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Facebook And Twitter: Fitting Your Voice To The Environment

June 2, 2011 · 2 Comments

Last night I had the good fortune (along with Cynthia Cotte Griffiths who recently launched Online and In Person) to attend the first DC-area meetup convened by Facebook + Journalists at American University.

It included a great panel discussion that included friends Mandy Jenkins (social news editor at Huffington Post) and Ian Shapira (enterprise reporter at Washington Post).

l-r: Vadim Lavrusik, Mandy Jenkins, Laura Amico, Bryan Monroe, Ian Shapira

The evening included a great deal of sharing about best practices when it comes to how journalists can (and do) best use Facebook to do their jobs. Facebook’s journalism program manager Vadim Lavrusik gave the opening remarks and to my pleasure gave a shout-out to Rockville Central as a  media organization that had moved entirely to Facebook.

One of the main take aways for the evening, as far as I was concerned, had to do with voice and authenticity.

Ian Shapira, for instance, talked about the need to appear human on Facebook so potential sources will feel more comfortable interacting (he told a story of a potential source who gave him an exclusive interview on a sensitive subject because he contacted them on Facebook and so the subject was able to check him out before responding). Other panelists repeatedly talked about the need to be “real” and “transparent.”

There is an interesting nuts-and-bolts corollary to this idea. Vadim Lavrusik reported on research that Facebook had done that suggests that status updates that get automatically pulled from other applications get 2-3 times fewer interactions than posts that are organically produced within Facebook.

In other words, auto-tweeting, or even pushing your Twitter updates into Facebook, is far less effective than crafting a post designed specifically for each context.

Many blog owners set up plug-ins that will automatically tweet their latest blog post into their stream, and then automatically pull Twitter updates into their Facebook account. This saves time, but it comes at the expense of engagement.

Vadim pointed to New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof as an exemplar of this. He organically uses his Facebook updates almost as a reporter’s notebook, and his voice there is very, very Facebook-ish.

Vadim did not go so far as to compare Kristof’s Twitter and Facebook behavior (I don’t think he mentioned Twitter once, actually, but who can blame him since this was a Facebook event) — but I thought it would be instructive to make the comparison.

Look at this recent post by Kristof in Facebook:

 

(click to see full size)

In the post, he talks about a nonprofit he recently ran across, describes it briefly, and shares a link.

Here is the same thing in Twitter:

 

(click for full size)

Much briefer, too the point.

The lesson is that the time saved by auto-linking Facebook and Twitter may come at too great an expense in terms of engagement.

My own strategy is to keep some of the auto-linkages when it comes to my blog posts, but I try to add a great deal more organic updates to my stream (mostly in Facebook, but also in Twitter). The auto-links are there (based on RSS) because I find it useful to have a mechanism to create an “archival” or “official” record in each stream of my work — I often use this as the main post I link back to when I re-share.

If you are a content creator with a blog and working in both Twitter and Facebook, how do you deal with the three worlds?

Categories: journalism · social networks

The Plain Dealer And The Ethics Of Disclosure

March 26, 2010 · 3 Comments

My latest article on my blog at the Washington Times Communities, Public Square Today, is now live: The Plain Dealer And The Ethics Of Disclosure. Here it is:

One of may favorite newspapers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is embroiled in a controversy that raises some important questions, few of which have easy answers.

Reporters at that paper have long run critical stories highlighting some of what they have termed “unusual actions” by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. These range from odd dispute resolution strategies (ordering lawyers in a civil suit to remain in a conference room for days until they settled their clients’ disagreement) to more serious suggestions of wrongdoing (“the judge routinely diverted dozens of criminal cases to one Cleveland lawyer and authorized him to collect questionable fees, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars to taxpayers,” says the Plain Dealer).

Gavel by Flickr user walknboston

Gavel by Flickr user walknboston

Today, the Plain Dealer reported that “Someone using a personal e-mail account of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold has written anonymous, opinionated online comments relating to some of the judge’s high-profile cases.” These comments were written as responses to the Plain Dealer’s online articles and blogs under the handle “lawmiss.” The judge’s daughter has stepped forward and taken responsibility for the lawmiss comments, but her admission appears to hold little water.

