Thursday, November 24, 2011

Best wishes for a current AP'er

I didn't know Tim Huber at AP - he joined after I left. But reading his story today in the Charleston
Daily Mail - how he is recovering from a massive stroke - reminds me that once AP, always AP, and I can't help but wish him and his wife the best on this holiday,

It's an inspiring story - and not surprising for those of us who know the grit of AP'ers {grin}.

Best to all those journalists - at AP and elsewhere - who are on duty around the world today. Thanks for all you do.

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On this Thanksgiving, a tale of journalistic sharing

It comes from Nieman Lab, which recounts how a rural Kentucky paper reached out to the Huffington Post to reprint a HuffPo story on a coal miner fighting for safer working conditions.

Perhaps what's surprising about this is that it would be seen at all as unusual in 2011 and the age of distributed journalism.

Don't be a journalism turkey - have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Style, yes, but common sense, too

I admit. I like the idea of style, AP or otherwise. It adds a certain sense of order to things and lets me write instead of having to think about the minutiae.

And I enjoy the various style quizzes that pop up in newsletters and other publications I get. It's always fun to see how much I recall.

My concern, however, is that they can send the message that it's all about style and that style is a rigid thing, when all it should be is a guide. Common sense often must prevail, and sense - the sense of the writer and what he or she is trying to accomplish.

Here are two questions and answers from the quiz I linked to above:
Q1       Arizona officials said the two thousand bushels were sufficient for its November Harvest festival.
A1       Arizona officials said the 2,000 bushels was sufficient for their November Harvest Festival
Our AP bible reminds writers that a plural noun could take a singular verb if the amount is used as a unit, rather than individually.  In this case, was becomes the proper verb since the writer is not referring to individual bushels.  For numbers, 2,000 is used.  Words come into the picture when the figure is in the millions or higher.  Festival is capitalized since it’s part of the formal title for this annual event.

Q4       K-Mart, Wal-Mart and JC Penny announced they will open at 12 midnight on Black Midnight.
A4       Kmart, Walmart and J.C. Penney announced they will open at midnight on “Black Midnight.”
All three company names can be checked in the stylebook.  Newer versions will remind journalists that Walmart is the correct version when referring to its retail outlets.  Midnight is sufficient without the 12, as is noon.  Black Friday is not listed with AP, and many papers have treated it with and without quotes.  Those using quote marks may be citing the punctuation guide in the back that states:  “A word or words being introduced to readers may be placed in quotation marks on first reference.”

Forget for a moment the admonition that when you do one of these things you're probably going to get something wrong - in this case the use of "Black Midnight" for "Black Friday" (which was used in the answer). Let's look at how what seem like a couple of absolutist answers really should be a bit more flexible:

 Arizona officials said the two thousand bushels were sufficient for its November Harvest festival. 
 A1       Arizona officials said the 2,000 bushels was sufficient for their November Harvest Festival.

Is the use of "its" in the original wrong? No. It's perfectly acceptable here if the writer's sense was "Arizona's ... Festival." So the editor should be checking with the writer for the sense.

K-Mart, Wal-Mart and JC Penny announced they will open at 12 midnight on Black Midnight.
 A4       Kmart, Walmart and J.C. Penney announced they will open at midnight on “Black Midnight.”

Is "Walmart" always mandated here? No. If you are talking about your local Walmart store, then that's the correct style. But if the writer's sense is that the company says it will open at midnight, then Wal-Mart is correct.

I hate that part of the stylebook and have only reluctantly given in. It can produce stories where you have both spellings repeatedly interchanged, which is bonkers.

So the next time you see one of these, have fun with it but take some of this style stuff with a grain of salt. Always temper it with what the writer was trying to accomplish, and if you don't know that, then ask or leave it alone.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SC Primaries - split decision for the Republicans

The S.C. Supreme Court has turned aside the challenge by several counties that said they should not be responsible for paying for the Jan. 21 presidential primary. The primary must be held and the counties and State Election Commission will do so, no questions asked, the court ruled today.

