Tag Archives: journalism

The breaking news blues

In the aftermath of yet another breaking news frenzy on Twitter (Asiana plane crash at SFO), Matthew Ingram again argues that we better get used to chaos — or get off Twitter. His mantra:  This is just the way news works now. 

I personally have a love/hate relationship with Twitter and breaking news.  As a former police reporter, I grimace when I see all the blemishes of real-time reporting displayed for the world. Yet, as a news junkie, I just can’t look away.

But I agree with Ingram. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. And he makes some good points about the amount of good information and informed debate on Twitter as the news broke (even the National Transportation Board got into the act by tweeting photos of the crash site).

In effect, anyone following the event in real time has had as much or more information than they could have gotten from any traditional news source.

And in arguing that the news ecosystem has permanently shifted, he also points out that the change might not be as dramatic — or ominous — as we might think.

The reality is that a breaking news event like a plane crash or a bombing is an inherently chaotic situation, and no one really has a firm command of the facts, including the first responders and emergency workers who are on the scene and talking about the event on the police scanner. That maelstrom of conflicting information used to be hidden behind the walls of the command station or the walls of the newspaper and TV newsrooms reporting on the event — but now, thanks to Twitter, it is everywhere.

So what does the “new normal” mean for news organizations? I don’t think it means they simply throw up their hands and carry on as they have been. Acting like the adults in the room would help. In the heat of the moment, I believe restraint and thoughtful consideration definitely have a place in social media, and more news organizations would be wise to foster that expectation in the newsroom.   

But to be more proactive — and ultimately relevant and helpful in the chaos — I think media organizations need to step up their game and do a better job of curating, fact-checking and explaining the fast-moving information.  

As a consumer, I’d like to see more “here’s what we know now” stories as news breaks.  Providing background and perspective is what news organizations do well. Perhaps, “context is king” should be the rallying cry going forward with regard to breaking news.


Story seeding: Harnessing the power of the public

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the media could leverage the expertise and interests of the public via social media long before a story is published.

What I imagine goes beyond standard crowd sourcing. I envision a strategic effort in which reporters and editors reach out to the public early on to identify sources, issues, anecdotes, etc. I hadn’t really thought much about what to call this plan, but after reading a recent social media marketing article, I now have a descriptive name for it: seeding.

Here’s how strategic seeding might work in a big project:

Finding/engaging sources

Reporters assigned to the project would develop robust RSS feeds and Twitter lists to develop better expertise on the topic and to determine valuable and credible sources. Once a valuable source is identified, reporters should start interacting with them through social media. The beauty of social media interaction is that it is transparent — so, for example, folks following the identified sources also would learn about the reporting project and join in on the conversation. 

Creating an ongoing blog

Creating a reporting blog about the project would be serve as a central place where interested people would monitor updates about the project and contribute to the conversation. I envision the public working alongside reporters as the reporters start to develop stories and angles. This blog could become a forum where reporters could toss out an idea and get helpful feedback. Essentially, through the blog, the media organization shares with the online world what it is doing and encourages involvement. The blog would be RSS-enabled so interested people could receive updates with each new post.

The blog posts should be written for the audience that the outlet is trying to engage and develop. These posts should offer new information or insights. The goal is to get this new online community talking — and to solicit its help.

Engaging the community

Publicizing the blog is important so that new sources and interests are continually brought in to the conversation. Creating a separate Twitter account to tweet out new blog posts might be helpful. It also could serve as a “news source” for the issue. For example, when a reporter reads an interesting post from a blog, she could tweet that to the account.

Other ways to get engagement on the blog:

  • Have reporters/editors comment on the blogs of others who have expertise or interest in the area. 
  • Have reporters/editors participate in Twitter and/or Facebook discussions, constantly sending out a link to the blog.
  • Mention the blog prominently on the outlet’s home page. 

If the online engagement becomes vigorous, reporters get valuable insight on the topic –- how to frame it, how to develop and pursue specific angles, how to develop stories and how to cultivate and identify sources.

This type of reporting strategy would work well for big issues, on-going stories and investigative pieces. Of course, devoting the time and energy for such an endeavor might be a hard sell in many newsrooms.

I’ll talk more about why I think this strategy would be beneficial for news organizations in a subsequent post.


Social media flood

My new “Social Media for Journalists” class is going gangbusters — so much so that I think we need to start thinking about curation.

As part of their participation in the class, each of the 19 are supposed to tweet three times a week. The idea is to share helpful news and information about journalism and social media. And share they have! But in the process, I feel like we’re sharing too much, perhaps. Many a good topic and idea rushes by with little context or attention. We obviously discuss some of the topics in class, but we also have to talk about the course readings. So we need to figure out a way to maximize all the good information they are discovering.

Trying to make sense of the relentless flow of information has been a recurring theme in our class discussions, so I think I might just toss out the curation idea and see what happens. While I have some ideas about how they may go about organizing and curating the Twitter discussions, I want them to really think about how to do this — and come up with some suggestions on their own.

Stay tuned. I think this will be an interesting experiment.

In the meantime, if you want to see what they are sharing, follow this hashtag: #j491. It’s a cornucopia of all things social media. And I’ve been doing a little curating myself on Storify, where I have been archiving the discussions weekly.


[View the story “#j491 archive, Jan. 15-Jan. 22” on Storify]

Finding story ideas

If you’re one of the Nebraska High School Press Association students who attended my Oct. 17 session on “Finding Story Ideas,” you’ll find the links I mentioned and my presentation here.

I wanted to compliment you all on a fabulous session and great discussion. I was impressed with thoughts and ideas. Keep up the good work!

