxious every day, just to find out what Obama will be doing in the afternoon.

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  Perhaps my enthusiasm for The New York Times Now newsletter has got me a little carried away.

The era of digital journalism is upon us, where we consumers can uncover the president’s whereabouts, the history of Pac Man, and the leaked merger of two media companies before their employees even hear of the negotiations –– all at the tap of a screen and the stroke of a thumb.

It seems that everything is and can be known, while nothing is secret or sacred for long.  With trust comes a yearning for greater transparency, a transparency that was once denied by all.

We have yet to experience an age of fluid, free-for-all information in America as we encounter today.

Those inspirational posters in elementary schools across the country speak at least one truth: knowledge, I’ve come to learn, is power.  The masses are no longer deposited in darkness, shackled from the bitter underbelly of reality.  We can touch the truth, the stories from the “other side” –– if only we so choose.

I never appreciated how journalists have truly become the gatekeepers of society’s information until I thought about President Obama and his endless, ever-changing agenda.  If I didn’t have the thorough research, wit and intellect of journalists at the Times, I’d have absolutely no concept of the events occurring in Washington D.C., let alone with whom the president was having lunch.  I’d be clueless and unawares in my small hometown of Ohio (a state that nobody ever cares about until election season starts).

You see, I’d know the high school choir and band rosters for next school year, the best price for blueberries from the local groceries, that the house across the street is for sale.  But I wouldn’t have any concept of the tragedies in Nepal, have read BuzzFeed’s bulletproof resumé advice, or know that John Kerry broke his leg in Europe earlier this week.

I’d be left in blissful, mind-numbing ignorance, but I’d be none the wiser.

I read articles, I follow journalists because there is always something more for me to gain.  I marvel at how I will never, ever stop learning in this life, so long as I choose to keep exploring.

Journalists pave the path for discovery, for intrigue, for curiosity.  We are forever indebted to their services, their tireless effort to share with us, the audience, another glimpse of the world beyond our front door.

So next time you share a story with a friend –– a story that took place beyond your ivory tower town –– pause, and retweet a journalist.  You only know so much as your fellow human beings let you know, so support the journalists who tire away for your attention.  They’re doing this for you.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Political Science and Environmental Studies at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

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

Women Who Lead: Newsroom and Beyond

As a young girl, I didn’t idolize Princess Diana; I didn’t know who Audrey Hepburn was until my freshman year of high school; Barbie was just a logo on a box in my basement, not my inspiration.

Crazy as it sounds, I wanted to be Jesse Owens: the fastest man in the world.

Growing up with one younger brother, I spent most of my childhood playing catch in the backyard, ranking and rooting for football teams, and–of course–competing in neighborhood, Olympic-esque sprint races.

It didn’t really occur to me that I should want to be like a traditional lady–calm, composed, reserved–until much later in my adolescence. From a very early age, I was encouraged to fight for my place in the starting lineup, to prove that I could be just as agile and able as my male counterparts, both on the field and in the classroom. My parents encouraged me to stand up for myself, and I sure didn’t back down just because I was a girl.

Much of that same assertiveness (some may call it bossyness) has carried over into my adult life. There’s nothing in this world that seems impossible or unattainable purely because I am woman. With practice, preparation, and devotion, I truly believe there’s nothing I cannot achieve.

I bring this up because I want to encourage women of all ages to assert themselves in their careers, whether it be in the newsroom or in their careers beyond.

Last week, I attended a panel of journalism professionals to celebrate media entrepreneurship in this ever-evolving field. And only one of those panelists was a female.

But she didn’t shy away from her fellow panelists. In fact, she herself–dressed in a crisp white blazer and killer stilettos–encouraged all of the young women in the audience to fight for gender diversity in their own newsrooms.

Echoing Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” message, Bo Hee Kim challenged us to speak up for our own accomplishments and ideas, to demand equal opportunities in the newsroom, in order to provide more complete news coverage for an audience that’s both male and female.