The Plain Dealer discovered the Saffold connection by examining registration information on the posted comments. The Plain Dealer allows anonymous comments, in order to keep the online conversation “freewheeling.” An outside firm administers the commenting functions.

The Dilemma

While this reminds me of a situation we faced at the community blog I co-manage, Rockville Central, things are different here and it makes the decision faced by the Cleveland editors more difficult. At Rockville Central, where we faced the issue of someone posting comments under multiple aliases, we do not allow anonymous posting so there is no presumption of privacy. And — more to the point —  the person in question was not a public figure, like Saffold, with the authority of a judge.

The Plain Dealer editors had a tough call, and answer a number of tough questions. On the one hand, some of the questions would seem to argue that the Plain Dealer overstepped:

  1. Given that anonymous commenting is allowed, is it OK for reporting staff to look at identifying information on blog commenters?
  2. Is it OK to divulge such information when it’s discovered, even when it is denied and someone else comes forward? (The newspaper obviously seems to believe that Saffold herself was responsible for the comments).

On the other hand, another question suggest that the Plain Dealer did the right thing:

  1. When a public figure who is part of government seemingly engages in wrongdoing, or even when their family is implicated, isn’t this news and shouldn’t it be reported?

Different people might decide this dilemma differently, but you can make a strong argument that both courses of actions are right in their way. It’s a right-vs.-right dilemma.

One outcome of the Plain Dealer situation is that the company administering the comment functions is taking steps to make sure reporters and editorial staff can’t see the identifying information of commenters. This is something that should have been in place already.

While this is a high-profile and high-stakes dilemma, public leaders at all level face dilemmas like this every day and will continue to do so as the social web continues to evolve. More and more, as individual leaders, we are given power over others’ personal information and stories.

Public leaders and the organizations they head need to have policies in place and understand the consequences of what they are doing. Divulging people’s information is not always wrong — but it needs to be done with full awareness of the competing values in play.

Categories: ethics · journalism

Announcing Washington Times Communities

November 3, 2009 · 4 Comments

wtc_avatar_200I am proud to announce the launch of a major new initiative that I have been working on with a few partners. The formal announcement will come later this week, but I wanted to give a preview to my readers because I am so excited about it.

Today, we are soft-launching the new Washington Times Communities. This is a new social journalist network tied into The Washington Times.

Along with partners Jacquie Kubin and Joe Szadkowski, we have been working furiously for the past months to get this in shape.

My role was to help design the management structure for this new network and to add in what I know about social networking and blogging from my experience with various other initiatives. I am also taking part in the day-to-day management of the Communities.

What It Is

We think that we have developed something that is somewhat unique among these kinds of things. Many newspapers have “community blog” sections. (In fact, the The Washington Times had one, which this new initiative replaces.) These can have widely varying content quality, widely varying updating schedules, and are typically hidden from view and separate from the rest of the newspaper’s online space.

The fundamental problem for many news organizations is that these things are hard to manage and it’s hard to know what kind of quality you’re getting.

We have created a structure which we think makes the Washington Times Communities “manageable” from an organizational perspective while at the same time open enough to make it a real blog network. At the same time, we’ve organized it so that, from a reader’s perspective, it should be easy to find what you are looking for.

There are really six Communities:

Each of these communities is led by a “mayor” who essentially curates the content for each community. Within each Community, there are between five and ten (for now) “neighborhoods.” Each of these Neighborhoods is a blog, with one author responsible for the content.

So we’ve created a hierarchy, where each of the community “mayors” is acting like the editor of a newspaper section or magazine, with each author having a specific “neighborhood” beat.

It’s all volunteer, we are not staff for the paper.

