Feb 222017

Attacks on the news media are nothing new, especially from American presidents. Even that vocal defender of a free press, Thomas Jefferson, had it up to here on occasion with newspapers and “the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them.” Richard Nixon’s famous “enemies list” included more than 50 print and broadcast reporters targeted for reprisals. But Donald Trump’s assault on journalism is different and more dangerous.

Unlike his predecessors, Trump isn’t just calling the news media his enemy. And, unlike his predecessors, he’s not doing it in private.

Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post reporter who helped break the Watergate story, told CNN Trump’s attack on the news media is more treacherous than Nixon’s. “We’ve never seen in an American president such open authoritarian moves and rhetoric,” he said.

What’s the right response for newsrooms and for individual journalists? Many have taken to social media to assure the public they’re not the enemy. (Full disclosure: I changed my Facebook cover photo to make the same point.) It makes you feel better to say it, but only for a minute. It’s kind of like responding to a playground taunt of “Are too!” by shouting back “Am not!”

The real question is, what now?

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley says the answer is to keep doing the work we’ve always done. “Our job is unchanged, it is the same. Find the facts, present the truth, let the audience know what our process is.” And in an interview on the podcast Pod Save the World, Yahoo anchor Katie Couric warns journalists not to get sucked into personal battles with Trump  (Start at 6:00 in.)

That seems right to me. The news media has a much bigger and more important job to do: to regain the public’s trust. The current administration’s assault on journalism plays into a public mood that has been souring for well over a decade. No one goes into journalism to be liked (or at least they shouldn’t), but trust and respect are crucial for us to do the job the public needs us to do, and we have to earn them back.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz believes “thorough, honest reporting” is the way to do it. It’s essential, certainly, but I don’t think it’s sufficient.

Here are a few additional suggestions:

  • Treat the people we cover and the audience with respect.
  • Stop blaming everyone else for the mess we’re in. It’s not the Internet’s fault, it’s not the explosion of outlets posing as news sources. It’s us
  • Explain what we do and why we do it. Admit it and apologize when we’re wrong.
  • Cover important news and do it in an interesting way. Stop spending so much time chasing celebrities and clickbait.

That list comes from a keynote speech I delivered at an SPJ conference 16 years ago.

Perhaps we could ask the audience for a little help. This new video from MediaTory, a Polish journalism group that recognizes good work, makes a good point.

“We’ve created this campaign to make people smarter in using media,” project coordinator Wiola Klytta told me by email. “We wanted to say them: you decide what’s on the top, you decide what media are talking about. You click, you choose a channel = you are a journalist, because you affect on popularity of the text. If you are dissatisfied with news, you can blame you and your curiosity.
“We want people use media more consciously and responsibly,” she said. “We hope to get them know, that they are significant influencers – from their choices depends quality of media reports.”

There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s get started!

Update: WCBS Radio’s Steve Scott, president of the New York Press Club adds via Twitter: “Don’t be afraid to stand up for our profession.” Here’s the letter the group sent Trump after his “enemy of the American people” tweet.

Feb 022017

Running a newsroom is both a sprint and a marathon. You have to move fast as things change, sometimes minute to minute, while also planning for the long term. How do you manage?

Some of the most popular tools in newsrooms are free and open source, like Twitter and Google Docs. Whatsapp has proved useful in communicating to and from the field on breaking news. But there’s extensive use of paid services, too, according to news managers I joined for a recent panel discussion hosted by the Associated Press.

David Bruns, executive producer of original video at The Washington Post, named Slack, Storyful and Spike as among the most useful tools in his newsroom’s arsenal.

Slack is a messaging and file sharing service with cloud storage that allows newsrooms to create “channels” for workgroups or stories. Other apps like Dropbox and Google Drive can be integrated into Slack. And it’s free to try the basic version.

Robert Lydick, vice-president of station operations for TEGNA, also praises Slack. “We use it for almost everything,” he said. Among other things, Slack helps the group’s newsrooms keep tabs on what’s trending because Chartbeat’s data analytics are integrated.

Storyful, owned by NewsCorp, verifies user generated content for its subscribers. It also secures rights to video for its clients.

Spike is a dashboard that promises to help news organizations discover content and pinpoint trends so they can publish content that’s likely to go viral with their audience.

Lydick said his stations find Bitcentral a useful workflow tool. The system notifies producers when a file is in the queue. Sounds good, but I’m a little nostalgic for the days of yelling across the newsroom to find out if a story’s ready.

As good as these tools are, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for these newsrooms. “We’d love to have one tool [do it all] but the reality is by the time you roll it out there are three more out there,” Lydick said. “I don’t see one that does everything.”

What tools does your newsroom use? Add suggestions in the comments!