And I admired this about Bo. For her to come into a college setting and express that she still faces gender bias in the 21st century was kind of alarming to me. She admitted that the bias appears on a much smaller scale than in the early 1900s, but the subtleness is still there.

Perhaps that’s the most important message I took away from #CommWeek15 at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication. Women have received more respect and attention in the workforce since the dawn of the women’s movement, but we’re still years away from being equal contributors in the workforce–especially in the newsroom.

When will it not be excited gossip for a woman to earn a top-tier position as an editor or business executive? When will gender bias not be a revolutionary court case, but merely an action we as a society cease to participate in?

I hope to live in a world where a woman can be commended on her accomplishments, regardless of if she wears a necklace and shiny pears. A woman’s ideas should be celebrated because she is a forward-thinker, a visionary, and someone who is insanely intelligent–not just because she is a woman.

Bethany N. Bella is studying at Strategic Communications and Environmental Political Science at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

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


The future of women studying journalism

The School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Indiana University's main campus in Bloomington, considered to be one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the US. Research shows an increase of women studying journalism compared to men. Photo - mojourcomm / Wikimedia Commons (CC)

The School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Research shows an increase of women studying journalism compared to men.
Photo – mojourcomm / Wikimedia Commons (CC)

One of the items in modern journalism education that has been examined as of late is the rise of women studying journalism, and that despite more women studying the subject than their male counterparts, more of the jobs are going to men.

A recent blog post detailed research from Oxford University in the UK which indicated more women studied journalism compared to men in multiple countries, including the United States, yet most of the jobs were going to men.

More research had been done particularly on the angle of education in the US, and recent research from the University of Georgia, known as the Annual Survey of Journalism and Mass Communication Enrollment, indicated that approximately two-thirds of the student body pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in the field were women.

Yet with the concerns still out there on employment ratios and gender gaps, what does the future hold for women studying journalism, and what would the educational research indicate when transitioning to employment?

In an earlier blog post, Whitney Ashton, a senior at Pepperdine University, based outside Los Angeles, said there had been some changes in the digital age.

“It’s easy to look through the gendered lens that is sometimes presented on TV or get discouraged by the ratio of male to female bylines in newspapers, but online journalism and social media are new territory,” Ashton said. “The digital age has disrupted traditional journalism in many ways, and I think it also has the potential to change gender attitudes for women looking to break into the industry.”

Indiana University's flagship campus in Bloomington, considered to be one of the most prestigious journalism programs in the US. (Photo: McAnt/Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

Indiana University’s flagship campus in Bloomington, considered to be home to one of the most prestigious journalism programs in the US. (Photo: McAnt/Wikimedia Commons under CC license)

At Indiana University‘s flagship campus in Bloomington, senior journalism student Abby Llorico says the research from UGA is not surprising, and that you could walk down most hallways at Ernie Pyle Hall and not spot a single male student.

Llorico, reached by email, says something is missing.

“My honors program started with a few guys in it, but now it’s dwindled down to only 8 girls,” Llorico said. “It’s unfortunate in a learning environment because there’s definitely a perspective we’re missing.”

For the industry, Llorico says, many people associate the digital industry with social media, and perceptions are different.

“The digital world is seen by many people as a “social media” term, and many people think of social media as more of a ‘girl-thing,'” Llorico said. “I have never heard of a guy wanting to make a career out of social media. And while of course they do use the platform, for young people I would say that it’s more common for girls to keep up with their feeds and timelines than guys.”

Yet, on the subject of equality, Llorico says, gender is the easiest hurdle.

“I really think that’s the easiest hurdle we have to face in society, and I am a woman,” Llorico said. “We’ve cleared a lot of hurdles when it comes to how people think and now it’s just about making policy that catches up. As far as religion, race, nationality, and the like, I think that journalism is one sphere in which the generally more liberal mindset would help make equality more possible than in other fields.”