What’s Different

While we don’t claim that this is a revolutionary idea (after all, it’s a blog network, nothing earth-shaking), we do think it’s an innovation in how to approach something like this. There are a few things that make this different, in my view:

  1. There is direct involvement with senior management at the paper. The paper’s senior managers take a personal interest in this, all the way to the top.
  2. There is a direct tie to the regular online space of the paper. Content from the Communities will be featured on the main page of the Times. This means that there is a greater chance for the community content to be seen by the many millions of unique visitors to the Times’ front page per day.
  3. The writers are handpicked. People have to be invited to take part as an author. We chose participants keeping in mind both quality of their work, potential for growth, and willingness to devote the energy it takes to promote the Communities through social networks.
  4. There is support at every level. Individual authors are supported, mayors are supported by management. Authors support one another.
  5. There is ongoing innovation. The initiative is committed to iterating and learning at a rapid pace so we can best improve it.
  6. There is a constant stream of content. Every author is committing to a certain number of posts per week, so there will always be something new coming from the Communities.

I sincerely hope you will take a look, poke around, comment on a few articles, and give your feedback.

Like other blog networks, viral word of mouth will be key. You can help this initiative out immensely by sharing any articles you find interesting and by spreading the word. The Times management will be watching this closely and we want it to succeed!

Public Good, A New Online Space

Public Good

Public Good

There’s another aspect of this new initiative that I am very excited about. You might have noticed above that there’s a Community called “Public Good.” I am in charge of that, and it’s an online space devoted to examining various takes on public life and community today.

I have brought together a terrific portfolio of authors, each who is writing their own blog that takes a different perspective.

These are the “neighborhoods” in Public Good:

  • Dispatches From The Heartland, by John Creighton: Community life and leadership lessons
  • Faith: The Flip Side, by Allison Addicott: How faith and politics intersect around the globe
  • Making Change, by Donna Rae Scheffert: About people who are getting involved in helping others and making a difference
  • Public Square Today, by Brad Rourke: What’s happening in public life — and why it matters (this is my column)
  • Teaming Up For Success, by Carla Ledbetter: People celebrating good things that happen through successful teamwork
  • Truth Be Told, by Carla Harper: Thinking a little deeper about our lives, our country and our values
  • Went West, by Sutton Stokes: A transplanted easterner reflects on culture, politics, and the pursuit of happiness from his new vantage point in the Rocky Mountain West
  • Young, Willing and Able, by Angela Hopp: Emerging leaders accomplishing great things

As you can see, this is a varied group!

I know that many of my readers are deeply concerned with public life and thought leaders when it comes to many different aspects of it. I hope that you will get in touch to talk about ways that I might include your perspectives, perhaps by showcasing some of your work or through an interview or podcast, or through a guest post.

See you around the Communities! Drop by Public Good!

Categories: blogs · journalism · social networks

Make Journalism Pay Its Way?

October 7, 2009 · 1 Comment

Some time ago I made what I thought was the best case I could make for why philanthropy ought to support Journalism. Today I want to argue another side of that.

To be clear, my article about nonprofit Journalism was not about bailing out newspapers. It posited a split between news gathering, Journalism, and news delivery. News gathering is finding out what’s new. In many cases, online organizations are doing this better than traditional newspapers. News delivery is about how news gets to people. Again — so far — online organizations have newspapers beat.

Journalism, The Profession

But, then, there’s Journalism. This is a pursuit that goes beyond simple newsgathering. It’s a profession. Journalism is doing the shoe leather work of the reporter. It’s double-sourcing to make sure the story’s nailed. It’s not putting up with anonymous quotes. It’s digging deep to find the truth. This is an area where newspapers and other traditional news outlets still have a competitive advantage. They have deep knowledge and abilities in the Journalism space.

My previous article made the case that Journalism is not commercially viable and that it is something that foundations and philanthropy ought to consider supporting, as a public good.

However, as I said in that piece: “I am not entirely sure I buy this line of argument, primarily because I am optimistic that today’s pain will drive new creative responses that we haven’t thought of yet. . . . Somehow, I feel like resorting to foundation funding for Journalism is throwing in the towel.”

