Posts Tagged ‘reporting’


Obsessions over beats

The former building of the Dallas Morning News. The organization is focusing on obsessions rather than beats. (Photo: Antonio Campoy Ederra/Flickr)

It is a piece of guidance which is as established as the institution of journalism itself – as you work your way through school to get a degree, you form a specialism along the way. This specialism would guide much of the work that you would do during the course of your career.

Yet, the evolution of the landscape in the digital age has challenged the convention of that thinking. As social media and the culture of the internet impacts how one consumes news and how one disseminates it, the idea of a specialism or beat can appear rather outdated.

This opaque view, as a result, can also have an impact on work journalists do in the field. That view’s impact can be seen first hand, especially in the case of Sulome Anderson, who for many years was a freelance journalist based in the Middle East. She decided recently to return to the United States, after what she says was one of the worst years in her journalistic career.

“I can’t make a living reporting from the Middle East anymore,” Anderson said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “I just can’t justify doing this to myself.”

Anderson made this decision as the American news cycle continues to be driven by events surrounding President Trump. Though she says Trump was the not the direct reason why she made the decision to leave the Middle East, it suggests a wider problem.

“Open any American news outlet and it’s just Trump, Trump, Trump,” Anderson said. “When that’s the case, there’s very limited space for news that’s not about him. It’s just intuitive that foreign coverage would suffer. Everybody wants to write for these places, yet there’s a shrinking amount of space for [freelance] work, so we’re all just competing over scraps.”

Political stories, including talks for Britain to leave the EU led by British Prime Minister Theresa May, lead the transatlantic news cycle. (Photo: EU2017EE/Flickr)

Anderson’s story was one that resonated with me deeply, as much of the work I currently do is for audiences outside the US. Indeed, in a news cycle dominated in the US by President Trump, and in the UK with talks between the British government and the European Union on its future as an EU member, it can send the wrong message of what stories audiences might be interested in – and showcase that the subject, rather than the story itself, has precedence. Not only is it wrong, it is also discouraging.

So when a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, who I interviewed this past week for a project for the Freedom of Information Committee, mentioned casually to me the News’ focus on reporters’ obsessions rather than traditional beats, I became curious.

The idea came from Gideon Litchfield, formerly the Global News editor of Quartz. Instead of traditional beats and coverage of regular institutions, the focus would be “an ever-evolving collection of phenomena.”

““Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon,” Litchfield wrote on his blog discussing the thought process behind the move. ““The environment” is a beat, but “climate change” is a phenomenon. “Energy” is a beat, but “the global surge of energy abundance” is a phenomenon. “China” is a beat, but “Chinese investment in Africa” is a phenomenon. We call these phenomena our “obsessions”. These are the kinds of topics Quartz will put in its navigation bar, and as the world changes, so will they.”

Editors at the Morning News got wind of Litchfield’s ideas and found inspiration as they tried to figure out what their future was like in the digital age. These obsessions will not last forever – reporters will pitch one and report on it for roughly six months, according to a report from Poynter which looked broadly as the paper’s overall move to digital.

In this digital age, where the landscape is evolving as quickly as the news stories themselves, it has become clear that the story is more important than the beat. Audiences are looking for information about their world and how what is happening will impact their daily lives, and we as journalists try to help by informing, educating and engaging.

Quartz and the Dallas Morning News have done their part to stand out, and their approach of obsessions over traditional beats maintains the commitment for not only their audiences to be informed, but to allow their journalists to do meaningful work, and to tell stories that can make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time that we take a page from Quartz and the Morning News and adapt the obsessions over beats strategy in other newsrooms. The news is changing, and as the news changes, so should the idea of beats – for in this digital age, it is the story, not the beat itself, that should take precedence.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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

An external conversation

One of the pressing questions journalism is facing is how outlets can restore the trust of the public. Last week, the Poynter Institute held a summit to discuss journalism ethics (which SPJ’s national president, Rebecca Baker, attended), which coincided with the release of a media trust survey.

During the summit, one way that the Institute found to help combat questions of trust is to be transparent about the reporting process.

Days after that event, The Washington Post began a video series which looks at the journalism process. The first installment looked at the story surrounding sexual harassment and assault allegations against Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the vacant Senate seat in Alabama.

Reporters Beth Reinhard and Stephanie McCrummen were candid about the process that led to the story, from on the ground reporting in the state to the meticulous amount of vetting that followed, as they tried to put the story together.

“We needed to be very careful in vetting information, and making sure that the people we were talking to didn’t have an ax to grind,” Reinhard said. “Every sentence, we went through, and vetted, and with a story with so many details, it was painstaking fact-checking.”

McCrummen was asked about the interviewing process and how sources are treated, as some sources in the Moore story had expressed reluctance of going on the record.