Llorico, who wants to be a TV news anchor when she finishes her studies, says it is imperative to understand the world and its various perspectives.

“There’s nothing more crucial in this world than understanding it,” Llorico said. “We owe it to one another to hear each other out and listen to voices, stories, and problems that are different than ours.”

For the moment, however, concerns about a gender gap are vast and appear in many schools in the US. In an interview with the USA Today College publication, Victoria Messina, a journalism major at the University of Florida, it may lead to concerns of employment down the road.

“If I put in the same amount of effort, and went to a really great journalism school, and did all of the same work as him and he got the job or the better story than me, then that would suck.”

Alex Veeneman is a Chicago based SPJ member who is chairman of SPJ Digital and the community coordinator for SPJ. Veeneman serves as Deputy Editor, Media Editor and contributing writer to Kettle Magazine, an online publication based in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

Ask Questions, Get Answers

You know the phrase, ‘Ask and you shall receive’?  No other advice rings truer for young journalists who are itching to get out in the business.

It’s the classic professors’ ploy: “Questions? Anybody have questions?” The professor implores, as he paces the floor. More often than not, the room answers with squeaky shoe-shuffling. Students, especially prideful college students, are reluctant to admit what they don’t know.

But journalists are the curious ones of the bunch–the ones that ask questions to strangers over the phone; the ones that seek out sources, data, and numbers on the Internet.  So why are we still afraid to ask questions, when we’re practically spoon-fed opportunities to do so?

The journalism profession is hands down a learn-on-the-job kind of trade–don’t expect a morning lecture to earn you the keys to the kingdom of ledes.  There’s only so much knowledge a reporter can gain from reading a textbook before she just has to pick up the phone herself.

And as inexperienced, young journalists coming into college–feeling free, confident, and sometimes a little cocky–we need all the help we can get.

My advice for journalists-in-training is to always ask questions.  Even when you’re sitting in an Anthropology lecture on Gender and Ethnicity, challenge yourself to ask the professor–a well-learned scholar, no doubt–a question about his or her experiences pertaining to the topic at hand.  I bet you’ll walk away from the lecture feeling more engaged and more likely to remember the material for an exam (yes, journalists still need to pass exams).

But don’t just ask questions in the classroom.

Find other journalists working in the field and kindly ask for their advice.  Even better, find a journalist (or two) already doing what it is you aspire to do, and ask them how they got there. Chances are, you’ll receive some smart, succinct advice and a new ally in this competitive field.

Journalists already love talking to strangers, and what journalist wouldn’t enjoy an email or two to give his own advice, for a change?

Trust me: The professionals out there? They were college journalists once, too–surviving on coffee and late night snacks while trying to write that perfect nut graf.  Stay one step ahead, and keep asking questions. Pretty soon, you’ll have yourself some answers.

Bethany N. Bella is a multimedia journalist studying at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bnbjourno or browse her work at

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

The Kansan and student journalism in the digital age

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.  (Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

The Chi Omega Fountain at the University of Kansas. Its student newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, has embraced a digital first model.
(Photo: InaMaka/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

In this Net Worked guest post, Emma LeGault and Brian Hillix of the University Daily Kansan student newspaper at the University of Kansas reflect on their decision to go digital first and what student media will be in the digital age.

On Feb. 4, the University Daily Kansan announced it will print two days per week instead of four, beginning in fall 2015. A desire to be digital-first and capitalize on an industry movement was at the heart of the decision.

Once we announced the decision, the general response was positive. While many were sad to see the change, they understood why it was necessary.

The response from former Kansan alumni, however, was not as encouraging. Some said they don’t think the switch to digital news will adequately prepare students for future jobs in journalism, saying that working under pressure on deadlines nights was invaluable. Others said the flexibility of being digital will make us complacent with stories.

More than anything, it seems they are rooted in the tradition of the print product. The Kansan has been the student voice for 110 years, and for as long as they can remember, we’ve printed the paper at least four times per week. They hold fond memories of working for — and reading — The Kansan this way.