But there was also a slapshot at the GOP, which had intended to put these four "advisory" questions on the ballot:

1. In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens our economy and national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?
2. In order to promote economic growth and to decrease America’s dependence on foreign energy sources that threaten our national security, should the United States energy policy include increased domestic energy production through access to more on-shore and off-shore oil and natural gas?
3. In order to protect South Carolina jobs and defend against federal government intrusions, should the United States Congress pass the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, which would prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from ordering any company to close, relocate, or transfer employees?
4. In order to address the matter of Corporate Personhood, the enfranchised People of the Sovereign State of South Carolina shall decree that:
Corporations are people
Only people are people

Not so fast, the justices said in their 3-2 decision:

Nothing in the statutes upon which this declaratory judgment is rendered and no provision of South Carolina law would allow the ballot for a publically funded Presidential Preference Primary to include anything other than the names of candidates for a qualifying political party's nominee for President of the United States. Accordingly, the State Election Commission and the County Election Commissions are hereby directed that they may not print such ballots or conduct such primaries for any matter other than the nomination of party candidates for President of the United States. No advisory questions may be included on any such primary ballots. Additionally, no other advisory elections, straw polls, or the like on any question may be conducted at the various Presidential Preference Primary polling places or within 200 feet of the entrance to such polling places.
 So score one for a bit of sanity.

These questions were not much more than a publicity grab. Any results would have little validity as a barometer of anything.

Maybe the strong language will keep this silliness under control in the future. But I wouldn't bet on it.

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Got those journalism blues

Sure, things are tough in the business. Reporters are being given Sisyphean lists of things to do in this age of social media, bringing the predictable backlash.

But hey, what good is it if you can't sing about it? Awhile back, the "Copy Editor's Lament" went viral (well, OK, maybe it was just a slight sniffle, but still it was fun).

The latest entry, from the Texas Center for Community Journalism, is worthy of a watch/listen. If you've got those journalism blues, pour a glass of your favorite adult beverage, lean back, flip on the video and nod along. Time to get in a mellow mood before the holiday tryptophan kicks in.

That "journalism blues" link also helpfully has the words so you can sing along - or for that next karaoke night.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

It seemed like a great headline - even if we made it up

What do you do if you have a pretty good story about a man who fakes his own abduction and when he calls mom to get $100 in ransom, she talks him down to $60 - but you just don't have that great quote for the headline?

Well, you make it up, of course. At least that's what The (Columbia, S.C.) State appeared to do on Saturday. I dare you to find the quote from the hed in the body of the story:

So this would be another reason to be judicious on quote heds - if the good quote isn't in the story, probably not the time for a quote hed.

The State had an editor who just loved quote heds - for a while it seemed like there had to be one on the front or Metro front almost every day. The editor, unfortunately, had a habit of reaching down the bottom of the story to grab the writer's punch line. That was bad enough, for several reasons.'

But making them up out of thin air? That's a new one on me.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ham-handed editing

So here's the Oscars story as it appeared in The State's printed edition:

Can you find what's wrong?
LOS ANGELES — After a tumultuous week that saw the departure and replacement of the Oscar show’s host and producer, the film academy enjoyed a night of good vibes Saturday at its third annual Governors Awards. You might even say the force was with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Armed “Star Wars” storm troopers ensured guests were in their seats and paying attention as Darth Vader opened the evening. Under Vader’s helmet was academy president Tom Sherak, who welcomed the audience of industry insiders with, “How was your week?”

Over the past week, Oscar producer Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy resigned and were replaced with producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal. Ratner departed the Oscar show amid criticism of his use of a pejorative term for gay men at a screening of the director’s action comedy “Tower Heist,” which stars Murphy.

Saturday’s untelevised Governors Awards couldn’t have been smoother.

Jones, who famously voiced Vader, accepted his award by video from London’s Wyndham Theater, where he is starring in “Driving Miss Daisy” with Vanessa Red-grave. Baldwin and Glenn Close feted the actor before Sir Ben Kingsley presented him with his Oscar onstage in London.

Close called Jones “a world treasure” and Kingsley said the 80-year-old actor is “always so damn good.”

Smith, the groundbreaking makeup artist who counts “The Exorcist” and “The Godfather” among his credits, was lauded for his long career and his generosity in sharing the secrets of his craft. Writer-directors J.J. Abrams, Peter Jack-son and Guillermo del Toro saluted the 89-year old.

Abrams, creator of TV’s “Lost” and “Fringe,” said Smith “was the Beatles to me” and told of how he wrote a fan letter to the makeup artist and received an “old but clean” tongue from “The Exorcist” in return.

Winfrey was introduced by Quincy Jones, Travolta, Maria Shriver, producer Larry Gordon and a student she’d never met but whose education she funded.

