Friday, August 29, 2008

Frugal and hard-working

Chuck Liddy at the News & Observer supplies this caption: It's a peaceful end to a busy 16 hour day for our budget conscious trio as they drift off to sleep with dreams of mcclatchy prosperity in the future.

But, can Joe Neff find out what they paid for that room??

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Suicide girl: I didn't want to die

Have you read Leila Fadel's piece about the 15-year old girl who failed as a suicide bomber in Baghdad? Have you watched the video? Did your paper or website use them?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Comment is F**ked

BBC blogger coach Kevin Andersen has some choice words about The Guardian's Comment Is Free initiative; his remarks appear under the headline above: Comment is F**ked. Everybody who's wrestling with issues of taste and civility in comment sections (all of you, in other words) will find his examination worthwhile.

Here's a taste:

A few suggestions. Don’t treat your audience as the enemy. If you’re going to talk down to your audience, they are going to shout back. And quite honestly, I would say to any media organisation that your best columnists and commentators don’t necessarily make the best bloggers. Most media organisations think blogging is simply snarky columns. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

It’s a distributed conversation. Ms Ashley says: “As with child bullies, I wonder if these anonymous commenters and correspondents would really be quite so “brave” if they were having a face to face conversation.” You’re right, and I am in no way defending some of the toxic comments that you’re receiving. But step back. Read your column as if it were one side of a conversation and think how you would respond.

Let's talk before we write

Here's a novel approach to formulating editorial opinions: let's listen to what readers think while we're doing the thinking and writing, and not just afterward.

That seems to me the essence of what Star Tribune Editorial Page Editor Scott Gillespie announced this week for Opinion Exchange, a new process through which the Strib's ed board will interact with readers.

I'm planning to follow their experiment closely, and encourage any of you involved with opinion or reader connections to do likewise – or, better yet, start an experiment of your own.

You can read his post and find the site here.

In a nutshell, we’re turning our online section into a blog. Instead of a relatively static presentation of what we publish in the daily paper, Opinion Exchange will become a frequently updated, interactive online destination. Blogging is far from cutting-edge, but we believe our approach is unique among newspaper websites.

We’ll start each weekday with a post that will summarize the discussion that takes place at our daily Editorial Board meeting and invite readers to comment on the issues we plan to write about. Those online discussions will inform — and sometimes influence — our opinions. Because opinion page readers tend to be some of the best informed online users, we’re betting the discussions will be both thoughtful and provocative. If they veer out of bounds, we’ll moderate.

Our editorials will continue to represent the institutional voice of the newspaper and will be researched and written by the Editorial Department staff. But Opinion Exchange online will give us the benefit of hearing from you while we’re doing that work — not after the fact.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Easy as 1-2-3-4

World's quickest lesson in aggregation:

1. Visit Addict-o-matic.

2. Type in a subject that interests you. (I did "McClatchy Company" and later "Van Morrison" and "Anchorage Alaska".

3. Realize that this is unmediated, uncurated, instant, free.

4. Find a way to aggregate and add value to news of local subjects.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Götterdämmerung is both twilight and a dawn

In common understanding, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) is thought of as synoymous with apocalypse: a scene of utter destruction, unrelieved by hope or nuance. Yet in Nordic lore and in Wager's opera, that twilight is balanced by a dawn: as the gods pass from the scene, another race is born and emerges for its time in history's sunlight: human beings.

The concluding opera in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle, Götterdämmerung’s most prominent moment is indeed the fall of Valhalla, a magnificent combination of musical score and stagecraft. Depending on the director, it usually features tumbling towers, clouds of smoke and rumbling peals of music. Yet as the thunder of Act Three, Scene Three recedes, the last three minutes of the 15-hour cycle are filled with ineffably beautiful music announcing the dawn of a new age.

Is this a metaphor for the passing of godlike networks and newspapers from a lost Valhalla? For the birth of a new kind of news? In some ways, yes, it is.

A McClatchy board member asked a couple of years ago what I thought the biggest change in news introduced by the internet had been. Many answers came to mind: our shift to a 24/7 news cycle, perhaps, or the introduction of powerful new tools like video and database presentation. But I settled on another: the complete erosion of the gatekeeper model.

As we saw things not many years ago, the editor was a gatekeeper, entrusted by the paper and the community with filtering genuine news from trashy sensationalism, with balancing the harm that might befall a suspect’s family with the community good of identifying him.

We took it seriously, and for more than a dozen years in Anchorage, I tried to be the best and most honest gatekeeper I could. We put things in the paper that powerful people didn’t want there, and once in a while I kept out things that staffers thought were ready to print.

Well, so what? However well (or poorly) we might have performed, those days are gone. Nowadays editors can stand at the gate if they want, but the fences are down and all the people are standing over yonder.