Jan 252017

Less than a week into the Trump administration, multiple government agencies have told their employees not to speak to the news media or release information to the public. Journalists have responded by spreading the word that it’s easy to reach them, securely and confidentially.

Many news organizations use SecureDrop, which describes itself as “an open-source whistleblower submission system.”

Reporters like Danielle Paquette of the Washington Post shared links to their SecureDrop sites on Twitter.

ProPublica has a “how to leak” page, set up at the end of November, that explains what’s behind the request.

Our job is to hold people and institutions accountable. And it requires evidence. Documents are a crucial part of that. We are always on the lookout for them — especially, now.

Have you seen something that troubles you or that you think should be a story? Do you have a tip about something we should be investigating? Do you have documents or other materials that we should see? We want to hear from you.

The page includes links to its own SecureDrop site, as well as instructions on how to use the free Signal app to contact individual reporters. It’s been shared hundreds of times on Twitter in just the last 24 hours.

On its “News Tips” page, the New York Times tells potential leakers it can be contacted via WhatsApp, Signal, encrypted email  and the US Postal Service, as well as SecureDrop.

Here’s SecureDrop’s list of news organizations and others using its system to receive information anonymously, which includes the Associated Press, The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Toronto’s Globe and Mail. My guess is that list will expand.

In fact, shortly after I published this post, I ran across a Twitter thread from John Ryan of Seattle public radio station KUOW spelling out ways of contacting him:

Do you know of any other news organizations currently soliciting anonymous submissions? Share in the comments, please.

Jan 052017

I’m a reporter. What do I care about SEO? The answer should be “plenty,” if you care whether anyone sees that story you worked so hard on once it’s posted online.

Here’s why:

The digital audience is made up of seekers and scanners. People seeking information about a particular topic will search for it online. At NPR, for example, almost 70 percent of the traffic to the website comes from just two sources: social media and search. Typically, people aren’t coming to the NPR home page and browsing. They’re looking for something specific. If your headline, story URL and metadata include the same key words people are searching for, your story has a better chance of being found and read. That’s what SEO (search engine optimization) is all about.

Writing headlines with SEO in mind should help capture the scanners, too. People who land on a page they’ve found by searching will take a quick look at other headlines in the sidebars. To grab them, your headline needs to attract attention and inspire the reader to want to know more.

Keep in mind that a headline must work alone. It will be seen in lots of channels, including social media, without the context of the rest of the story. It may not even be connected to an image. A headline also has to be clear and accurate. Headlines should not promise something the story can’t deliver. You’re not writing click-bait (I hope). You want people to read the story and feel that it was worth their time, so they’ll come back.

So do some research. The simplest way is to search for yourself. Type in what you think the key words for your story might be. At the bottom of the first search page on Google, you’ll often find a list of “related searches” that will tell you what other people are searching for, either validating your choice or giving you better alternatives. Another option: use CoSchedule’s headline analyzer, and download their list of “power words” for grabber headlines. (Thanks to Chris Newmarker’s column in the latest SPJ Quill for the suggestion.)

With SEO in mind, keep your headlines short. Google will only show the first 55 to 60 characters, so eight words should be enough. Short headlines work better on mobile, too. See what I mean?

A few additional thoughts about headlines:

A headline is not a tease. Headlines need to convey specific information about the story, so readers know at a glance what it’s about. Don’t be vague and don’t try to be clever.

Beware of tired formulas. Questions in headlines are overused, and often raise a question the story doesn’t answer. Don’t do that. And don’t write a question headline that can be answered “yes,” or “no.” Why would anyone bother to read the rest of the story?

For more on headline writing, here are some helpful tips from Colin Dwyer and Stephanie Federico, digital editors at NPR.

Nov 142016

wsj-twitterEvery news organization wants its stories shared as widely as possible. Managers encourage reporters to share their work using their own social media profiles, while the social media desk (if there is one) posts to the newsroom’s main Twitter feed, Facebook page, and other outlets. But, if we’re honest, it can often be a bit scattershot. At the Wall Street Journal, a new emphasis on teamwork has helped to juice the process.

“We work hard a communicating internally,” Natalie Andrews, social media editor, said during a recent webinar hosted by Muckrack. When political stories are published, for example, the social team sends the link to other reporters on the politics team along with sample text they could use on social.

“I was worried at first…I’m going to be flooding these people’s inboxes,” she said. “And people were like, no, this is the kind of email I want to get.” People want to tweet each other’s stories, Andrews said, and it also helps them to know what the rest of the team is doing.

wsj-where-they-standThe social team has been getting involved in story planning, too, in an effort to help make stories more social- and audience-friendly. They meet with the design team to ensure they build gifs and graphics that can be shared on social media and read on a mobile device. During the presidential campaign, for example, simple graphics linked to a comparison of candidates on the issues. As topics came up, the graphic would go back in circulation. One graphic had a million views over a weekend.