“The first meeting was just a chance to hear her story in a way she felt comfortable telling it – which was off the record,” McCrummen said. “I try to treat someone how I would like to be treated, and I’m really interested in what the other person has to say. That’s why I’m there – I’m there to listen.”

McCrummen adds that applies irrespective of the desire to go on the record.

“I see my role more as offering a chance for people to go on the record or to tell their story if they want to,” McCrummen said, adding that it was much better to present a more human element when it came to reporting.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics, as part of the need to be accountable and transparent, encourages journalists and news organizations to encourage a conversation about the editorial process and to be transparent about it, a view shared by Poynter.

What the Post has launched is a necessity in helping the public better understand the role of journalism, and other news organizations should follow suit, utilizing the platforms they have available to them, in an age where anyone can publish anything, whether or not its true – and the words “fake news” continue to become a norm as reporters carry out their work. Indeed, the more conversations journalists can externalize about their own future, the more that can be done in order to helping the public understand why journalism is and must continue to be a quintessential part of our democracy.

While the question of trust is something that cannot be solved overnight, the Post’s actions are a start in helping the public understand the role of journalists in the 21st century. More organizations should take the time to do the same – for it benefits everyone, and helps us all to better understand a fundamental goal of journalism – seeking the truth and reporting it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and FOI Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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

Writeboard: A free web tool that makes it easy to collaborate on a project


Working on a project with another reporter in another part of the country or maybe on the other side of your city?  No need to get together at the coffee shop or exchange long emails. Check out Writeboard.com

The writeboards are web based text documents that you can use when you’re collaborating on a journalism project with other reporters.   If you have to add more information or edit what you have; it’s all done in one place. 

Here’s the bonus; it’s free

 

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning reporter with 29 years of experience.  Most of her years have been in television news, but now she is a multimedia freelance reporter based in Dallas, Texas.   She is currently a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

New News event in Seattle

I am in Seattle today attending Day 1 of the Journalism That Matters event: “Re-Imagining News & Community in the Pacific Northwest,” which runs from today through Sunday.

Twitter hashtag: #jtmpnw, and I’m @jessdrkn.

This “un-conference” intends to explore new relationships between journalism and communities. This event is unlike traditional events or conferences with line-ups of experts telling attendess what they are doing — this is about attendees talking to each other.

I am hosting a table for my website on hyperlocal and community news start-ups, InOtherNews.us, and for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, of which I’m a director.

Seattle and the Northwest has become a hotbed of community/hyperlocal startup activity.  Some participants at this event are:

  • Seattle City Club
  • The B-Town Blog (from Burien)
  • The Salish Sea Network
  • The Tyee
  • West Seattle Blog
  • Xconomy
  • YES! Magazine

Other event attendees setting up their tables alonside me in the commons area are:

  • Asian American Journalists Association
  • Cascadia Times
  • Common Language Project
  • Countywide Community Forums
  • Department of Commnications, University of Washington
  • Instivate
  • KBCS-FM
  • Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in Democracy
  • KUOW Public Insight Network
  • LocalHealthGuide/Seattle
  • Master of Communication in Digital Media, U of W
  • Media Island International
  • Natural Oregon
  • News 21
  • Pedro De Valdivia — an artist who uses trash or discarded items for his Modern-Ecoism work
  • Reclaim the Media
  • Seattle Times
  • Sustainable Seattle
  • Washington Coalition for Open Government
  • Washington News Council

Jessica Durkin is the founder of http:InOtherNews.us, a site that tracks independent community, local and regional news start-ups. She is interested in entrepreneurial journalism and the new paradigm. She is the mid-atlantic director (Region 3) of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Using Twitter to bring the reader into the courtroom

Most of us have covered more than one trial in our careers.  We go through the same steps–go to the trial, watch the players at work, write what is said and done in the courtroom and meet our deadline. 

Kate Dubinski

London Free Press reporter, Kate Dubinski took it one step further.  She recently used Twitter during a high profile case to give readers a play-by-play on what was going on during the trial. Here a few key points from an article she wrote for The Canadian Journalism Project. 

 1. She started with a few dozen followers and in the end had more than 1,000 followers on Twitter.

2. The newspaper had to assign two reporters to the case: One to tweet and the other to report it for the paper.

3.  Dubinski learned quickly how to prioritize information because she could only tweet 140 characters.

4.  She used links to Google images to show readers images of such things as the type of gun used in the crime.twitter

5.  She also used links to direct followers back to the London Free Press website.

6.  Dubinski also says some of the followers became sources who gave her background information.

 Here’s Kate Dubinski’s story Tweeting a Trial which can teach many of us another way to use Twitter and get more readers interested in our news coverage.

 Rebecca Aguilar is a multiple Emmy Award winner.  She’s has spent much of her 28 years in journalism in television, but is now a freelance multimedia/online reporter based in Dallas. She can be contacted at aguilar.thereporter@yahoo.com

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