Travolta said “the academy got it right” when it chose the media mogul to receive its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, calling her “the most wonderful person in the world, the most magical person in the world and the most powerful person in the world.”

Yep, in a bunch of ham-handed editing, The State in its print editions managed to cut the first names of Jones (actor James Earl), Smith (makeup artist Dick) and Winfrey (Oprah - need we say more?) and the awards (lifetime achievement) that Jones and Smith received.

It also managed to leave out the first names of "Baldwin" (Alec) and "Travolta" (John).

It did manage to get it right in the online edition.

Smooth, very smooth.

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Get your AP Stylebook T-shirts while they're hot

AP Stylebook T-shirts (and you'd better get that right, not t-shirts or tee-shirts {grin}).

Definitely should be in the pile of holiday packages for every copy editor.

ACES should include one in the goodie bag for everyone that goes to its New Orleans meeting in April.

Love the slogan: "We wrote the book on style. Edited it, too."

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Liquid Text, file this under WOW

Pointer from Jack Lail to a project coming out of Georgia Tech called Liquid Text.

Can you imagine how this could change journalists' ability to extract and organize info?

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Editing lesson - why Goog is not enough

Here's a lesson for your editing classes - or for any journalist, for that matter - as to why relying on Google (or any other single source, especially in these days of ubiquitous data that also contains easily propagated errors).

I gave my editing class a simple car-train accident story the other day. It happened on Bonhomme Richard Drive in Lexington County. But many students went into a tizzy because it was listed differently on Google:

Now, those of us who've been around awhile probably have some sense that Goog was in error. If you have a sense of French, you know it's Bonhomme Richard, or maybe stuck back in the corners of the brain is the factoid that several U.S. warships have had that name.

But these days it is easy - and imperative - to check multiple sources. In the editing room, we have paper maps on the wall (I know, how quaint, except Google does not list county boundaries or subdivisions, both important for a local journalist.)

A quick run over to Mapquest shows this (which is also on that paper map):

And just running "Bonhomme Richard Lexington" through a Google and Bing search pulls up numerous real estate listings with the correct name.

Of course, preponderance of the evidence is not good enough in journalism, so my students should have checked with us, which some did. But the disappointment was that they were relying only on Google. What if I had put "Richard Bonhomme" in the copy? They most likely never would have asked.

Anyhow, victory is ours! OK, too much caffeine there so early in the morning. But Goog did confirm the error once I pointed it out.

I hope you'll find this useful as an example you can use in class and elsewhere.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At once perceptive and arrogant - Part 2

So yesterday I riffed on the arrogance in an otherwise perceptive look inside Tribune by an an editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Then, this morning, I'm reading a fanciful post on Mel Taylor Media of what Steve Jobs would do if he were running a newspaper, and embedded in the middle is this YouTube video of a woman - journalist apparently - wishing ads on the Internet would just go away. We'd all go to a donation system, etc. etc. (I have no idea who this person is or where this was said; it's not labeled.)

I put this under perceptive and arrogant because, again, I think it shows the inability, even after several years of the writing on the wall, to fully connect with reality. It's perceptive, with a streak of arrogance.

Wow. Is this contagious? Is there a vaccine I can get out there? Sure, every journalist has had sweet dreams of oodles of time, buckets of money and the autonomy of presiding over a fief.

But let's take some reality pills here, OK? Content is great. Content is NOT king.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

At once perceptive and arrogant

That pretty much sums up my reading of Laurie Winer's part-memoir of her days at the L.A. Times and part-review of James O'Shea's book The Deal from Hell in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

True enough, Winer has me more often than not muttering and shaking my fist at her recounting of the cavalier and rapacious sacking that Sam Zell and his minions did to Tribune and the Times.

Hers and Dean Starkman's recent piece about the San Jose Mercury News should be must-reading, if for no other reason than to think with the wisdom of hindsight about what has happened.

But just as I am about to shake my fist in solidarity again, up pops that old journalistic arrogance in Winer's retelling:

All of FitzSimons’s ideas came from his knowledge of broadcast; he thought newspapers should focus on local news and that editors should rely on readership surveys to figure out what consumers want covered, and then cover those things. This is the antithesis of a good newsroom, where editors rely on reporters who are on the ground asking questions to help determine the importance and urgency of stories. Then, editors, most of whom are former reporters and have overarching expertise in their fields, confer over which stories should take precedence. The front-page editorial mix is based on their collective view of what a well-informed person needs to know about his neighborhood or country: not a distinction that the average citizen has the perspective to be able to make. When real journalism is being practiced, these decisions are not ever based on which stories will increase the stock portfolios of the editors or the newspaper.

