And the story pitch…

It’s true – you never forget your first city editor.

Jim Sneddon, who is now city controller in York, Pa., provided a certain brash, young reporter with valuable guidance at the start of his career in 1984. I thought of Jim the other day at lunch when asked about newsroom leaders who have influenced me over the years.

What I recall prominently about Jim – aside from his wet sandwiches and late-night cigars – was his delight in being approached by reporters who had done some pre-reporting before pitching a story idea. With a gleam in his eye, Jim would engage the reporters in animated conversations about their proposed stories, dissecting the “news peg” pitched.

I was again reminded of Jim after reading a Poynter column penned by Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor at The Dallas Morning News and an adjunct faculty member at Poynter. Huang breaks down the “six questions journalists should be able to answer” before pitching a story. It’s excellent reading for both reporters and editors.

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Learning to lead

“When you are a person of influence, people look to you for cues and clues. We all know people who make the workplace better and brighter just by showing up. They combine realism and pragmatism with hope and a relentlessly positive outlook. And we want to be a part of that person’s team.” – Jill Geisler

In a world full of leadership experts, my money is on Jill Geisler, who heads the leadership and management programs at The Poynter Institute. Geisler pens a regular column for Poynter, and her book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” is a must read.

Check out her words of wisdom delivered in a recent commencement address.

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Correct me if I’m wrong?

Funny coincidence: The other night I sent my partner in crime a text with the word “Clamato” – you know, the drink mix. Or so I thought. What she received was the auto-corrected work “calamari”  – which made absolutely no sense in context. Her response was appropriate.

The next day, I came upon this amusing piece in The New York Times, headlined “Auto Crrect Ths!” As James Gleick writes, “In the past, we were responsible for our own typographical errors. Now Autocorrect has taken charge. This is no small matter. It is a step in our evolution — the grafting of silicon into our formerly carbon-based species, in the name of collective intelligence. Or unintelligence as the case may be.”

Gleick goes on to explain how algorithms are to blame. Take a few minutes to read the piece – you will definitely relate.


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Hollywood goes to social media

I’ll admit to liking the movie “Ted.” Seth McFarlane, in my opinion, is a subversive comedy genius. But how has the raunchy film about a foul-mouthed teddy bear and his human best pal become the  most successful R-rated comedy of all time (excluding sequels)?

Depending upon your tastes, you can either credit or blame social media. Check out this detailed Wall Street Journal story examining how Hollywood is embracing new ways of using social media to promote its movies.


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Learn something new (almost) every day

Finding the time to study up on media trends, absorb new information and gain new skills is always challenge. But it’s essential to carve out precious learning moments as often as possible.

Miranda Mulligan, the new executive director of the Knight News Innovation Lab at Northwestern University, engaged in a Poynter chat last week about how journalists can develop digital storytelling skills and be more innovative online.

My takeaways:

• Journalists should seek advice and training from nonjournalists. Get outside the bubble.
• Check out the site dontfeartheinternet, which offers guidance about basic HTML and CSS for non-web designers.
• Journalists looking for financing for their projects should consider Kickstarter.
• Social media is here to stay, and newspapers need to accept that fact. As Mulligan says, “We create content. Publish it to our sites. The we promote it on social media.”

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“Quote approval” just plain wrong

Two “truisms” I learned as a young reporter: never submit your story to the subjects of the story to “review” in advance of publication, and never agree to quote approval.

I always considered it a trust issue: I believed the people interviewed for stories were giving me factual information as they knew it, and they had to trust I would get the story right. Yes, I reviewed quotes with sources for accuracy, but never to clean up to meet their demands.

So it was with some disappointment – but not a great deal of surprise, frankly – to follow the revelations about the disturbing trend of “quote approval” embraced by news organizations. Essentially, in exchange for access to high-level officials in politics and government, journalists allow quotes to be previewed modified before publication. The practice is rampant in coverage of the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns.

As detailed in Jeremy Peters’ July 15 article for The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Reuters and the Times are among the media outlets that have agreed to the increasingly common practice. As one Times editor put it: “We don’t like the practice. We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately, this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.”

Yes, as political coverage war horse Dan Rather wrote in a scathing opinion piece, the mighty Times and other powerful media outlets have to push back harder. It’s essential that all reporters and news organizations push back when confronted with this mandate.

Public trust in the media continues to erode; being controlled by politicians and their minions will do nothing to improve that status.

Poynter last week hosted a live chat titled, “What’s the deal with quote approval?” Follow the replay here.

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Facebook for the voters

So often we hear people bemoaning the lack of citizen participation in one of the great rights we as Americans possess: the right to vote.

California’s presidential primary election turnout in the spring set record-low numbers. OK, so there were no real hot-button issues to attract voters. Is that a valid excuse? No, no, no.

People will make the excuse they are not registered to vote, their registration is outdated or they just don’t have the time to register.

More than a dozen states offer online registration, but Washington state is taking it one step further: The secretary of state’s office will feature an application on its Facebook page that will allow residents to register to vote. In addition, they can “like” the application and recommend it to their friends.

Of course, privacy issues are being raised. But a Washington elections official points out that Facebook doesn’t have access to the state’s database: its page just overlays the voter registration application.

Here’s a clear example of social media benefiting the democratic process. Mobiledia details why this voter registration move makes sense. Here’s hoping other states soon follow suit.

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