No Pain, No Gain

This is the same argument that Daniel Lyons of Newsweek makes when he rails against the idea of a government bailout of newspapers:

Nobody in their right mind believes the future of the news business involves paper and ink rather than pixels on a screen. We all know where the news business is headed, and what’s more, we’ve known it for at least a decade. So why on earth are people talking about a bailout for newspapers? Why is President Obama saying he’d consider it? Why is Congress holding hearings and considering “The Newspaper Revitalization Act” in a bid to save these ailing old rags with tax breaks and other handouts? It’s like introducing legislation to save horse-drawn carriages, or steam engines, or black-and-white TV. It’s stupid. It’s pointless. It won’t work. . . .

Instead of giving newspapers bailouts, we should be hastening their demise. The weak papers need to die. The strong newspapers need to go into bankruptcy and restructure their businesses with smaller staffs and lower cost structures. Yes, it will be painful. But journalists will find jobs—and they’ll be working in a better, faster medium.

Lyons is being overly harsh, but he makes a good point. Don’t save Journalism — make it survive. That’s the only way it will survive.

Too Important To Coddle

People make the argument that Journalism is a public good that is an integral foundation for our form of government, and so it must be supported. I reject that argument, because it misstates what is fundamental: it’s not the newspapers, it’s the freedom to report. If this is fundamental, then the very last thing a government ought to do is support Journalism, because the immediate question will arise: what constitutes a Journalist?

Similarly, if it’s so important, we can’t depend on foundations to keep the lifeline going. Philanthropy is subject to the same fads and is just as fickle as the next sector. (I say this as a past beneficiary of foundation support, during a time when there was a particular fad about democratic reform that then ran its course.)

The Business Of Journalism

$5700 by Flickr user AMagill

"$5700" by Flickr user AMagill

Perhaps we should start with the premise that Journalism is and ought to be commercially viable. So, what would the business model for Journalism look like?

In the first place, it might need to carve out a niche for itself that is away and apart from news gathering and news delivery. It loses those battles because of the very things that make for good Journalism: slowness and thoughtfulness.

Journalism might see itself as a provider to other organizations, as opposed to a direct-to-consumer system. Perhaps news delivery organizations could contract with Journalist organizations to get content.

Overall, it’s possible that the footprint of Journalism will shrink if it’s asked to make its own way commercially. That might not be terrible. The definition of Journalism I am using — that is, the deeper stuff, not the sports scores and the crime blotters — may only support a handful of of organizations.

Yes, But . . .

As with all these discussions, there’s always a rub. In this case, it’s access. The more commercially dependent Journalism is, and the more rareified a commodity it is, the more only rich organizations will want (and be able to) purchase the services of Journalists. Yet the service that Journalism provides is actually a public good. When political scandals are broken, when corporate malfeasance is exposed, the public needs to know, not the plutocrats.

This is an important point that can’t be overlooked. No, Journalism should not be coddled. But yes it should be made available to all. How to square these two perspectives, which are in inherent tension with one another?

Categories: journalism

Common Sense Needed Online For Journalists, Too

September 28, 2009 · Leave a Comment

Google cache of @rajunarisetti profile

Google cache of @rajunarisetti profile

On Friday, the Washington Post’s ombudsman ran with a blog post outlining the Post’s new set of standards for employees who use social media (like Twitter and Facebook). The peg for the article was the story of managing editor Raju Narisetti, who evidently thought that Twitter is a private forum where only his 90 best friends could read what he had to say, such as:

“We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not. But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”

And:

“Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from ‘standing up too quickly.’ How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail.”

The column points out the obvious problems with updates like these:

“In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.”

Response? Narisetti has since closed his account (here is a Google cache of what it looked like on Sept. 24, the day before the article).