Yes, basing your editorial decisions solely on readership surveys is the antithesis of good journalism. But actually paying attention and listening to your readers, and then using that to expand your frame of reference when making those vaulted journalistic decisions Winer praises? That's not the antithesis at all. It's using your head and putting the arrogance on a shelf.

"Real journalism" shouldn't be done for the aggrandizement of others, no. But it also needs to get real - if it doesn't generate the resources necessary to support it, it's dead. Winer seems to be living in that land of Oz that too many journalists have inhabited - where somehow the roads are paved with gold and we're all taken care of, and ignore that man behind the curtain who eventually has to be paid.

How condescending -- "not a decision that the average citizen has the perspective to be able to make." No, but the average Joe and Jane do have the perspective to make a decision and they're making it, and they're telling arrogant journalists "you're not that important anymore."

Maybe that's tough to handle, but a show of arrogance back doesn't do anyone any good. Yep, Zell was a schmuck when he told a photographer in Orlando that to survive, newsrooms have to figure out how to find enough resources to cover both "puppies and Iraq" and characteristically delivered the message with a "f*** y**" to the person who asked the question. It's unfortunate because it means Winer and others can easily dismiss it without getting off their pedestals.

Unfortunately, they're just as guilty of uttering the same epithet -- at their hoi polloi audience, which, newly empowered by technology, is giving them the finger back.

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Les Anderson will be missed

Less Anderson, a longtime journalism prof at Wichita State University has died.

He's one of the good ones and will be missed. Links and details on the COMJIG blog.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

2 important reads into the state of things and how we got here

Dean Starkman has two important pieces to read in the Columbia Journalism Review - important because the first one should get you thinking, at least, about the sometimes squishy base on which so many future of news predictions - including a few made here - are based and the second should get you thinking hard about whether newspapers (and to some extent mainstream news organizations, including broadcast) were ever structurally, organizationally and psychologically capable of avoiding what has befallen them.

In his first piece, "Confidence Game," Starkman takes aim at Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis - the thinkers and proouncers - and Journal-Register head John Paton, who is trying to translate many of those thoughts into practice.

Shirky, Rosen and Jarvis are (or, more correctly, at times can be) important voices in the discussion. My thinking has certainly been influenced by them (one of the most important being Shirky's observation that we may well be in an interregnum similar to that following the invention of the printing press where the only certainty is uncertainty until some new kind of form, process and equilibrium are found (and that probably should be forms and processes, since one size is rarely likely to fit all going forward).

But they tend to be, how to delicately put it, at times full of themselves. That's to be expected - one does not venture out on such limbs without a certain hubris and certainty of one's position. On the other hand, Starkman does put a pin to some of the over-inflation of the future-of-news (FON) crowd:

Jarvis and Shirky in particular have reveled in the role of intellectual undertakers/grief counselors to the newspaper industry, which, for all its many failings, has traditionally carried the public-service load (see for a laundry list of exposés—on tobacco-industry conspiracies; worker-safety atrocities; Lyndon Johnson’s wife’s dicey broadcasting empire; group-home abuses in New York; redlining in Atlanta; corruption in the St. Paul, Minnesota, fire department, the Rhode Island courts, the Chicago City Council, the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program, and on and on). But their vision for replacing it with a networked alternative, or something else, is hazy at best.

Meanwhile, FON’s practical prescriptions—what it calls engagement with readers—have in practice devolved into another excuse for news managers to ramp up productivity burdens, draining reporters of their most precious resource, the thing that makes them potent: time. ...

FON thinkers, who emerged only in the last few years, represent a new kind of public intellectual: journalism academics known for neither their journalism nor their scholarship. Yet, the fact is they are filling a void left by an intellectually exhausted journalism establishment, and filling it with crisp, readable—and voluminous—prose that offers to connect journalism to the technocratic vanguard.

Starkman spends many words decrying the idea that news is a commodity, if for no other reason than that much of it is local:

Framing the news as a commodity and ultra-abundant makes it easier to give away. It also suggests a lack of understanding of what it takes to produce great beat reporting, let alone accountability journalism. ...

Seeing news as a commodity, and a near valueless one (Paton above says its value is “about zero”), is a fundamental conceptual error, and a revealing one. A commodity is the same in Anniston, Alabama, as it is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Whatever local news is, it’s not that.