“We can tweet them every day and they get seen every day,” Andrews said.

The social team doesn’t work in a vacuum, either. They stay in touch with reporters from start to finish.

“It’s really helpful for us to hear from the people who are doing the reporting and editing,” says Todd Olmstead, senior audience engagement editor. “They help us wrap our heads around what the key points are. We’re managing an influx of stories from all around the world and they help us filter through what they’re working on.”

How do they manage all this communication? “We Slack a lot,” Olmstead said. Using the online collaboration tool “helps us stay organized and on track.”

But the real key to success has less to do with process and much more to do with content. “What makes the whole operation run is having really great stories and kick-ass reporting,” Olmstead said. “That’s the thing reporters do and should be doing. That allows us to have an engaging social presence. We can write the best Facebook post but it’s not going to be successful unless we are consistently publishing really great stories.”


Oct 182016

book-readingSometimes it just takes a little nudge. I’ve had a couple of reading lists on this site for years, and it’s been a long time since I updated them. So I’m grateful to the reader who pointed out that a lot of links were out of date and motivated me to fix them!

I’ve just updated two pages: suggested reading for writers and recommended journalism textbooks. Have at ’em. And, as always, if there’s a title you think I should add, please let me know.

Sep 152016

Who comes to mind when you hear the words “TV news” and “storytelling?” For me, it’s a short list. The late Charles Kuralt and his On The Road stories for CBS News. Steve Hartman, who revived the On the Road franchise for CBS. Bob Dotson of NBC News and his American Stories. And Boyd Huppert at KARE in Minneapolis, who roams the Land of 10,000 Stories. So how cool is it that one storytelling legend recently sat down to interview another? Pretty cool.

Kuralt died almost 20 years ago, so even if you remember him as the anchor of CBS Sunday Morning, you may never have seen his work  “On the Road.” His segments were a regular feature on the CBS Evening News beginning in 1967 and ran for almost a quarter century. Cameraman Izzy Bleckman traveled the country with Kuralt in an RV, finding stories wherever they went.

A lot of people wondered why – why would you come out and do a story about me? And maybe after they saw it, they saw something they never knew about themselves, that they did have something to say, that they did have an interesting story to tell. Wed’ have a tough time after spending time with some of these folks detaching ourselves, getting back in the bus. Wed just seen something terrific, a calm and beautiful existence.

Kuralt told the stories of “ordinary” Americans with the greatest of respect. Here’s just one example:

Aug 262016

wdbj-shooting-780x439It’s been a year since that awful morning at WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Virginia. A year since a promising young reporter, Alison Parker, and a well-liked photographer, Adam Ward, were shot to death during a live report by a former employee of the station. The murders caused soul-searching in some TV newsrooms about the security of crews in the field, but there’s no evidence the industry as a whole has changed its ways.

As I wrote at the time, I’d have been surprised to see stations cut back on live reports. The live-shot is the life blood of local TV news, after all. And I’d have been shocked to see stations routinely provide security for crews in the field–an expensive proposition to say the least.

WDBJ, on the other hand, has changed. Owned at the time of the murders by Schurz Communications, a privately-owned company based in Indiana with stations in seven markets, WDBJ was sold to Gray Television as part of a package deal.  Schurz is out of the local TV business altogether. Gray now owns or operates stations in 51 markets.

As often happens when stations change hands, layoffs hit WDBJ a few months after the acquisition. About 10 people were let go–most of them photographers and other off-air staff–and according to Brian Stelter of CNN, there is now increasing pressure on WDBJ employees to work solo.

Two employees said on condition of anonymity that the “one man band” assignments are becoming more common but that news crews with multiple employees still handle some stories.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the TV news business. Roanoke is a medium-sized market (No. 69, according to Nielsen (pdf)), but the VJ phenomenon hasn’t been confined to the smallest markets for quite some time.

A new documentary produced by Karin and Bill Schwanbeck, who teach journalism at Quinnipiac University, takes a look at the practice. The film follows five young journalists as they struggle with the reality of small-market TV news–long hours, low pay, and lots of time alone in the field. The filmmakers also talked to Mary Bock, now at the University of Texas, whose research on VJ’s we featured a few years back. They interviewed me, too.

Small Markets, Big Dreams runs an hour. If you know any aspiring TV journalists, make them watch it. They should know what they’re getting into.

Jun 162016

couric gunIt was only eight seconds. Eight seconds of silence between a question and answer. But it didn’t actually happen that way. And now, the decision to insert an 8-second pause in a documentary about a controversial subject has become a controversy of its own.