Of course good taste and good judgment remain important value-added ingredients we bring to the presentation of news, both printed and digital. But the notion that we have any fundamental control over what gets said or debated is already badly dated.

Far from mourning that fact, we ought to embrace it and explore the opportunities it brings. Rather than either chasing the lowest in popular taste or hiding out in an ivory tower, we can engage in genuine conversation with our audiences, learning what they think, sharing what they know and ultimately creating information that will be far more valuable and satisfying for them.

I started thinking anew about this while listening to an NPR report on crowd sourcing of innovation and design this morning. Of particular note was a sneaker company that asks customers to submit designs that are then voted on online. Winning designs get manufactured; the designer gets $1,000 and one percent of the sales revenue. The practice not only reduces design costs; it also serves as marketing for the products.

I’m not ready to let readers vote on what should be on page one tomorrow, but I can’t see any reason why we don’t ask them to weigh in later on the choices we did make. Would it be interesting to know that X% of your readers thought something you put on a-11 belonged on a-1? What about listing 10 possible story assignments and asking readers to help decide which get covered first? Why couldn’t some reporters blog the process of reporting and writing a story, detailing what questions they need answered, taking advice and later telling readers in real-time about their progress (or obstacles) in learning answers?

Yes, things are changing. Towers are tumbling, new rules emerging and old promises being broken. As an old dog, I often wish it wasn’t so. But I believe in journalism, and I believe a new dawn’s coming for those who see this through.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Deciding what to run

Only a few McClatchy papers used correspondent Tom Lasseter's first-hand report of contradictions about Russia's rationale for invading Georgia on the front page today. Most used a more generic wire report that focused instead on Russia's pledge to start leaving.

Here's a relevant sample of Lasseter's report:

... a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting — missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops — almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.

Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city's main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.

The discrepancy between the numbers at Tskhinvali's main hospital and the rhetoric of Russian and South Ossetian leaders raises serious questions about the veracity of the Kremlin's version of events. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other senior officials in Moscow have said the Georgians were guilty of "genocide," prompting their forces to push Georgia's military out of South Ossetia — in a barrage of bombing runs and tanks blasts — and march southeast toward the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, stopping only 25 miles away.

I don't know why this would be.

McClatchy editor: John Edwards lied to me

The News & Observer's executive editor John Drescher tells it like it is in his column this week: John Edwards called him last fall and flat-out lied about his affair.
Edwards told me that the allegations were not true.

He said The N&O was the paper that arrived on his doorstep every day, the one read by friends of him and his wife, Elizabeth.

He said he'd never called before to complain or state his case. Given Elizabeth's health -- she has cancer -- he said it was especially important to him that the story not run in The N&O.

Read the whole column here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Ethic of the Link

A newspaper online is not an online newspaper. Here is Prof. Jay Rosen's take on "the ethic of the link." This is crucial to our emerging role as aggregators, combining our best work with links to other information.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Networks consolidate, cooperate

Good piece in the NYT today about television networks adapting to budgetary and technological imperatives with increasing use of "one-man band" style bureaus. We're looking for similar consolidation, cooperation and efficiencies too, of course.

A taste:

Today, as they confront new competition on the Web, television networks are increasingly embracing portable — and inexpensive — methods of production. Decades of budget cuts have forced the news divisions to reduce their global footprint, shutting bureaus and abandoning the old norm of four-person crews.

NBC, ABC and CBS now pool most of their international resources in London and deploy reporters to other countries as needed.

But a new breed of reporter, sometimes called a “one-man band,” has become the new norm. Though the style of reporting has existed for years, it is being adopted more widely as these reporters act as their own producer, cameraman and editor, and sometimes even transmit live video.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

McClatchy at the Olympics

A blog featuring McClatchy and MCT staffers at the Olympics today even includes a list of websites and searches being blocked at the Olympic Media Center. Don't try "Falun gong" or Facebook.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Where accountability comes from

I've been reading entries in the McClatchy President's Award contest, work done in the first six months of 2008: hospital fraud, exploitation of illegal immigrant workers in poultry operations, government abuse at Guantanamo, disastrous lack of regulation in construction trades, a covered-up sexual harassment case in a mayor's race, hundreds of millions of dollars wasted at a state mental health program ... and many more.

I don't know which will win awards (I am not the main judge) but I know it's a powerful body of compelling, important public service journalism, and I'm proud to be associated with the folks who produced it.

You know, Pro Publica (God love them) might not do this much accountability journalism in a year. And almost nobody else but newspapers is even trying.


As some of you know, this site was locked by Google for a day or so as a suspected spam blog.

I'll plead guilty to a lot of things, but not that. And now it's back.

I'm planning to spend the weekend with the the guy who was my editor at the News-Letter, our college paper at Hopkins a hundred years ago. He always seemed to know what he was doing back then; maybe he can straighten me out on all that's been going on. 

I'll report back.