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Archive for January, 2011
25 Jan

Carnival of Journalism: Two vital journalism institutions working together

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201101/1934/

NOTE: This is my entry – late entry – to the Carnival of Journalism, a collection of blogs writing on a single topic, organized by Spot.us creator David Cohn. This is a revival of the Carnival and in this first, returning edition, the topic is “The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community.” I decided to approach it from my recent experience in the academic world following my time in the newsroom. You can read the round up of other entries here: carnivalofjournalism.com

Newsrooms, meet classrooms. Classrooms, meet newsrooms.

I know you’ve known each other, tolerated each other and have even talked smack about each other for decades. But guess what, you both need each other.

And you both need to change, adapt and evolve fast.

That’s my conclusion as I start my fourth semester in academia, after ten years in newsrooms. (For the record, I don’t consider myself an “academic.” I prefer the term “hackademic.” Actually, I prefer Web journalist.)

I know in newsrooms we’re busy putting out the daily miracle (every 15 minutes online) and are always short on resources. We are on the leading edge of content evolution online, but we don’t have time, money and, sometimes, the skills we need to experiment and grow. We often don’t have support from the top either.

Let’s be honest, we often dismiss academics (those who can’t, teach) and have some issues collaborating with anyone, whether be it another newsroom or a university.

I know in classrooms we put in longer hours (even though people don’t see it) working with aspiring journalists. These students are called the future of journalism on a good day, but are dismissed as clueless dreamers on a bad day – often called both by people in the newsroom.

I know that the “students” that fill our classrooms are no longer students, but journalists. And, while they are surrounded by haters (from parents to working journalists to even professors), this force of young journalists can’t be stop. Thank god.

I also know that in academia there is some time to think. We have more time to reflect and share those thoughts. We actively are talking about journalism … even though some may have not practiced it in some time. Does that mean their analysis is invalid? No… but some people do dismiss it.

Often, but not always, academia has access to grants and more funding. My jaw has dropped when I’ve heard about the amount of money funding some projects that didn’t deliver. I know in newsrooms many of us would make miracles happen with a fraction of that money.

On the other hand, when funding is given for something innovative, well, some in academia have not innovated in a while. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are more professors that are “getting it” more than leaders in the newsroom. But being innovative and risk-taking isn’t something that is always engrained in every tenured professor.

Let’s be honest again, we in academia often dismiss those in the newsroom as being arrogant and unaware that they need help. I know many of us have spent years trying to partner with local newsrooms, only to get frustrated and give up.

Both sides are imperfect. Journalism is imperfect.

Both sides need to evolve in their own way. Journalism needs to evolve through them.

Both sides need each other. Journalism needs truly them.

So, how do we do it?

A classroom, in essence, is a newsroom full of hungry journalists that don’t want to talk about journalism… they want to do it.

Professors need to empower these people to produce work, not just for their class, but for the community. These pieces should not be solely read by the person standing in front of the classroom. They need to be read by the public. And as there are cutbacks in our newsrooms, journalism classrooms need to help fill that void.

Folks in newsrooms need to join forces with the classroom. If we really want to diversify our staff, let’s take an easy step and partner up with a class that can work on a project we literally can’t afford.

Academia needs to actively offer training to local newsrooms, especially the smaller ones. Ethnic media needs your help.

Hey, editors and publishers, get training for your staff. And by reaching out to your local universities and community colleges, you’ll get it… as well as building a mutually beneficial partnership.

Every semester, a classroom is swarming on a neighborhood, a beat and story theme. While we are publishing them on our student media, others should republish them when appropriate.

Research and develop together. Universities are filled with smart people wanting to work on a good project. Newsrooms are filled with smart people who identify needs, but don’t have time to work on these great potential projects.

Yes, we are seeing these types of partnerships popping up and growing. But, quite honestly, it’s just scratching the surface.

So, what are you doing Hernandez?

Well, I’ve tried to have my class produce community journalism. This semester I hope to partner with a local news org to get their pieces published.

In terms of innovation, I’m working with a group of amazing developers that believe in the potential of joining forces for the betterment of journalism. We hope to do R&D for the industry.

We need more. And all it usually takes is a conversation and a commitment.

Imagine how much better our journalism will be if these two vital institutions worked together.

Actually, stop imagining and start doing.

19 Jan

Crowdsourcing ‘web journalism rockstars of color’

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201101/1931/

For this week’s blog post, I chatted (through e-mail) with up-and-coming journalist Emma Carew, the driving force behind a new Web journalist of Color spreadsheet.