The director of the documentary film Under the Gun says she made a “creative decision” by adding the pause between a question posed by Katie Couric and the answer from members of a gun rights group. Here’s how it plays out on video:

Director Stephanie Soechtig defended her decision to Variety:

You have Katie asking the group this question, “Do you think people on the terror watch list should be allowed to own guns?” Katie’s asking the question of the group, but as the filmmaker, I want to ask the question of the audience. So what I was thinking, my editor was thinking was we need to stop for a second, because the film moves along at a really fast clip. So you’ll see that throughout we’ll stop down after something happens or when we present something. The terror watch list is a real pivotal feature in the film, as is the whole notion of background checks. So this felt like a really crucial time to stop down and allow the audience a moment to let that question sink in.

No one might have noticed, except for the fact that the group in question had its own audio recording of the interview. They knew full well that one of them had immediately answered the question, and they cried foul. Adding a pause, they said, made them appear to be speechless.

Couric took responsibility, admitting the edit misrepresented the exchange. She also appeared to throw the director under the bus, saying she had initially questioned the edit, but let it go after talking to Soechtig:

I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a “beat” was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect”…I regret that those eight seconds were misleading and that I did not raise my initial concerns more vigorously.

Here’s the thing: A documentary is supposed to capture reality. It may not be journalism, strictly speaking, but it’s supposed to based in fact. Adding eight seconds of silence and covering it with B-roll shot at a different time is a distortion of reality. If you’re going to play around with content that way, please do us all a favor and call what you’re producing a movie, not a documentary.


Jun 152016

The latest report from the Pew Research Center on the state of local television news is anything but upbeat. According to Nielsen data, the local news audience shrank again in 2015 in all key time slots–morning, evening and late. Late news took the biggest hit, down 5% from the year before. And the long-term trend isn’t pretty. Since 2007, late newscasts on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates have lost 22% of their audience.

The decline would likely have been even steeper, had Fox affiliates not been lumped in. Their morning newscasts actually gained viewers (up 3%) and viewership for their late newscasts held steady.

PJ_15.04.28_FSA-LocalTVNewsOverall, viewership was also down in 2015 for news in non-traditional time slots that had seen growth in previous years, including midday newscasts. Even the 4:30 a.m. news slot, which had gained viewers steadily since Pew started tracking them seven years ago, were up just 2% in 2015 from the year before.

The good news? As expected in an election year, Pew forecasts another record for broadcast TV advertising revenue in 2016. Retransmission fees were up sharply last year and are projected to keep growing.

But there’s one more thing: The percentage of local TV station revenue generated by news programming keeps setting records. The data in today’s report, from 2014, shows that stations now depend on news for more than half (51.8%) of their revenue. I’m no math whiz (we all got into journalism because we hated math, right?) but it doesn’t sound like a sustainable proposition to get more than half of your revenue from programming that’s drawing fewer viewers.

Add to that the findings from a new Reuters survey and the broadcast future doesn’t look too bright. “For every group under the age of 45, in all [26] countries surveyed, online news is now more important than television news.”

Jun 022016

There’s more local TV news on the air than ever, and more is on the way. That’s the headline from the latest RTDNA research conducted by Bob Papper. The median amount of news aired on weekdays, 5.5 hours, broke the old record by half an hour. More than a third of stations surveyed said they added a newscast last year, and a third said they planned to add news this year. But the number of stations producing that news continues to slide, which raises this question: How much of what viewers see on many of local TV stations is diluted or duplicated content?

controlroomThe report found 714 stations producing local TV news, down just slightly from last year’s 717. Another 339 stations–a record high–air news produced by someone else, up from 328 a year ago. Put another way, one-third of all stations airing local news don’t produce it themselves.

A look at long-term trends tells the story more clearly. Ten years ago, there were 778 news producing stations. That number shrank dramatically during the recession, and hasn’t recovered. But the number of stations carrying news they don’t produce has grown substantially in just the last few years. Three years ago, 235 stations fit that description. The new record of 339 is an increase of 44 percent. Let that sink in for a minute. Three years ago, one in four local TV stations aired news from someone else. Today, it’s one in three.

What does this new local TV landscape mean for viewers and journalists? My chapter on local TV news in the 2014 State of the News Media report lays it out. “You can argue that every time you add an outlet, that unless you add a commensurate number of staff people then you’re just spreading yourself thinner and thinner,” Papper said at the time (emphasis mine).

We won’t know the results of the annual RTDNA staffing survey for another month or two. Papper tells me it’s up. But my guess is the numbers won’t show anything like a proportional increase in the number of people employed in TV newsrooms. The conclusion is inevitable: producing more TV news with a higher airtime-to-staff ratio affects the quality of the product, and not in a good way.