We thought former students — many who are professional journalists — would understand the decision, because they were a part of the continually changing culture of digital journalism not so long ago.

That being said, a student media organization should never do something just because it has been done that way in the past. Journalists must continue to ask questions and adapt when necessary. If not, we become disconnected to our audience and what it needs from us. Today’s student journalists should always be thinking ahead to the future and how to best connect with their audience. They shouldn’t fear change, but welcome it.

From an advertising perspective, The Kansan’s decision makes sense. Clients want their ads to appear in editions that preview and recap the weekend, and our Monday and Thursday editions are fuller. With fewer clients wanting to advertise mid-week, turning a profit for those papers has become increasingly difficult. By not printing and distributing papers two days a week, we will have more money for new and improved technology such as cameras, servers and computers. We imagine newspapers across the country experience this, too.

At The Kansan, we take pride in preparing our student workers for careers in journalism and business. Our journalists are slowly understanding that their job goes beyond doing a little research, completing a couple interviews and writing a 500-word story. With the focus on digital content, they will learn to cover breaking news, update stories, post on social media and take pictures and video — skills that employers are looking for in a job candidate.

With a focus on digital content, we can tell a better story. Journalists can now incorporate photos, galleries, videos, Vines, social media posts, polls and other digital elements in a story. Articles with only words are becoming a thing of the past, and we’re learning that, too.

Timeliness will become a bigger priority. Instead of a midnight deadline for the print product, the deadline is right now. In the past, our readers might not have seen certain content until it was in print the next morning. Now, the news can reach our audience instantly. By posting articles immediately, reporters will be forced to be more accurate. Without a three-stage editing process, the importance of fact-checking is more critical than ever.

We know that this is a major change. Many of our students pick up the paper on a daily basis, whether it is to glance at the headlines, complete the puzzles, look at the free-for-alls or read a story or two. Whether they pick up a paper every day or not, there’s a sense of comfort knowing that The Kansan is there.

Some may be worried that we’re declining, fading or even dying. We’re not going anywhere. Instead, we’re changing, adapting and evolving.

The Kansan will still cover news that affects KU students — we will still be the student voice. The information will just be communicated in a different way, one that will better connect us to our readers.

We are behind this 100 percent. All we ask is that our readers and supporters join us, and watch what happens next. The Kansan will not disappoint.

Emma LeGault is the Special Projects Editor of The University Daily Kansan, the student newspaper of the University of Kansas. Brian Hillix is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kansan. You can interact with LeGault and Hillix on Twitter.

What do communities say about SPJ’s future?

In this Net Worked guest post, SPJ national president Dana Neuts looks at the role of the communities, including SPJ Digital, the community where this blog operates, and what these communities mean for the future of SPJ.

It’s an exciting time to be an SPJ member!

What started out as a borrowed idea several years ago has turned into an exciting reason to be an SPJ member – SPJ communities. This new community structure has created opportunities for more people to be involved in areas of mutual interest and to have a say in SPJ’s future. The concept began with the formation of the SPJ Freelance Community in the summer of 2013.

A year and a half later, we have five communities: Freelance, Digital, International, Generation J and Students.

Here’s how it works. Each community is self-governing, choosing its own mission, goals, tools and leaders. This differs dramatically from the committee structure where some of these communities originated. Committees and committee chairs are selected by the SPJ president who also provides direction as to what he or she wishes the committee to accomplish for the year.

The committees by their very nature are restricted in size with an average of half a dozen to a dozen members. The communities, on the other hand, are unlimited in size and are in control of their own future with support and guidance from the president, the community coordinator (volunteer Alex Veeneman), and SPJ staff (primarily Tara Puckey and Billy O’Keefe).

For some groups, the committee structure works well and remains in place (e.g., FOI, Ethics, Journalism Education Committees), but some members are better served by the community structure. So far, the communities have been a success generating interest among members and nonmembers, providing additional leadership opportunities, as well as opportunities for community members to learn from each other, share ideas and resources, and network with each other.