But in doing so, Starkman falls into the same tar pit that traps many journalists - assuming - without testing - that geography remains a definer of value. There are beginning to be some signals that may not be the case. (Yes, especially as to the last, I know there are flaws in the methodology; that, to me, is not a reason to reject outright the possibility but to find ways to test it more effectively).

So he asserts value without really effectively answering the question: If it is not a commodity, then why are newspapers and broadcasters needed anyhow? If every story produced has intrinsic value that can be effectively captured, why do the journalists doing the work need or want a third party to intercede with the audience, and by implication siphon away some or all of the value, for them?

One can imagine Starkman answering that if the institutions did not exist, they would have to be invented to provide the aggregate fire power (journalistically, legally and financially) needed to stand up to the other "big three" - government, business and, until rather recently, labor.  (As he writes: "I’ll go further and posit as axiomatic that journalism needs its own institutions for the simple reason that it reports on institutions much larger than itself.") While the Fourth Estate has been atomizing, government and business have been consolidating, centralizing and amassing more power and resources.

The FONers have never effectively answered that challenge, in my reading of them. But Starkman doesn't really, either. 
Now that we’re done panicking, it’s time for journalism thinkers to turn to the real task: how to re-empower reporters, the backbone of journalism, whoever they are, wherever they may work, in whatever medium, within institutions that can move the needle. (That sound like the same kind of squishiness he accuses the FONers of.)
 He talks about journalism that is "institution-centered, network-powered" using an example from The Guardian's coverage of the News Corp. scandal.

"In that case, traditional investigative reporting broke the story, while social media propelled it to the stratosphere—heights the paper never could have achieved on its own," he writes. (An idea, I would add, that is not new at all but is embodied in Paul Bradshaw's "news diamond" idea of 2007.)

All well and good, but Starkman does a bit of the same that he accuses the troika of - throwing out some idea with a certain hope but no real sense of how to get there.

Starkman, in a response to a comment from Paton, says: "And while I appreciate your credentials, candidly, I don't see how they are relevant here. My piece is about ideas. I expect people to feel free to disagree with mine without feeling the need to interview me."

Which is why, on that level, I recommend reading it. It is a piece about ideas and their clashing. These are important ideas, and sometimes it is important to consider them on a philosophical level divorced from practical reality. Starkman's piece, if you approach it that way, is a valuable stimulant.

His second work, on the rise and fall of the San Jose Mercury News, can be seen in a way to contradict at least some of the underpinning of his first. At least part of his take-away seems to be that while audiences for the Merc's online operations saw little value in the general local news report (how's that not make it a commodity?), they were more than willing to pay for, essentially, utility - access to the archives and to News Hound, an early aggregator of other sources as well:

The Merc dropped the fees in the hope of generating more traffic, and with it, more advertising, even though the revenues from those online ads were a seventh of their print counterparts. The decision not to charge for content reflected an electronic version of the business model built on amassing the largest possible audience, not on cultivating niches

And yet, the niches were there for all to see. By the late 1990s, Chris Jennewein told me, the Mercury News was finding audiences well beyond its circulation area—online readers as far away as India eager for the Merc’s tech news. And while Knight Ridder began trying to build audiences for its NASCAR coverage in Charlotte and the auto industry in Detroit, it was reluctant to dedicate the people necessary to create the content for those niche markets. “Our newspaper roots,” he wrote to me, “held us back.” 
 That last sentence is what makes this an important read. As much as anything, the Merc (and Knight Ridder in which it operated) is the embodiment of institutional news orgs', and especially newspapers', past 25 years. From mediocre to soaring on monopoly and booming-economy profits invested in the best way in make-a-difference, award-winning journalism to watching its economic core - classifieds - be eaten away in a decade, the Merc's story is that of Newspaper Agonistes writ larger.

Starkman ends with this observation:
Disruptive technology is only half the story of what happened to newspapers. There is also the response. The disruption opened the path to change, and not just for small companies unburdened by legacies of success. The change could also come for those older newspaper companies willing to accept that what was happening was not so much an existential crisis in journalism as it was a catastrophic assault on the most prosaic aspect of the newspaper business: the classifieds. Tough to do in any circumstances. Even tougher at a time when things feel as if they are going better than ever.

There was no better time to produce journalism and make a profit for newspapers than in the period journalists like to think of as the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era, and which their colleagues on the business side might prefer thinking of as the Era of the One-Newspaper Town.