A version of this column was previously posted at Advancing the Story

May 202016

Morley SaferHe was a courageous reporter, a gifted writer, and a man who loved to laugh. Morley Safer spent more than 50 years at CBS News and is best known for his work at 60 Minutes, which aired a fitting tribute to him last week. He died just days later. He was 84.

It’s hard to sum up Safer’s legacy in just a few words. Like his late colleague Ed Bradley, Safer was equally skilled at covering tough topics and lighter features. He liked stories, he said, that made him want to know more. And he described himself as having “a serious affection for eccentricities.” That, no doubt, explained his fascination with the dour Finns “national obsession” with the tango.

But while viewers might remember his interviews with stars like Dolly Parton, Jackie Gleason and Katherine Hepburn, Safer’s personal favorite of the 919 stories he reported for 60 Minutes had a much harder edge. In 1983, Lenell Geter’s in Jail helped a man sentenced to life in prison for armed robbery win his freedom.

I had the pleasure of discussing Safer’s career and legacy yesterday with Joe Gillespie of WBT Radio in Charlotte, N.C.

Apr 222016

trust-headerYou already know that Americans have little confidence in what they see, hear or read in the news media. Last year, according to Gallup, trust in media set a new low with just 7% saying they have a great deal of confidence in the news. What’s to be done?

A new study offers some clues. The Media Insight Project asked people why they rely on certain sources of news and information as opposed to others. The results show that consumers make decisions based on specific factors, and those factors vary depending on the topic and the platform.

The number one reason given for trusting a news source is accuracy, with 85% saying it matters most. Having the latest details was cited by 76%, and being concise was valued by 72%.

The study found that people who follow different types of news value different factors. Political junkies trust news sources that emphasize experts and data (79%). Consumers of lifestyle news say they want their news source to be entertaining (53%). People are much more likely to want their source to be concise and get to the point for national politics (80%) than sports (61%).

And platform matters when it comes to trust in news. Just 12% of Facebook news consumers have a lot of trust in the news they see there. LinkedIn ranks highest among social media, with 23% saying they trust news they encounter there.

Digital news consumers decide whether to rely on a specific news source based on additional factors, mostly having to do with presentation. Load time matters a lot to 63% of consumers, as does not having ads interfere with the news. For 60% of consumers, having content that works well on mobile phones is important.

It should be obvious that news organizations and journalists want and need the public’s trust. If a news source isn’t trusted, why would anyone turn to it (supermarket tabloids aside)? So credibility is often tied to the bottom line: a trusted news organization is more likely to enjoy economic success. The study offers this confirmation:

While most people report all of the trust‑related factors are important, some people place a higher value on them than others. And those news consumers especially concerned with trustworthiness are also the most likely to report that they take valuable actions — such as paying for news, spreading news to friends, and following the source on social platforms.

One more thing:

About 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) can recall a specific recent incident that caused them to lose trust in a news source. The two most common problems were either instances of perceived bias or inaccuracies.

That may not seem like a big deal, but consider this: participants in focus groups said that a bad experience with a news source left them feeling like they had been personally wronged, taken advantage of, or fooled. Earning trust is difficult enough. Rebuilding it once it’s lost is even harder, something all journalists and news managers would do well to bear in mind.

A version of this post was previously published at Advancing the Story.

Mar 092016

When you’re on deadline and you need an expert on a particular subject, where do you turn? Google is great, but it’s massive. Type in “stock market expert” and you’ll get 34 million results in seconds, with the top links offering advice on how you can become an expert. Not quite what you were looking for, I’ll bet.

After too many frustrating searches for experts as a TV producer in Toronto, Stavros Rougas teamed up with a developer to create a search engine to help journalists find experts. Type in “stock market” on Expertise Finder and you get 23 results, all of them academics with expertise in the field.  Then you can filter the results by location to find an expert near you.Expertise finder

Where do the experts come from? They have to sign up, but the listings are free. “An expert must be affiliated with an accredited university, four year college or reputable think tank,” Rougas told me by email. “There is no way to purchase a listing, feature an expert or rank higher.” The site makes money by selling premium features like branding and analytics, as well as software for universities to power custom directories on their own sites.

The site is free for anyone to use, no log-in required. “We take privacy and journalism independence seriously,” Rougas says. “No login means we have no way to connect who or what is being searched to an individual or organization. PR people want this data, but we have said no.”

Expertise Finder is definitely worth a try but it does have drawbacks. Many of the experts listed are in Canada. My “stock market” search found experts in only six U.S. states. On the other hand, it’s guaranteed to find people with academic credentials in a specific area and who are ready and willing to talk with journalists. Searching for the same kinds of sources on a site like LinkedIn can be almost as frustrating as trying it on Google.

If you’re an expert in something, it’s definitely worth getting yourself on the site for free. The word clearly has spread among journalism professors–98 of them are listed at Expertise Finder.