This whole thing is unfortunate on a couple of levels:

  1. The initial offense: It tends to boggle the mind that an editor at a daily newspaper — which, taken collectively, seem to regard themselves as the last bastion of the fading golden age of Journalism — would decide that it’s OK to put these kinds of snarky opinions in writing. We laugh at interns whose intemperate Facebook photos get them in trouble. This is a little more decorous, but little different.
  2. The over-response: Narisetti had the right idea dipping his toe into the social media water. It’s a good way to connect with readers and thinkers. To pull the plug because his hand got slapped is silly. It suggests that he does not imagine that he can actually issue updates without crossing the line. Why not? People are able to make public statements without getting into trouble all the time.

The Friday story coincided with the release of new social media standards for the Post, and they appear to be mostly common sense. Things like:

What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.

Sounds like good advice, and not too hard to follow.

I hope @rajunarisetti comes back. He’d only Tweeted 145 times, not enough to really get a feel for it. This initial mistake can quickly be put in the rear view mirror.

Categories: journalism · social networks

Journalist As Craftsman

August 12, 2009 · 2 Comments

Here’s an interesting story about the news and journalism. It has a few intertwining threads. It needs a bit of set up, too, so bear with me. Thank you to my friend Adam Pagnucco for doing the heavy lifting here.

Here’s how Adam puts a recent situation with DC’s Metro system in his indispensable Maryland Politics Watch:

On July 30, an anonymous Metro bus rider told an anonymous blog that he had witnessed a WMATA bus operator talking on a cell phone while driving. The rider stated:

I caught my bus driver using her cellphone while driving Tuesday. I was riding the 63 from Takoma as I do every morning now that commuting on the Red Line is a mess. When we got to the stop just outside of the Petworth Metro station, our driver got out of the bus and started talking on her cell phone. One minute goes by, 2 minutes, 3 minutes … and she’s still talking on her phone. Passengers start getting very angry. One, in particular, steps outside and yells at the driver to get moving. Yet another minute goes by before the driver bothers to get back on the bus. And she’s still talking on the phone. If I were smarter (and more awake), I would have caught this moment on video, but she sat down and pulled out into traffic with phone to ear, and drove several hundred feet before ending her call. I got a crappy picture with my cell phone. It was the best I could get from my vantage point. If you zoom in on the driver, you can see her holding up a phone to her ear with one hand and pulling out into traffic with the other.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post ran a story the next day that recounted the same basic (alleged) facts.

When confronted with the story, Metro’s chief executive, Jack Catoe, told the Post, “We will determine who this operator is . . . the action for speaking on your phone or texting on your phone is termination.”

But, according to Pagnucco:

Catoe spoke too soon. A source with knowledge of WMATA’s investigation related the following account:

“The actual story was that a number of passengers reported that the destination sign on the bus was not working and asked her where she was going.

“The operator stepped off the bus and examined the sign and determined that it was not working correctly. She then proceeded to the rear of the bus to “re-boot” the sign so that it would re-set. This did not correct the problem. When she went to board the bus again, she tripped on the steps of the bus and suffered minor injuries to her arm and leg.

“She attempted to contact central control via the phone system installed by Metro (a fixed radio-phone system installed on the bus). Central control did not respond. The operator then stepped off the bus to call central control with her cell phone. She was able to contact central and report both her injury and the need to schedule a “change-off” where a bus with a working sign could replace her bus en route.

“While still speaking to central control outside the bus, passengers became agitated about her not leaving the terminal on time and began “berating” her. According to the operator, she boarded the bus, sat in the driver’s seat and completed the call to central control before actually moving the vehicle.

“A witness on the bus corroborates her story. . . .”

What’s interesting here is not the he-said, she-said between the two blogs. What’s interesting, instead, is the relationship between the Washington Post and Maryland Politics Watch (the blog Adam writes for).

The Independent Journalist As Craftsman

Mario le Perfectionniste by Flickr user bluespot23

"Mario le Perfectionniste" by Flickr user bluespot23

At a recent conference with a number of journalists, I heard a number of complaints about “these bloggers” who have “no standards” when it comes to Journalism. “They can just write anything,” people complained, miffed.