Mary Jean Connors of Knight Ridder, reflecting the sensibilities of so many people who insisted that, in the end, they were newspaper people, had told me, “You cannot change who you are.”

It is a noble sentiment, reflecting the diminished glory of a noble enterprise.

But it is not written. 

I'd like to agree, but I can't. More like a flawed Shakespearean character, the newspaper industry was a prisoner of its own traditions, history, mindset and people, a potentially lethal psychological and economic cocktail. It continues today in many ways and in many newsrooms I visit or work with and among many journalists I talk with. Yet, given their sociology, I can't bring myself to lay all the blame on them.

The industry's one-time strength, it's localness, quirkiness and fierce independence (which too often operationalize as resistance to change or even to recognize it outside the organization), can be harnessed for good (cut across the bureaucratic crap) or deadly at a time of fast-moving external change. Starkman details the internal publisher-led struggles against Merc initiatives that K-R wanted to roll out chainwide and resistance of other papers to standardization online at a time when advertisers were scaling up to digital and increasingly saw audiences as national or at least regional (there's a reason all those big-box chains emerged at about the same time).

He also leaves behind a bit of a warning tale about "big iron" and "big vendor" (my terms), noting that in many ways K-R's Real Cities initiative was strangled partly by being ahead of the systems commonly used in newsrooms. Coding changes, things that in online publishing systems today can take just a few minutes, required extensive time, for instance. (On today's content management systems, for instance, some of that inter-paper quirkiness and power prerogative might have been accommodated with a few keystrokes while still being within an overall structure.)

And his portrayal of Tony Ridder, the man who sold Knight Ridder to McClatchy and who has been largely vilified, suggests that Jim Batten, Ridder's predecessor who was revered as the journalist's journalist might have gotten it a little less right and Ridder a little more so (what kept him awake at night? "Electronic classified.") than the popular meme would have us believe. (Follow that earlier link and you'll find Jon Fine making a similar point in 2006, though the vilification continued in the comments.)

This all makes this an important story, one that should be required reading in journalism schools and newsrooms. It is at once both a hopeful and cautionary tale. It makes us think about the role that both personal and institutional foibles play, what it might take to overcome them and whether they actually can be effectively overcome short of the major upheavals we have seen in this and other industries. Approached that way, without the usual finger-pointing, we may well learn something from it.

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Crime copy worth killing

Pointed out on the Boston Editors group on Facebook, a bit of crime writing from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican that only a mother could love - the mother of the writer - and then not even a sure thing at that.

Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett he ain't. Not even Mickey Spillaine.

A sample:

The city's mobile forensics investigation truck has been getting a workout this year

Early Sunday it was parked outside a North End home, where a man was found on the sidewalk around 2:15 a.m., shot in the head and bleeding. Police declared the victim dead at the scene, making him the city's 20th murder victim of 2011.

The extent of the man's head injury was bad, according to authorities, who later hosed down the blood-stained sidewalk in front of 564 Chestnut St. while most of the neighborhood was still asleep.

For homicide detectives and firefighters, it was just another day on the job. They chatted amiably as a fireman trained his hose on a puddle of blood. A murky, red stream inched its way toward the gutter, turning a tawny color as it pooled near the base of a driveway.

Once the sidewalk was clean, the firefighters said goodbye to a detective, just as the first spikes of morning sunlight began appearing on the dark, frost-covered block.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Yahoo's 'Down But Not Out' unemployment project

File this under pretty compelling reading.

I had not heard of this till a pointer from Cyberjournalist today, but I'm really intrigued by Yahoo's "Down But Not Out" project to crowdsource the long-term unemployment morass many Americans have found themselves in.

The tricked-out Tumblr blog contains emails from those without jobs. It's pretty compelling -- and at times scary -- reading. The idea could - and probably should - be adapted by local newsrooms. You could build a pretty interesting picture of what is happening around you. (And did we mention the engagement - Yahoo says the average time on site was eight minutes.)

The Yahoo folks explained to the Online News Association what they did to put this together.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

AP Style - Achilles - apostrophe or not

A reminder from the AP style updates this week that it's Achilles' heel but Achilles tendon.

"homage" takes "an" because the "h" is silent.