Mar 012016

The 24/7 news desk in the new Washington Post newsroom.

My hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, has been rocketing up the comScore rankings of top digital media companies. Last August, it wasn’t even in the top 50. Two months later, the Post ranked 36th, beating the New York Times (37th) for the first time ever.  How much of that improvement is due to different paywall strategies is for others to debate. My question is, what did they change about their digital strategy to get where they are now?

Part of the answer is a different way of thinking. Instead of a newsroom that’s “digital first,” which implies that the web takes precedence, the Post is “story first,” according to Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives. “We publish in lots of places, from social media to apps,” he says. “We’re telling the story where people are.”

Another part of the answer is shared responsibility. “We put a lot on reporters,” says Ryan Kellett, audience and engagement editor at the Post. “2015 was the year of empowering them.” Reporters are now in charge of their stories and responsible for them “all the way through,” Kellett says. That means they’re expected to file stories with headlines, images and links to be reviewed by editors before publication.

Video is another growing component of the new digital Post. A staff of 17 video editors (who might be called producers in a TV newsroom) and 10 video reporters shoot and post video on multiple platforms. Many of them are “embedded” in sections across the newsroom, from Metro to Sports, says Micah Gelman, director of editorial video, which means they know about potential video stories early on. “It’s accelerating the process so we don’t find out about a story in the morning or afternoon meeting when it’s too late,” Gelman says.

Video is driving traffic, too, but not always to the Post website. The most-viewed video to date–of a 106-year-old woman getting her first look at herself dancing with joy when she met President Obama–got more than 6 million plays on Facebook compared to about 50,000 on the website. The Facebook post also logged far more comments than the website: 8,800 vs. 215.

Something else has changed at the Post, as well–a greater emphasis on the audience. It’s much easier to see what stories are attracting readers on different platforms. Notice in the picture at the top of this post the giant video monitor over the 24/7 news desk that displays metrics in real time. “We review metrics with reporters,” Kellett says. “They have to understand where the audience is, not just geographically, but where they read [stories],” whether it’s on the mobile site, an app or on social media.

And getting stories to the audience fast is now the name of the game. “Speed is incredibly important,” Gilbert says. “It doesn’t matter where we publish first but the fact that we do is important.” The Post tracks news alerts on multiple platforms, like email and mobile. “Did we beat our rivals to publication is a point of pride.”

None of this is lost of the New York Times, of course, which in January beat the Post in the rankings once again (38th vs. 40th). The Times recently created the position of director of push and messaging, signaling how much it values alerts. “What we’re finding more and more is that for a lot of users, push is the primary way that they’re engaging with apps,” the Times’ Andrew Phelps told Capital New York. “They’re not necessarily tapping the icon and browsing, which would be more pull, there’s sort of expecting news organizations to come to them.”


Feb 242016

How do you locate sources and original content during a breaking news event? Every newsroom turns to social media, but some are more efficient than others at finding what they’re looking for. In these newsrooms, lots of journalists know how to search for information quickly by specific location. If you’re not one of them, it’s time to learn how.

Typing the name of a location (say, near:Kalamazoo,MI) into the search bar of a social media platform like Twitter will bring up posts geotagged from there, as well as some posts from people with that location in their profile. It can be a quick way to look for eyewitnesses to breaking news, like this weekend’s shootings in Kalamazoo.

If all you know is that something’s happening near a city, you may need to zoom out (near:Kalamazoo,MI within:25mi). But if you’re dealing with a larger area, say Paris during the attacks last November, you’ll also get tons of posts that have nothing to do with the breaking news you’re tracking. In that case, you need to zoom in by adding geocode to your search, but that gets complicated.

Map-based searching is much easier. If all you want to search is Instagram, by all means try Gramfeed. It’s free and searchable by location, keyword and date range. A couple of other alternatives that search more than one social network at a time are  Echosec and Ban.jo.

The free versionechosec of Echosec will search Twitter and Flickr. It, too, allows you to search by date and to zoom in and out on the map. You can also draw a shape to outline the search area. It’s pretty good, but in my experience it’s been slower than is desirable in breaking news situation.

Ban.jo is quicker and it’s making a big push with newsrooms, offering its basic Discovery service, free of charge, to journalists. Ban.jo also has iPhone and Android apps. Just sign up with your work email address, create a free account and start searching.

Here’s a how-to for the desktop version. Begin by typing in then name of a city, a neighborhood or a specific address at the top of the page to get a map of the area, then move around the map to find tweets and Instagram posts. Ban.jo will pull up to the 100 most recent posts; if there are more, it’s easy to load them. You can filter the list by adding a keyword search. As with all social media searches by location, posts have to be public and geotagged to show up on Ban.jo.
Click for user profile (1)
At the bottom of the map, there’s 24-hour timeline so you can instantly see and select the most active time periods.  In each post, there’s a bubble that links to the user’s account, making it easy to contact them, and a location pin that highlights where the post originated on the map.Banjo trending

Ban.jo Discovery includes a couple of useful tabs, as well, highlighting what’s current (“events”) and trending in the news news. The events tab is specifically designed for breaking news.