Recently, there seems to be an ongoing conversation about diversity in our newsrooms (especially Web newsrooms) again. One of the results from that conversation is the spreadsheet you created. Can you describe this project and how it came about?

Following Retha Hill‘s post on MediaShift IdeaLab about diversity at recent ONA and Newsfoo conferences, I was excited to weigh in during the Twitter chat on #mediadiversity. People mentioned hearing, “we can’t find any qualified minorities,” for speaker presentations and conferences. I was shocked to hear this, because I could have easily listed a dozen or more journalists of color doing amazing things with journalism and the web — these are people I look up to, who have mentored me. We all left the chat on Twitter promising to take action and spread the good word. A few days went by and when no list to promote these fine folks appeared, I knew it was something that I could initiate. By reaching out to my network, we were able to assemble about 75 names, all top-notch journalists of color working with journalism and the web. Anyone looking to put together panels of amazing journalists looking to share their story, no longer has an excuse for putting together an all-white, all-male conference.

How have the names been selected? What has been the process? Is there a general criteria for who makes this list?

About eight contributors are continuing to cultivate the list, which is open for public viewing. Anyone can nominate themselves or others by contacting one of the authors. Our loose criteria have been these: journalists of color, doing great work in web journalism, and who would have something interesting to share on a panel. The goal is to identify as many web journalism rockstars of color as possible.

NOTE: Full-disclosure, I am one of the eight that curates the list and am also hosting the spreadsheet on my server. Others include Sharon Chan, Michelle Johnson, Doug Mitchell, Juana Summers and Benet Wilson.

What is your vision, your goal for this project? What would you like to see happen here?

My hope would be to see better representation of journalists of color, both as attendees and speakers, at journalism conferences such as the UNITY organizations, SPJ, ONA and IRE. The leadership of these associations have a great opportunity to widen their circles. I’d love to see the project embraced and promoted by the national journalism leaders. Diversity shouldn’t only be a priority for the UNITY groups.

Diversity is more than ethnicity. Is there any thought to expanding the spreadsheet to include gay/lesbian, women or other communities that are under represented in our newsrooms?

I definitely agree, and we are certainly open to representing diversity of all types. In the current setup, there are eight authors who are collaborating to keep the list organized and “vet” the names when we come across an unfamiliar name. We currently have representation of some kind from all four UNITY organizations. If there are leaders (official or unofficial) from NLGJA or other journalism associations who would like to get involved, please contact us.

So what has been the reaction to your project so far?

I think it’s been well received in the smaller UNITY org circles. The list is growing slowly and each of the authors has continued to reach out to leadership in our respective associations. It’s an important time for the list to be circulating and continue the conversation with summer journalism conventions coming up.

What have you learned from the project?

Working on this project has been a great reminder of a few things. First, being that it’s not enough to idly sit by and try to tweet the the change you want to see. At some level, you have to just take a leap and try. This project has also been a good reminder of the importance of good mentors. This project would not have gotten off the ground as neatly or quickly had it not been for some excellent guiding hands

Tell me a little about your journalism background. I hear you recently took a new job.

I got my start in journalism at a high school program called the Urban Journalism Workshop, now called ThreeSixty Journalism. During college, I interned at the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press, the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education, mostly focusing on business, education and data journalism. I spent six months working for the Chronicle of Philanthropy working on data projects, especially on how to best present them online. Next week I will be joining the startribune.com team as a home page producer.

The struggle for journalism diversity has gone for years, decades even. How have you personally benefited by those who have worked hard for diversity?

The program I got my first start has its roots with the Twin Cities Black Journalists association (our local NABJ chapter). From the start, I was surrounded by talented journalists of color who had an interest in my success. Being a member of AAJA for six years has filled in the gaps of all the things they forget to teach you in J school: networking, mentorships, how to be a great intern, and how to fight for the things you believe in. I’m grateful to those who have blazed the trail before me, and I’m excited to continue in their path. There’s still a lot of work to be done around diversity in the media.

When I can, I like ending my interviews with journalists with the same question … In an environment of furloughs, layoffs and budget cuts… where we work more with less … in these ‘tough times,’ where we are in constant evolution … Why are you a journalist?