But here we have a blog taking a print newspaper to task for what seems like a very reasonable — and fundamentally journalistic — transgression: not following up to dig deeper on a story.

(I’m not saying that Adam’s right, and it is important to note that his post was not focused on the Post. But he is still raising the issue.)

Yesterday’s post touched on the difference between Journalism and News. Journalism, the kind practiced by large newspapers, sees itself as the gold standard of news delivery. And there is a decent argument that it takes a large institution to continue to foster such standards.

However, there’s another model that could work, too: Journalist as craftsman. That’s what Adam is. He is one lone person, toiling away at his craft (on his off hours, mind you, this is not his “job”) for the love of it. And, by devoting himself to his craft, he can regularly outperform larger news institutions.

This is the competitive advantage that the craftsman has over the factory. Today’s tools make it possible for some Journalists to be craftsmen instead of laborers.

I’m not saying this is an overall business model — I’m saying it is a threat to large Journalism. It is possible that there are so many Journalist-craftsmen that people can get the Journalism they want and further erode the mass Journalism practiced at institutions such as newspapers. Maybe not yet . . . but it is possible.

Categories: journalism

The Case For Nonprofit Journalism?

August 11, 2009 · 9 Comments

Visiting from Twitter? Thanks so much! You might enjoy this post, too: Why Social Media Is Like The Telephone Circa 1915.


Newsroom by Flickr user victoriapeckham

"Newsroom" by Flickr user victoriapeckham

I was having a conversation with my good friend (and former boss) Rush Kidder just the other day, and the subject turned to journalism — specifically, the idea that as newspapers tank that foundations ought to step in and shore up journalism. Newspapers can become nonprofit entities.

This is an idea that has a number adherents among my journalism friends. I thought I would lay out what I think is probably the strongest argument in favor.

News vs. Journalism

“News” has always existed, since recorded history. People have always wanted to know what’s new.

“Journalism,” on the other hand — that is, a profession with a strong set of specific values to which everyone agrees — is a recent phenomenon, dating only to the late 19th century. This distinction between News and Journalism figures in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s important essay, What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.

While the goal of News is to tell people what’s new, the goal of Journalism, according to Kovach and Rosenstiel, is to “provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing.”

Until recently, you might say we were in a “golden age” of Journalism.

Also until very recently, you could argue that people were buying News, but were getting Journalism. But the business model that newspapers were using to deliver that Journalism (based on classified ads and display ads) had not yet broken. So everything was working. People bought News, and got Journalism, which looked close enough that they didn’t complain.

The Hole Only Journalism Can Fill

But now, that business model is broken. Free classifieds coupled with easy online availability has killed it. News has now migrated online and into various other distribution channels. And it’s been decoupled from Journalism as it has migrated. People find out what’s new in lots of different ways, without the help of Journalists.

For many things, this is perfectly adequate. I don’t need a Journalist to tell me who won the ball game, I can find out from my Twitter peeps or from a realtime score on a website.

But there’s still a hole that only Journalism can fill. One obvious one is investigative reporting. While in some instances individual bloggers have been able to break big and important stories, in most cases it takes a long time — and resources — to do a proper job of investigating. There’s also an important context-setting function Journalism can play, by being the long memory that helps make sense of what is happening.

And, most importantly, News sees its readers as customers, while Journalism sees its readers as citizens. I don’t mean individual people see it that way. I mean that News is in the business of giving people what they want — knowledge of what’s new. Journalism, on the other hand, wants to give people what they ought to know about (in addition to the news).

Is Journalism Commercially Viable?

A mutual friend of mine and Rush’s once said that the job of an editor is to know what people ought to know, and to make them want to know it.

Problem is, there is not yet a decent business model for creating and delivering Journalism.

That’s where philanthropy comes in. It is the duty of philanthropy to support that which is a public good but is not commercially viable or able to be self-sustaining.

While it is not clear that Journalism is commercially viable, it is clear that Journalism provides an important public good. Journalism is not the simple conveyance of News; it is something more.

