Monday, July 31, 2006

Something encouraging happened last week on our Web site,, and I wanted to share it.

A judge sentenced to life in prison a woman convicted of murdering a Beaufort man in May 2004. We had it up on our Web site within minutes of the ruling. A death sentence had been possible, and this case has been of significant interest around town.

But here's what I found encouraging:

About 10 minutes before we posted the judge's ruling, one of our bloggers posted that she was on the site and "sitting here refreshing the website to see what happens."

In other words, she was turning to us for breaking news, not merely waiting for the paper to reach her doorstep the next morning.

It seems to me that's exactly how the process is supposed to work. When our readers (I still call them readers, although there probably is a more all-encompassing term these days) turn to any form of the newspaper brand to get their information right away, and we provide that information right away, we're doing our jobs. We haven't yet trained everyone, including ourselves, to think automatically of the Web site for breaking news, but this is a step in the right direction.

- Steve Blust
Our Middle East reporting

Are you paying attention to the McClatchy Washington Bureau report from the Middle East? If you're not seeing these stories in your paper, please make sure you get a first-hand look on the wire or on the website here. You may want to find out why not.

From Hannah Allam, in Qana:

QANA, Lebanon - Many of the bodies were as tiny as dolls, with limp little fingers and debris that clung to their curls. They were killed in their sleep by an Israeli airstrike before dawn here Sunday, still dressed in action-figure pajamas and thin nightgowns.
–Howard Weaver

Saturday, July 29, 2006

An urgent, continuing discussion

There is something very important for those of us in the news business in the recent Harris Poll finding that half the adults in the country now believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we invaded. To me, that and the related findings reported here are nothing less than a Red Alert for the Reality Community.

Here's a snip:

Despite being widely reported in the media that the U.S. and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, surprisingly; more U.S. adults (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq. This is an increase from 36 percent in February 2005.

We have to figure out what this means. It's obviously a problem for us if people don't believe us; it's far worse news for the idea of democracy and self-government. If we can't get more than half the country to agree on the basic facts – not what to do about them, just what they are – there's no hope for civic conversation or shared decision-making. We'll never be able to solve problems if we can't agree on the vocabulary to describe them.

I don't have a definitive answer for this, but I know for sure it will involve the issues of trust and transparency we talk about all the time. We're going to talk about them even more.

I also suspect that it will end up turning on what people think of how we report the local news they know best. We once lost an important source for an investigative story in Anchorage because the woman wouldn't go on the record. Why not? Her husband had an odd last name that had been consistently misspelled by his local paper (not us) when he was a high-school football player, and he didn't trust the press to get things right.

Let's plan to introduce this discussion during our break-out session in Ft. Worth next month. It will be a brief and busy session with lots to cover, but this needs to be a constant and urgent discussion.
–Howard Weaver

P.S. For those who asked: Yes, I have been on vacaction. But there are lots of odd moments available even so. This comes during a layover in the San Diego airport with a decent wifi connection ...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sifting mountains of information

Malcom Gladwell, author of "Blink" and innumnerable other smart essays and observations, has been widely castigated in the blogosphere for saying something like "without the New York Times, bloggers would have nothing to write about."

He didn't mean that bloggers never do good or original work. But he did mean to suggest that in the realms of public affairs, the good ole MSM does some important work. You can read his worthwile rebuttal to criticisms here.

Here's the money graph, in my opinion:

Has the level of self-regard in the blogosphere really reached such
dizzying heights that it can’t acknowledge the work that traditional media does on behalf of the rest of us? Yes, the newspaper business isn’t as lucrative as it once was (although it’s still pretty lucrative). And it doesn’t seem as exciting and relevant as it once was. But newspapers continue to perform an incredibly important function as nformational gatekeepers—a function, as far as I can tell, that grows more important with time, not less. Between them, for instance, the Times and the Post have literally hundreds of trained professionals whose only job it is to sift through the mountains of information that come out of the various levels of government and find what is of value and of importance to the rest of us. Where would we be without them? We’d be lost.