Ban.jo’s Jillian Bichanich says the company’s computers are training themselves to know what “normal” looks like in the social media world. “When something out of the norm happens, a cluster of pictures from an area that normally has no posts, or a fire, it becomes a lead to an event happening,” Bichanich says.

At that point, the humans step in. A 24-hour team curates “albums” so users can see what’s happening where. The team also filters out posts about other things in that area. A green dot means the event is live, still being curated. “It helps newsroom validate what’s happening and decide whether to send a crew,” Bichanich says.

The curation team is busy; according to Bichanich, by the end of the year it could be processing 1,000 “events” a day.

Needless to say, there’s a catch if you want to use Ban.jo for free. The number of location searches you can do per hour is limited to 10, but for most local newsrooms that’s likely sufficient. A bigger issue is that it also limits the value of the “events” tab by adding a 15-minute delay, and grays out events more than 12 hours old. If your competition is paying for premium service, the free version might not be good enough. If you’re going to pay for location search, there are other options to consider, including Geofeedia and GroundSignal.

What location-based search tools are you using? Let us know!

Feb 112016

Genius post excerptHave you ever had more to say about a story than you could fit in? Of course, you have. Even on the “bottomless” Web, reporters have to leave things out. But what if you could make additional information or background easily available to readers and what if they could do the same, not in a separate comments section but right there on the page? That’s the genius behind Genius.

“We want to annotate the world,” says director of partnerships Rachel Blatt. The software now being used by journalists and others started as a way for rap music fans to crowd-source lyrics, and then expanded to other genres and uses.

Reporter Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post was an early adopter and evangelist, who believes annotation can save journalism. He and his colleagues have used it to annotate debate transcripts, among other things. The White House used it to annotate President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address and budget message to Congress.

Genius is free and easy to use. Sign up, log in and get right to it. The simplest way to get started is to add genius.it/ in front of any URL. Highlight a block of text, click on the pop-up Genius icon and type your note. That’s what I did on this page. Anyone with the genius.it/ version of the link or with a browser extension can see the annotations and comment on them.

A newsroom can easily open all of its pages for annotation and comment by adding a line of code, no prefix required. There’s also a WordPress plugin for those of us using that platform.

In some ways, Genius resembles Document Cloud in that it allows for pop-up annotations on the page itself. Unlike Document Cloud, however, Genius is not designed primarily for original source documents but for web pages, which means it can be useful for almost any story. It also allows you to add context to hyperlinks, as I’ve done in this NewsLab example. And you can easily share or embed a link to any annotation.

What could you use it for? Any story that needs a little more background or explanation, I’d say. If you decide to try it, please let us know. We’d love to have more examples to share.

Dec 292015

the top 5Looking back at the year gone by always gives me some insight into what’s most important to you, NewsLab’s readers, and you never let me down. You care deeply about doing good work and about the future of the news business. No surprise, then, that most of the top five posts in 2015 offered tips you can use every day.

I hope this year-in-review post also serves to draw your attention to popular posts you might have missed. Thank you for reading!

Our story about a Swiss TV station where everything is shot with iPhones drew the most traffic by far. Do I think it’s the wave of the future? Not exactly. I haven’t heard of any other TV outlet following suit, and concerns about quality are well-founded. But let’s face it: the latest generation of iPhones capture video that’s plenty good enough for air. I used some that I shot with my iPhone 6 in a PBS story this year. And WFAA in Dallas aired a half-hour special entirely shot on an iPhone.

One of the biggest ethical blunders of 2015 was the subject of another popular post that asked whether NBC should fire Brian Williams. I wrote then that I expected him to be suspended, and as we know that’s what ended up happening. But I also took NBC to task for failing to make public its internal investigation into Williams’ misstatements and exaggerations. I still think the network and Williams himself need to come clean to repair their damaged credibility, especially now that he’s back on the air as the “breaking news anchor” at MSNBC.

Finally, reinforcing my sense that NewsLab’s tips have staying power, several posts that date back a few years made the top 5 in 2015: tips for better standupstips on taking good notes and a how-to guide for natural sound stories.  If you have suggestions for additional tip sheets, I’d love to hear from you.


Oct 262015

Image via ShutterstockFor journalists, there’s no getting away from social media. Just about every newsroom expects reporters to be on Twitter and Facebook, at a minimum. But how are they using these platforms?