This fundamental shift also helps SPJ adapt to our rapidly changing industry, react more quickly to relevant news, and provide resources and input on areas of interest. For example, following the Charlie Hebdo attack, International Community Chair Carlos Restrepo wrote a blog post about press freedom, including quotes from a community member based in France. While I made a statement on behalf of the organization, Restrepo was able to provide a different perspective, complementing my statement.

SPJ’s new communities allow us to expand our reach beyond our members and to become more diverse in terms of age, race, culture, background, discipline, etc. The more voices we have, the better we can collectively fulfill SPJ’s mission which ultimately benefits us all. It is encouraging to see the enthusiasm of our community members, and I am eager to see our communities grow.

Want to learn more? Contact me at or community coordinator Alex Veeneman at We’d love to tell you how the communities can help you!

Based in Seattle, Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer, editor and marketing pro. She is also the publisher of, a hyperlocal blog focused on community news and events in Kent, Washington. She is currently serving as the national president of SPJ. You can learn more about Neuts at or follow her on Twitter at or

Stop ignoring Instagram

BarsChristmas arrived early for Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing service announced this week that it reached a major milestone: 300 million monthly active members.

Not quite the audience of Facebook (over 1.4 billion), or Twitter (500 million tweets daily), but enough that journalists really ought to pay it more attention.

They don’t, or many of them don’t anyway, because Instagram still strikes senior scribes as a young people’s playground decorated with abundant square-shaped images of provocative selfies, tilted shots of half-eaten meals, and too many — way too many — artfully cropped portraits of people’s feet. Moreover, square images are rather confining for news photographers who prefer to see the world through a 4:3 aspect ratio.

After breaking down that huge membership number into digestible bits, one can understand the bias. In 2013, Instagram’s own research showed that 80 percent of users were under age 24, and over half of that group had yet to finish college. Among all teens, 30 percent consider Instagram more important in their social media lives than Facebook or Twitter.

But social media platforms age like the people who use them and, one hopes, mature. Between June 2012 and June 2013, Instagram’s member base doubled despite near saturation of the youth market. Growth in urban areas outpaced that of suburban ones. And the increase in the number of users who make at least $50,000 annually exceeded the increase among those who didn’t.

Besides, 300 million is a very big number — big like an oversized sofa in an undersized apartment. And journalists who just figured out Facebook or who just joined Twitter and cringe at the idea of trying to bend their minds around yet another hulking piece of technology must understand this.

They need to get over it and focus on one important point: By being the social hub for such large number of people who journalists and media owners still struggle to reach, Instagram serves well as a site for tracking the trends, comparing the perspectives, and monitoring the moods of a valuable demographic.

So, try these tips for optimal use of Instagram:

Follow the hashtags — Like Twitter, Instagram makes use of hashtags (words or unspaced phrases with a # prefix) that turn simple terms into searchable metadata. Users can compile lists from tags such as #Ferguson and #Ebola to sift for relevant content. And like Twitter, hashtag results appear in real time, so the newest content appears in the stream first.

Depending on the frequency of posts, new content displaces old content quickly at the top of a feed, and Instagram’s search is not robust. For better searching, try using a service such as Gramfeed.

Explore communities — Large groups of Instagram users sharing similar interests often form communities around those interests, marked by single hashtags. Among the most popular communities are #ThingsOrganizedNeatly, #FollowMeTo, #Silhouettes, and Throwback Thursday (#tbt), which consists of users’ old photos posted on, well, Thursdays. (Note: Hashtags are not case-sensitive, but using upper case to show where the smushed words begin displays social courtesy.)

Check location settings — Instagram has a location service that lets users attach location tags, or geotags, to their photos. This is valuable during breaking news events; users can zoom in on the mapping feature to see who else has shot photos or video nearby and verify their locations.


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