Archives for category: journalism

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?

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.

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!

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?

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.”


“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.