-Howard Weaver

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Editor's blog at work

We had some good discussion here not long ago about the value of editor blogs versus the tendentious replies and extraneous comments they often evoke. All true, all worth pondering. But while there's plenty of that evident here, it's hard not to see the back-and-forth over Ander's blog about their dust-up with the Minnesota AG as a valueable contribution to that debate. In the old days, the paper likely would have said nothing in response to the AG's blast, or might have issued a short statement and let it go. The blog's more robust discussion is going to help the Strib, I think. You can read the post and extensive comments here.
-Howard Weaver

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

News from back home for newcomers
In Charlotte, we're interested in running something along the lines of a 50-state news summary. Other McClatchy papers in the Carolinas are also interested in a feature like that. We think this would be particularly sticky content for our region's newcomers. I know a lot of you also have lots of newcomers. The Associated Press does not move something like that. I'm told that the AP does assemble the one you see in USAToday, but for a special premium. I wondered if any of you have discovered a way to produce something like this without the AP's involvement.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What is this s---?

I remember the olden days, when the NYT famously did not print profanity, yet included some in the transcripts of Nixon's secretly recorded meetings. Somebody protested to Abe Rosenthal that the paper didn't seem to know its own policy, and he said, "I suppose the policy is that we'll take 'shit' from the president of the United States, but nobody else."

The Star Tribune, will, too. See Anders Gyllenhaal's blog note on the decision to use the quote here.

What did your paper do?
–Howard Weaver

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Journalism's happy ending?

William Powers, media critic at the National Journal, had a piece in the L.A. Times that's worth taking a look at. This was my takeaway:

If those old [media] outlets continue to offer strong, reliable journalism — a craft that's not as easy as it looks — they will survive. And if they fail, others will rise up to replace them. The new marketplace punishes errors, but it also rewards those who get it right. Increased scrutiny and skepticism will make the media stronger, not weaker.

You can read it all here.
–Howard Weaver

Saturday, July 15, 2006

When good blogs go bad

I've been doing a blog for almost a year and now am considering stopping or fundamentally changing my approach. Why? Over time I have determined that the blog doesn't do what I'd hoped -- it has not fostered a give and take about coverage with readers (including critics) of The N&O. Instead, it seems to have a mostly silent readership and few commenters, all anonymous, including a few who simply visit to throw grenades.

Lately, the blog has more or less been hijacked by some people -- mostly out of state commenters -- who think the Duke lacrosse players are innocent and that The N&O is to blame for their troubles. They don't appear to read our coverage and pay little attention to my responses to their questions/accusations. One particularly obsessed commenter, for instance, accuses us of taking our stories off the wire (the wire picks up our stories and she sees them elsewhere, so thinks we're taking from the wire)

I'm continuing to post on various topics, including Duke lacrosse coverage from time to time, while I think about whether this endeavor is worth continuing. Some change is in order. I don't have time to monitor comments or "police" the blog. Some of the comments, beyond their attacks on me, are reckless with facts and it concerns me that I am playing host to this level of junk.

Please share any suggestions or comments. (But for god's sake, use your name! :) )
Who cares about
local ownership?

Jay Rosen at PressThink has an interesting post criticizing a Forbes online column about local ownership of newspapers. Far more interesting, to me, is the whirlwind of comment that the post generated. Seems clear this is an issue of real moment for newspaper people. You might take a look here.
–Howard Weaver
Evolution, revolution
& hand grenades

Dean Singleton, sitting just to my right on a panel discussing “the future of news” at the AP Sports Editors convention last month, served up a fat pitch I just couldn’t resist.

As he so often has, Dean illustrated his call for fundamental change with the comment that, "We have to throw a hand grenade in the middle of the newsroom, blow the place up, and start over again." That gave me the opportunity to come out foursquare against murderous explosions aimed at our colleagues.

I don’t disagree about the imperative of fundamental change. I’ve been thinking about these issues since 1995, when I worked for Gary and had the somewhat grandiose title “assistant to the president for new media strategies.” We knew then and have become ever more urgently convinced that a digitally networked world changes everything.

Maybe Dean and others employ metaphors about hand grenades and revolutions simply to make the (correct) point that change is imperative. But I’m afraid they actually believe it, and that is dangerous and wrong.

The big mistake is assuming that fundamental change requires wrenching, violent revolution. Everything we know about life on earth tells us evolution is a better bet.