Unfortunately as a first-year reporter, these times are the only ones I have ever known firsthand. I remain an optimist, especially the more I move toward digital and multiplatform work. I firmly believe in the need for excellent journalism in our communities, for it’s role as a watchdog and the art of our storytelling. I became a journalist because it was the only career I have ever considered. I remain a journalist because I know our work is far from done.

Thank you so much Emma. You should be really proud of the work you’ve done, especially this project.

Robert thanks so much for all your work on this. It’s been a great experience and I hope to see its success play out.

12 Jan

Errors happen – it’s what’s next that matters

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201101/1928/

On Friday, December 13, 2002, I killed a man… a teenager really… but only for 15 minutes.

I was a few months into my new job at The Seattle Times where I was running the homepage. The news broke that a 17-year-old teen was shot in the head by a Seattle police officer during an attempted robbery and the brief was sent my way to post.

For some reason, I assumed a gunshot to the head was fatal and wrote the headline stating that the teen was killed.

After getting rightfully chewed out by the reporter, I learned that you can survive that injury.

More than eight years later, after hearing the news coverage and premature reports of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ death, I can’t help but be reminded of my error and the lessons I’ve learned.

Throughout my career, I’ve heard people say that the Web – and now the real-time Web with social media – is a liability. A “tangled Web” of ethical problems.

Let’s just get this out-of-the-way: Errors happen in journalism all the time and, for the most part, by accident.

It doesn’t matter what the medium is – pixels or paper, newswires or tweets – facts can be misled, misreported or misunderstood. Errors happened before the Internet. Errors happen in newspaper, radio and TV journalism.

The bottom line is that errors happen.

What matters, in my opinion, is what you do after they happen.

After profusely apologizing, I fixed the headline and immediately wrote up a correction. It may have only been 15 minutes and perhaps only a handful of readers may have seen it, but it didn’t matter. I made the mistake.

You know that debate about who is a journalist and who isn’t? It’s all pointless really. When it comes down to it, a journalist, in its true essence, is someone who has credibility in delivering accurate information. It’s the person you can trust because they have earned your trust through accuracy.

Credibility is such a fragile thing. Takes years to build, but just moments to lose.

But in a craft where facts are moving quickly and readers want information in real-time, it’s not the multimedia or tech that counts… it’s your credibility.

I made an error that dinged The Times’, the reporter’s and my own credibility. Immediately posting that correction was a small, simple act of transparency to own up to it.

If you think about it, journalism is based on such a fragile thing like credibility. Trust. Faith.

The reporter, covering a news event, has to find the right sources and trust – yet verify – the information they are collecting. The reporter’s editor needs to trust that the reporter is not making this stuff up or stealing it from a competitor. The process goes from stage to stage until it gets to a reader/viewer/listener/user who then has to trust whether or not the piece is accurate.

Trust but verify. Consider the source. If your mom says she loves you, check it out.

All that before you hit publish to print or tweet your piece. All that as you consume a piece of news.

Like more and more people, I experienced the Giffords news coverage through a variety of ways that included radio, web, TV and social streams. I heard the incorrect reports about her death and the reactions that followed. I also heard the incorrect reports about her speedy recovery and those reactions.

I highly recommend reading Regret the Error‘s piece that breaks down how the error spread and Lost Remote‘s on whether or not incorrect tweets should be deleted.

Make sure you read the response by NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin, who talks about his role in tweeting the incorrect reports.

While mistakes were made in the coverage, the discussions afterward have been productive and insightful.

The errors happened. But what also mattered was what happened afterwards.

Categories: Journalism, OJR, Real-Time Web Tags:
07 Jan

Digital + Diversity: What does your newsroom reflect?

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NOTE: Originally ran on Online Journalism Review: http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/webjournalist/201101/1926/

If you ask a Web journalist what the newest, important tool a news organization needs to embrace today, they’d probably say Social Media. They’re right, it’s not a fad.

If you were to ask them to make a prediction or guess where the future of technology is headed, chances are they’d say mobile. Smart phones are getting smarter, smaller and cheaper. (And, one day Verizon will carry the iPhone – I believe!)

If you were to ask me what one element newsrooms need to embrace, outside of technology, my answer is a simple one: diversity. Can we make that a New Year’s resolution?

I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m talking about having diverse experiences and points of views that shape and literally define what is news.

I believe that the lack of diversity – gender, age, religion, sexual-orientation, socioeconomic background, politics, bus riders, cyclists, video game addicts, etc. as well as ethnicity – in our newsrooms in all roles, especially leadership ones, is one of the main causes of lower circulation and loss of general reader/viewer engagement.

