Archives for the month of: October, 2013

I’ve settled back into the routine in Auburn now after spending three days conventioneering at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta. This will be a brief post since I have a ton of grading to return to, but these are my main takeaways:

  • The technological wonders never cease for info gatherers: From the fledgling journalism drone programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Missouri School of Journalism to wearable sensors, innovative means of gathering information are popping up at every turn. The next challenge is figuring out how news organizations can put them to use (as well as figuring out how to fight government efforts to curb our adoption of these technologies, which Matt Waite of Nebraska explained in detail at the Knight Village on the convention’s Midway).
  • Nor do the possibilities for sharing data visually: I came out of ONA13 with a renewed enthusiasm for the integration of visuals with data and in a fit of irrational exuberance, I signed up for Alberto Cairo’s current MOOC on infographics and data visualization out of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. I’m two weeks late into a four-week course, but he kindly assured me I didn’t need to worry about doing the homework since a lot of folks just sign up to see the course materials. I deeply appreciate his willingness to share since I’ll incorporate some of it into the multimedia journalism course I teach in the spring. This will give me a sense of best practices to apply to the stuff I learned last week about using TileMill and Google Fusion Tables for mapping data.
  • Collaboration is king: Journalists don’t have to be coders, and coders don’t have to be journalists. But it sure does help if we know each other’s language, values and guiding principles. I’ll be collaborating with a team of Auburn University coders and reporting students on a hackathon next month. Do I know code? Only in the most rudimentary way, though I’m learning more all the time. But I have done research about journalism and migration, which happens to be where the team needs expertise since that’s the subject of the hackathon. Right place, right time, right connections.
  • Journalists must master data or data will master them: The highlight of the convention for me was the Friday keynote address by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. His topic: Eight Cool Things Journalists Need to Know about Statistics. So many people live-tweeted about it at the event, myself included, that it made sense to make a Storify story about it. The link is below. I hope you enjoy it!

You don’t necessarily have to be a certified multimedia ninja to break in as a reporter at a mainstream news organization. But you do need a basic level of digital and social media savvy, Sonya Sorich told the Auburn University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists tonight. Sorich is audience engagement coordinator for the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., and writes the news site’s American Idol blog

Sorich has a pretty cool gig as a features reporter who specializes in driving traffic to the Ledger-Enquirer’s website and writing about entertainment and pop culture, including live-tweeting during TV shows. One recent example was last weekend’s Miss World competition. Her editors depend on her to write stories for online and print, to blog, to live tweet and offer up observations on daily occurrences on Twitter, to contribute to the paper’s Facebook presence.

Of course, the emphasis on digital-first, print-second journalism means that reporters are under consistent pressure to get good stories and information up on the website constantly. And the de-emphasis on copy editors’ role and numbers in the newsroom means that some tasks that the copy desk handled in the past now get done by reporters. At the Ledger-Enquirer, reporters all have the capability of posting stories at any time from any place without their going through an editor. To me, that emphasizes what I’ve long argued: In a world without copy editors dedicated to serving as the last line of defense, the role of copy editing training becomes more crucial than ever. Why? Because the industry demands that every reporter serve as his or her own editor.

I asked Sorich what digital and social media skills were expected of reporters breaking in at the Ledger-Enquirer. She offered this list:

  • Twitter: When her editors are hiring, they expect job candidates to have Twitter accounts and to be active on them. “When someone throws up 24 consecutive tweets because they just applied for a job, it’s pretty easy to look at their account and see they have a six-month gap since the last time they were active,” Sorich said. So you need to maintain a consistent Twitter presence and understand and do the basics, including posting a balance of personal observations and links to your own content and content that others have created.
  • Facebook: Yes, editors look to see if you’re on Facebook and understand how it functions because so many legacy media outfits that are going digital have established Facebook presences to reach out to the billion-and-counting users on that platform.
  • Smartphone and iPad skills: You need to know how to shoot video and photos with your phone and how to upload content to social sharing sites. What is meant by iPad skills? Well, for starters, you need to be able to use apps that a reporter would expect to use to find information and record it. That means knowing how to use audio recorder apps, be aware of the various public information apps such as police scanner apps (I like the Police Scanner Radio Scanner app, at least for major cities). Of course, having access to a mobile web browser is essential for getting background information on the fly. Sorich said a lot of papers are using Instagram, though McClatchy, the parent company of the Ledger-Enquirer, does not because of legal rights issues.
  • Search engine optimization: “You don’t have to take a whole class in it,” Sorich said, “but you should look to see how the best sites put together headlines to attract traffic.” To get a handle on what works and what does not, I recommend testing keywords using the Google AdWord Keyword Planner. The Ledger-Enquirer uses Omniture, but you can also use Facebook Insights and Google Trends to see what search terms are hot.
  • Basic html: No, you don’t have to be able to build a website from scratch using nothing but code. “That’s what a coder does. You don’t have to be a coder,” Sorich said. But you do need a basic understanding of what code does, how to boldface or italicize words and how to insert links. And you need to be able to look at your text, recognize when something looks a little off, and be able to troubleshoot it. That stuff is easily learned in about a day of tinkering with the visual and text views in WordPress.
  • Content Management Systems: I asked about this, and Sorich said not necessarily — at least you don’t necessarily need to know any single, specific one. But you do need to understand the logic of how CMSes work, how files are created and updated and categorized and tagged.

The new reality is one where every reporter must also think like a marketer and use digital tools that make your material easy for the kind of people who are interested in your stuff to find. That kind of thinking was anathema with a lot of old-school editors who were convinced that they knew exactly what everybody ought to hear, even if they didn’t necessarily know what they wanted to hear. The new media journalist must balance both.

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