Revolutions generally (and hand grenades in particular) bring change indiscriminately. In rejecting the status quo, revolutionaries abandon institutions and disciplines that have evolved successfully after long testing and experimentation. These things usually became successful for a reason, and even if their time is past, the vacuum created by their absence isn’t likely to be pretty. Put it more simply: a revolution is far more likely to end up with the Reign of Terror than an Athenian Senate debate.

Critics say evolution is too slow and gradual to cope with rapid change. Not true.

While most people think of evolution as a sequence of minute changes iterated gradually over an unimaginably long time, it doesn’t usually work that way. As Stephen Jay Gould and others discovered, evolution is better understood as a process of punctuated equilibrium, where the equilibrium is long periods of stability and the punctuation is relatively rapid change and adaptation when required. (Gould’s book Wonderful Life, and especially his discussion of punctuated equilibrium in the Burgess Shale, is one of those books that changed the way I see the world).

In other words, evolutionarily successful organisms naturally carry on until conditions change, at which point they adapt pretty quickly to accommodate it.

Think newspapers.

There wasn’t a lot of imperative for newspapers to change when they had 80% reader penetration and 40% profit margins. Nestled securely in an evolutionary niche protected by geographic monopolies, exclusive classified advertising franchises and high barriers against competition, we ruled infoworld between WW2 to the internet.

Not now. The disruptive technologies born of digital networks have changed the climate, and the old order is no more. Change we must.

But our change will be more lasting and better constructed if we apply the time-tested lessons of evolution and eschew the flashier but less productive posture of revolution. As we apply lessons learned from the changing climate to adapt our sturdy, battle-hardened structures, we’ll end up with operations that meet changed conditions without abandoning valuable lessons from our past.

It’s hard for a hand grenade to make that kind of distinction.

I believe we’re smart enough and disciplined enough to pull this off – and with all you folks on the team, I’m ready to take on the hand grenade crowd any time, any place.
–Howard Weaver
Signals of fundamental change

Tim Porter notes in a First Draft post this morning that news companies' financial results and subsequent cutbacks are more than indications of capitalism at work in the boardrooms, They are also signals of the fundamental shift in how our audiences get and want to get their news.

For journalists working in newspaper newsrooms, consider these financial reports as a series of wake-up calls, the quarterly tolling of a bell that tolls for thee, my friends.

The digital newspaper future is already here - and it's not one most journalists would have invented, but if they don't seize control of the change process then someone else, someone from the boardroom, will do it for them.

I think he's absolutely right. He notes the recent Dow Jones strategic initiative that begins, "We live in a digital age that is fundamentally changing how people get their news and information," a memo worth reading over here at Poynter.

We've been saying a lot of this for some time now at McClatchy, and you'll be hearing a lot more in coming weeks. It's on the agenda for our first meeting joining editors from new McClatchy and McClatchy classic papers in South Carolina next week. We'll surely talk about it in Ft. Worth when we all gather next month. I hope many of you think contribute thoughts about it here, in comments and postings.

We need to be urgently engaged in this. Please join in.
–Howard Weaver

Friday, July 14, 2006

At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, we've found (like most others) that interactivity (and fun) are great ways to put your online traffic into hyper-drive. Not as a good as a really juicy news story, but it's a must on those slow days of summer. Right after the World Cup ended last Sunday we had a game you could play online to see how many players you could head-butt (which of course played off the French stud being red-carded for doing that in the final). And today we ran this picture of George Bush on the front page of the paper, inviting readers to supply their own captions and vote on their favorite one. We had hundreds of votes by noon.
–Jim Witt

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

'Balance' is often insufficent

Dante Chinni, an associate at the Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism, writes here in the Christian Science Monitor about a journalism truism we probably all know but may sometimes neglect: "balance," no matter what they say on Fox News, is a simpleminded concept that doesn't begin to describe everything we're trying to do.

I heard Molly Ivins make the same point once, describing what she called "the discredited idea that the truth always lies somewhere halfway in-between competing points of view."

Well, it might, but it sure as hell doesn't always. We need to bring more to the party than the stenographic and telephonic skills involved in calling the usual suspects and accurately recording their assertions. In addition to balance, we look for fairness, verification, documentation and the like. We want to add more to a reader's understanding than she would get just listening in on the argument.