Hodgkin lymphoma  - no longer "Hodgkin's disease." Distinguished from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The "industrial average" part of Dow Jones industrial average is lowercased. (Maybe someday there will be an entry on why AP and others continue to fixate on a price-weighted index of 30 stocks that is so unrepresentative of the market. Yeah, the answer usually comes back, but that's what the public knows. Yeah, is my reply, but someone has to take the first step ...)

twin towers - lowercase in reference to the two main World Trade Center buildings

Ramadan - don't call it a holiday. It's a holy month that ends with a holiday, but don't confuse the two.

From the "your results may differ department"

Keeping in mind the AP stylebook is the AP's stylebook and not the commandments, there are also these new entries that are likely to bring dissent:

Company names:
You must include the full company name somewhere in the story. This ensures that the story will be among the search results on Yahoo and other websites. Without the full company name, the story may get overlooked. Put me into the "this is often overkill" and "nice but not always necessary" department. I'm thinking that Wal-Mart is perfectly acceptable for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in most cases, for instance. It is wise to think about it, just as we need to think about using people's full names and not just their nicknames so that things are searchable. But if it gets in the way of the flow, ditch that advice.

illegal immigrant
Used to describe someone who has entered a country illegally or who resides in a country in criminal or civil violation of immigration law. Acceptable variations include living in the country without legal permission. Use of these terms, as with any terms implying illegalities, must be based on reliable information about a person's true status. Unless quoting someone, AP does not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or the term undocumented.
There's been so much written on the dispute over this already, so file this under the "just be aware" it's now official header.


Beware "big vendor"?

There was a fascinating column in Forbes by Adam Hartung this past week that got me thinking - again - about how "big vendor" (just like "big iron" in the IT business) has been a lot of the source of news organization sluggishness that too often has been blamed on newsrooms' reluctance to innovate.

I can't endorse the survey because I don't know enough about it (in fact, I'm always skeptical of these kinds of things just by their general nature), yet it does get my thinking juices flowing:

Recently, technology provider IFS Corporation did a survey on ERP users in manufacturing (Does ERP Mean Excel Runs Production?) Their surprising results showed that new employees (especially under age 40) were very unlikely to take a job with a company if they had to use a complex (usually vendor supplied) interface to a legacy application.  In fact, 75% of today’s users are actively seeking – and using – cloud based apps or home grown spreadsheets to manage the business rather than the expensive applications the corporation supplied!  Additionally, between 1/3 and 2/3 of employees (depending upon age) were actively seeking to quit and take another job simply because they found the technology of their company hard to use! (CIO Magazine: Employees Refusing to Use Clunky Enterprise Software.)
One of the reasons this also got my thinking juices flowing was that I am doing a social media roundtable this week for a press association, and one of the things we'll be discussing is "best practices," especially in light of the twittersphere flare-up over the AP's latest social media guidelines and the earlier one over ESPN's.

Just one other observation about "big vendor" -- I won't get into great detail or ID the operation, but I know of one news organization with a pay wall that has a big vendor online system and accompanying metrics. Log on to the metrics, however, and you'll see tracking for only a handful of accounts. Of thousands of subscribers only a dozen or so are using the pay wall?!

No, comes the explanation. The organization uses another application that apparently manages the pay wall log ons (I haven't gotten deeply into this yet, beyond WTF), and they don't talk to each other. The reaction from those who should have this info: Not much we can do about it.

When you are flying that blind, you are probably going to eventually fly into a mountain.

But what concerns me as a somewhat casual member of a news consulting group that specializes in community papers (so I get to listen in on the war stories) is that a lot of these news organizations are just being seen as "bug sucker" by "big vendor." The results are not likely to be good.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

Dear Gannett, about the video resurrection ...

Please read Wasim Ahmad's wonderfully reasoned post dissecting Gannett's sudden rediscovery of video.

"Newspaper video" remains an unsettled (at best, still controversial at worst) area of unclear ROI, debates about quality vs. run-and-gun, etc.

But the way NOT to do video is to try to force it on every person in the newsroom. Yes, every journalist should be aware of video and every one should be able to know when to take out a smartphone, hit the record button and take wide, medium and closeup shots.

But that's far different from what Gannett's usual pattern is.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Google removes plus operator from searches

And the hoi polloi ain't happy about it.

Apparently Google+ has the great masses of unwashed misusing the "+" operator that allowed you to specify that a term had to appear in the search.

Now, Google says it has expanded the functionality of the quote marks so that if you put a single word in quotes, it will also require that word to appear in the search.

Wonder how the research librarian community feels about this.

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