It is also very iffy that Journalism could be commercially viable when it competes with News. (In other words, to the extent commercial models exist for News delivery, they aren’t as attractive for Journalism delivery.)

Supporting Journalism On Paper

News delivery is not necessarily the best use of the resources of a printing press. I get four newspapers delivered to my door every morning. By the time I pick them up, I know what they contain. However, paper delivery of Journalism may well be a good use of those same resources, as it provides permanence, long-form friendliness, and builds in a longer time horizon which can improve the quality of the Journalism.

Given this, why wouldn’t philanthropy see it as a good investment to keep some print newspapers afloat? Perhaps there would be a small handful of nationally-focused papers that are kept afloat in this way.

But you could also make an argument that some cities ought to have a Journalism resource of their own, too. Why couldn’t community foundations step in to fill that void? Certainly, you could make a strong argument that the state capitals ought to have such a source of Journalism.

Yes, But . . .

One last thing. I am not entirely sure I buy this line of argument, primarily because I am optimistic that today’s pain will drive new creative responses that we haven’t thought of yet. It’s happening more quickly in News delivery, but things like ProPublica give me hope on the Journalism side, too.  Soemhow, I feel like resorting to foundation funding for Journalism is throwing in the towel (maybe that’ll be a later essay).

However, there is a strong argument that it is the right thing.

Perhaps, in the end, there will be a much richer variety of News and Journalism outlets — some nonprofit, some for-profit, some volunteer.

Categories: journalism

A Day In The Life Of A Real Reporter

July 21, 2009 · Leave a Comment

My friend Adam Pagnucco, who writes the indispensable Maryland Politics Watch, scored a coup last week as Kathleen Miller, a real-live “msm” reporter, agreed to describe a day in the life of a reporter in five installments.

People often hold a number of assumptions about journalists, including:

  • They only like to cover negative news
  • They are not thoughtful about the consequences of how they report
  • They only care about getting the story
  • They are in collusion
  • They purposefully kill stories that would expose high-level corporate wrongdoing

This excellent series, which had me riveted, puts the lie to all of that.

One passage in particular moved me. Kathleen discusses the controversy that ensued when an editor proposed that reporters start inserting their own voice into stories when they know that something that a source says is untrue. This is a deeper question than you might think — there are strong journalistic norms of staying out of stories. This discussion is quite thoughtful:

It’s an interesting concept. I think it’s both smart and dangerous. If you’ve covered an administration or an issue for years like [the editor] or many of his team, you are probably an expert in your own right and deserve the power to call it like you see it.

You can’t use that style every day, in every story or on every topic, however, or you risk editorializing. There are some topics – for me, environmental policy – where at this stage of the game, I have no business calling BS or cutting through the clutter. I’m too green, (yikes – pun unintended) to take on that role. In others, like local immigration policy or WSSC drama, I feel like I’ve been in the weeds enough to cut through the crap on occasion.

I urge you to read the entire series here.

Categories: journalism

Journalism — How Expensive Must It Be?

February 18, 2009 · Leave a Comment

There is a lot of angst within the journalism (and journalism-curious) community lately, as there have been a controversial suggestion that the best way to reinvent journalism would be to make it a nonprofit, charitable endeavor.

One organization, the Voice of San Diego, gives a glimpse of what hard-hitting journalism can look like under a nonprofit model. A recent LA Times profile of VSD is fascinating.

But what really grabbed me was this paragraph:

Because it doesn’t have to print newspapers, Voice of San Diego puts the majority of its $825,000 annual budget into salaries for its 11 journalists, who make from $35,000 to roughly $70,000 and focus on government, education, law enforcement, real estate and science.

For a news organization, $825K is a small budget. But from where I sit, as the purveyor of a completely volunteer local news site, with a budget under $100 in direct costs per year — it seems Gargantuan. My main reactions are twofold:

  1. I want to try to “grow up”
  2. I think good journalism can be done for cheaper

I am not sure what it would look like, and I have a hunch I may be wrong, but . . . we’ll see.

Categories: business · journalism