Again, I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m just saying if we are not made of all our communities, how are we expected to relate and be relevant to all those communities?

Let me give you an example:
One of my early Web specials I did in my career was the 20th anniversary of the AIDS epidemic. I was representing SFGate.com as I sat around the table with print reporters and editors. You have to understand, the San Francisco Chronicle was crucial in the news coverage twenty years before with the incredible work by Randy Shilts.

These people were professionals and I was still the relatively new kid working with that new medium.

But as they spoke, I noticed that all the stories were about gay, white males. No one talked about that the fastest growing HIV/AIDS demographic was straight, black females.

They were the pros. I was just a punk kid.

Staying quiet is one of my biggest regrets in my career. I swore no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, I had to always speak up.

That chair I was sitting in wasn’t just for me. It was for all the communities I was a part of… and all the others that I wasn’t, but weren’t at the table. I have to rep everyone. You know, that voiceless thing.

Here’s another example:
Do you remember when someone tried to reinstate the draft back in 2003? I was sitting at the morning news meeting as the draft talks began to heat up and we started brainstorming on how to cover the story.

In a room of incredibly talented and experienced journalists, the angles included talking to teachers, parents, Vietnam vets, recruiters … but I was shocked that well into the discussion I had to raise my hand and mention, how about talking to high schoolers?

The room forgot to include the demographic that was going to be most affected by the draft.

But the lack of diversity in newsrooms isn’t new. Women have been battling the glass ceiling for decades and studies, like the one from ASNE, have shown a depressing lack of ethic diversity for years.

So, why am I bringing it up?

Let me give you another example:
In a recent PEW study, it found that African-Americans and Latinos “are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white internet users.”

In several not-so-recent studies, they found that Latinos are ahead of the curve in embracing mobile devices and its behavior. They are more likely to text message, download music, play games and access social networking.

Yet, how come there isn’t a reflection of that diversity in those Web journalism jobs? While there is a lack of diversity in newsrooms, why is there even more so on the Web side?

The digital divide? Sure, but not the one you are thinking. Those studies show “minorities” are on the advanced side of the divide and others are behind.

Diversity, and the possible lack there of, was raised as a concern after the recent invitation-only Newsfoo submit.

At last year’s SXSWi panel about the future of news it was all white men.

Look, I’m not saying that your ethnicity or gender or whatever is a requirement to do a better job for any of these tasks.

What I am saying is that if we don’t reflect our communities – both on- and off-line – we’re doomed. If we don’t listen to others outside of our own, individual communities we’ve missed the point of journalism.

This isn’t about hiring “us” over “them” … this is about how all off us strengthen journalism by reflecting our diverse communities through relevant coverage … and that the coverage is shaped by those that make up the newsroom.

That’s the premise of hyperlocal journalism, isn’t it? That a local or insider would know what is more relevant to their community rather than an outsider.

So, why can’t we overcome this challenge? It’s 2011.

PBS’ MediaShift recently held a Twitter chat on media diversity.

Thankfully, it’s on people’s minds again.

I routinely get asked for names of diverse candidates to apply for Web journo jobs… but here’s the thing, while I know plenty of reporters, editors photographers, etc., my network of diverse Web journos isn’t as strong as it should.

Y’all, I’m a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, board member of Online News Association, been to nearly every alphabet soup of conferences and I’m still struggling to diversify my Web journo network.

So what do we do about it? We need more solutions outside of forming another damn diversity committee.

The fact is, these diverse communities are already on the advance side of the tech divide… but they are not on the journalism side. Perhaps they aren’t aware of a journalism career as an option? Perhaps they don’t see themselves in our coverage? Perhaps they feel like there is no place at the table for them to help shape news?

Whatever it is, we need to do something. And I need some help in figuring this out.

In addition to being on the ONA board, I’m overseeing the all day workshops at the next conference, I’m co-program chair for UNITY 2012, I’m the New Media track coordinator for the NAHJ annual conference and I run #wjchat, a weekly Web journalism chat.

If we don’t invest in recruiting and training members of diverse groups to help us do and advanced journalism … we are royally screwed.

My New Year’s resolution is to harness my access and network to improve diversity across the board for Web journalism. But I need your help. I need your ideas.

More importantly, in your newsrooms, your communities (and those you are not a part of) need your help. Reach out, connect, participate, preach and downright fight to ensure your news org’s journalism reflects the diverse community it covers. Help it stay relevant.

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