Most reporters tell me they post breaking news and links to their stories on a regular basis, but that’s about it. For them, social media is just another way of teasing or promoting their work.

What they’re missing is the value of social media in reporting: finding sources, confirming information, getting pictures and video they can use on air. To do that, you need to know how to manage and search the flood of posts that threaten to drown you every time you log in.

Twitter tactics

For Twitter, my best advice is to create lists so you can easily find and scan related posts. There’s no need to start from scratch. Simply search for lists already created by others. On google.com, type in “site:twitter.com/*/lists/[keyword],” without the quotes, of couse. Every existing public list based on the keyword you choose will pop up. Try it using a location, like your city, or a topic like education or crime. Once you find a list, click to subscribe. Add more sources as you find them.

Keep track of your lists using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, which let you set up separate columns for lists, hashtags, keywords or users. Now, instead of hunting in vain for relevant tweets when you’re tracking a story or a topic, all you have to do is check your list.

Knowing how to search Twitter better can give you a leg up, too. Try advanced search at twitter.com/search-advanced to find tweets by specific users and/or to specific users, or to find tweets within a particular time frame or location. Echosec and Ban.jo will also search for tweets by location. And other sites let you search multiple social media platforms at the same time. Smashfuse is one of my favorites.

Finding things on Facebook

Facebook just ramped up its search function to include all 2 trillion public posts. In addition to simple searches by name or topic, Facebook makes it easy to find people who have specific characteristics. Let’s say you’re working to localize an international story. In the Facebook search bar, type “people who live in [my town] who come from [that country] to find possible sources. Remember, though, that all information in a person’s profile depends on that individual’s entries, so you still have to check to make sure it’s accurate. You can search for people by location, interests, origin, employer and so on.

How can this pay off? Dee Dee Sun, a reporter at KWCH in Wichita, Kansas, has had quite a few successes using social media to cover local stories. One of her suggestions: Use Facebook’s paid messaging option to contact people you don’t know who comment on your stories.

Using LinkedIn

Imagine that? Sun actually found a use for LinkedIn!

Most journalists tell me they’re on it, but they never really use it. Well, you should. The people you want to talk to actually do use LinkedIn to check you out. If your profile is dated or incomplete, you might be jeopardizing your chances of securing an interview.

And one more tip: LinkedIn offers journalists premium membership for free, which allows you to search more efficiently and contact people you aren’t yet connected to. All you have to do is join the LinkedIn for Journalists group and take one of their free webinars, offered once a month. Definitely worth it.


Social media image via Shutterstock

Oct 122015

whats your storyHaving trouble coming up with story ideas? There’s an app for that: a new service designed to help newsrooms find “stories hidden in plain sight.” According to a review on Poynter.org, 20 news organizations are piloting Hearken, developed by a former Chicago public radio reporter.

Hearken combines a variety of different functions to give audiences a voice in the storytelling process. Readers and listeners can submit questions to the news organizations that employ the service and vote on which stories are the best candidates for further reporting.

It’s a new platform, for sure, but not a new idea. Local TV stations have been doing the same thing for 15 years or more. At WSYR in Syracuse, New York, the”Your Stories” franchise launched in 2000 and is still going strong, prominently featured on the air and on the station’s website.  The former news director told me a decade ago that asking viewers what’s on their minds produces great TV, great people stories, and stronger enterprise. “We shine on slow news days,” he said. Here’s a recent example of the kind of stories the station has covered in response to viewers’ questions.

A similar effort launched around the same time at KMOL (now WOAI) in San Antonio, Texas. A weekly feature, called “You Choose the News,” offered a menu of three or four topics that viewers could vote for, by phone or e-mail.  The winning story appeared on the 10 p.m. newscast the following night.

The project challenged the conventional wisdom in the newsroom about what viewers really wanted. “When offered a choice between stories about the Spurs basketball team, an upcoming stock show and rodeo, or a school district bond proposal, viewers chose the bond issue,” I wrote at the time. “Asked to choose between reports on new allergy studies, making the IRS more user-friendly, or cost overruns at the San Antonio convention center, viewers again went for the local money story.”

Here’s what it looked like back then:

“You Choose” didn’t last, but the concept has popped up in other places since, including WOIO in Cleveland and even (gasp) CBS News. You may not remember this, but in 2006 the CBS Evening News featured “You Choose, Steve Hartman Reports.” Viewers were given three feature stories to choose from and Hartman covered the one with the most votes. The Christian Science Monitor called it “another indicator of how far TV news has traveled from the days of Walter Cronkite.”

Asking the audience what they’re curious about is not a sign that the apocalypse is upon us. It doesn’t mean that journalists have abandoned their editorial decision-making and turned their newsrooms over to an uninformed public. It’s just a new way of listening, something we should have been doing all along.