Hope for journalism

Interesting comments about the future of journalism and some excellent examples of how to engage the community.

Back in the day, as I’m oft to say, community engagement meant reading an occasional letter to the editor that addressed your story and sometimes hearing back from the sources (especially if they took issue with the story.)

That reporters today can engage their readers at any step in the newsgathering process is truly a revolution — and one more reason I wish I could be a reporter again!

I’m not so sure my students yet appreciate the power and scope of engagement. The subject is definitely something I plan to highlight in my multimedia course this semester. Any suggestions or good examples of engagement are greatly appreciated. I’m planning to compile links to articles and examples — and will upload those here when they’re complete.

Oh, to be a journalism student again!

Around the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, we have a habit of saying “I wish I was a student again.” That’s because we think there are so many amazing learning opportunities for students these days. Whether it’s a class that focuses on doing journalism abroad or one that develops a journalism app. So many cool options.
Here’s another example of a class I’d love to take: Communications Technologies, taught by Henry Jenkins at USC. The reading list alone is priceless. Maybe it will show up on iTunes some day?

Great ideas: Helping students with story development

One of the most difficult skills for journalism instructors to teach is the ability to develop creative and engaging story ideas. (I have several theories about why students are lacking in this area, but that’s for another post.)

To help them develop better ideas,  I suggest they explore how technology can make the task easier. One of my first lessons focuses on how they can strategically set up an RSS feeder to “feed” them ideas. I use Google Reader for the in-class demonstration, but I encourage them to experiment with other feeders until they find one they like.

Because the online news class I teach  “covers” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the city of Lincoln, Neb., I suggest they fill their readers with feeds from local news outlets, local blogs and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, including its calendars. I also suggest Al Tompkin’s column on Poytner —“Al’s Morning Meeting” — because it’s awesome and is an excellent example of how to study current events and apply them to local coverage. And, despite their disdain, I suggest they include local Twitter feeds —  #LNK and #UNL.

I’ve found many of my students roll their eyes when Twitter is mentioned, but I’m adamant about helping them see the potential of Twitter in news gathering and crowd sourcing. So the RSS exercise also opens their eyes to Twitter’s possibilities.

In our online news classes, we also require students to write story pitches to help them focus their ideas. After a particularly feeble pitch session in a class last year, I decided to monitor the news feed and pull ideas as an example. In less than 45 minutes, I found five viable and interesting story ideas — and all of them came from the Twitter feeds. Here are the five examples (in some cases, I included the actual tweet, which is italicized):

  • A local group has started a food bank for pets because of the recession. For those in need who are in #LNK – A pet food bank – more info on our blog.
  • How local moms are using the iPhone: TechCrunch Study Reveals More Details About The iPhone Mom http://bit.ly/47QLqL by @leenarao
  • UNL’s Love Library is tweeting a lot these days — and some of its tweets are very clever and quite interesting. Do library officials think they reaching people? Why use Twitter? Who is doing the tweeting? Any other city agencies or campus agencies using Twitter? http://twitter.com/UNL_Lib or (City Library also is using.)
  • Lincoln entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas in a competition. This is happening tonight — Oct. 1. Is it on your calendar, Lincoln? Pitch Session this Thursday at Turbine Flats (http://bit.ly/3NalCz), details here: http://bit.ly/Kysqb #LNK

  • Sheldon Museum of Art offers a college night for students. The first is next Monday. Do any attend? Why should they attend? Are students as cultured as they should be?

I shared those ideas in a “story idea cache” I created on Blackboard — and I think the students were impressed by what I found in a short time.  During the semester, I continued to periodically troll the feed and post new ideas in the class story cache, thereby modeling to them how to find a nugget of information and mold it into a valid and interesting story idea.

Copy editors: An endangered species

The troubling trend of decreased quality control at newspapers and Web sites continues. Copy editors remain in the cross hairs of newspaper management — and the layoffs are most likely to continue. Unfortunately, copy editors have long be seen as expendable and their work behind the scenes unappreciated.

As Craig Silverman notes in CJR, asking reporters to use spell check ain’t gonna cut it. (Be sure to click on his “beef panties” example.)

The issue is another great example of how newspapers need to be creative in solving their problems. And it’s another great example of how journalism schools need to nurture students to be innovative in their thinking.

Journalists as curators

I keep reading about the idea of journalists as curators in the news blogosphere — and I have to say I’m intrigued.

I think Jeff Jarvis started the discussion a while back, but I particularly like the interpretation of Mindy McAdams. As the glut of information becomes more overwhelming, the idea of having someone sort, choose and display — similar to what museum curators perform based on their extensive knowledge of the subject area of an exhibit — makes perfect sense.

Curation also could be a helpful metaphor for students as we try to help them envision new places for them to practice their craft.

Initial musings

To me, “new journalism” is what is happening now in this murky, churning evolutionary soup that is the news/information business. It’s a frustrating time for journalists. But it’s also an exhilarating time, full of opportunities and experimentation. I have to admit that at first I was among those who bemoaned the digital changes and waxed nostalgic for the “good old days” of print journalism.  But I’ve come around.

One of the many epiphanies I’ve had these past few years occurred in April 2009 at a workshop that I attended with UNL’s three News21 fellows. The presentations were amazing, so I’m sharing them here:   

What I came away with from this workshop was this: The plethora of digital tools make storytelling much richer and engaging — so why not embrace them? 

The bigger questions still loom. The Internet continues to increase the number of new places where stories can be told while wreaking havoc with the old business models. How this all shakes out is a mystery; the history is being written as we speak.