Our web publishing platform gives us great new tools to help do this. Publishing links to original source documents, video clips and transcripts of events (or even interviews), backstory reports form reporters on how they got the story ... all these things can add depth and credibility. All make our journalism much more than simply "balanced."
–Howard Weaver

Monday, July 10, 2006

Out here in California's Central Valley, we have a pretty good kinship among the "three Bees" and the Merced Sun-Star. As if to illustrate the point, Modesto Bee Editor Mark Vasché at left helps Sun-Star Editor Joe Kieta line up a shot during a croquet match at a California Society of Newspaper Editors meeting. We're glad that the San Luis Obispo Tribune has joined the fraternity in California, and we welcome all the other newcomers to the McClatchy clan.

I couldn't find any recent pictures of moose or alligators in Fort Worth to share, but we did run this photo in the Star-Telegram after a recent rodeo. The cowboy is SUPPOSED to rope the calf, throw it to the ground and tie three of its legs together, but it looks like the animal turned out to be a little ... er ... more friendly than he expected. Although Fort Worth is acknowledged as the most ``western'' of Texas cities, most visitors come away surprised by the sophisticated cultural options the community has to offer. I know all of the Knight Ridder papers were asked by the McClatchy PR department to write one-page ``biographies'' of our newspapers that will be printed in the employee magazine later this summer, but we also put together a music slide show on our website to really give you a feeling of what it's like to live here. Check it out at this link.
–Jim Witt

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Editor uses phrase 'value proposition'

Well, I can't believe it, but I actually did use the term "value proposition" in my little essay for Poynter about the future of news. And then they put it in the headline, no less.

Well, I apologize. In my defense, the essay was written in about an hour (they assigned us all that task at the conclusion of a recent seminar; other essays from that session – David Zeeck, Byron Calame, Wes Turner, Peter Bathia and more – are available here). And I did put the phrase in quotation marks, which kind of shows that I knew better.

But I wrote it, no denying that. I can only image the reaction I would have inspired from Jim McClatchy, who famously objected to anybody calling a newspaper a "product."

Nonetheless, I believe everything I said. You'll undoubtedly be hearing me same this and similar things again and again. I think it's important.
– Howard Weaver

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A FAVOR FROM A READER. And boy, what a favor it was. On June 7, I received an e-mail from a reader asking if we'd be interested in using a photo he'd taken in his neighborhood. I pulled up the photo and my jaw dropped. I've seen lots of 'gator pictures over the years, but never one like this. I called the reader, Richard Holinski, to negotiate a price, fearing his photo would be way out of our reach. Amazingly, Holinski said it was ours for free. I pressed him to accept something and finally we agreed that the paper would make a donation to a local conservation organization. Definitely the best bargain The Island Packet ever got.
Then the real fun began. The next day, our Web site got thousands of hits — a total of 60,000 page views of the gator photo at last count. The photo wound up being published in domestic and foreign papers from Mumbai, India, to San Francisco — altogether, the photo appeared in scores of publications and Web sites. NBC's "Today Show" also did a segment on the photo and how it landed in The Packet.
We've never had such great exposure come so easily. If there's any larger message in all this, it's that we should always, always take time with readers who call or e-mail. You never know how they can help you.
And finally: Nobody's sure why the gator climbed the wall next to the front door. Some said it was looking for a mate. Other said it smelled chicken cooking on a grill in the back yard. Whatever, the gator apparently got rattled when a crowd gathered and did the only thing it knew to do to get away.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Thinking about Washington

I didn't do any kind of comprehensive survey, but cruising through your websites last week indicated that our Washington bureau integration and assumption of the former KRT duties have worked pretty well.

Tom Lasseter from Iraq was on the front of Mod Bee (and doubtless many others) on Sunday. Anchorage and Sacramento both used the China-Tibet railroad on A-1. Our Gitmo mainbar was the lead in Minneapolis and Miami. Lesley Clark's regional on offshore drilling was splashed across the top of A-1 in Bradenton and a David Whitney piece on drilling in California was the local lead in the Tribune in SLO. Henderson's SCOTUS overview was on the front in Macon. Mark Vasche's column and the lead edit in the Centre Daily Times Sunday both talked about improvements in Washington and foreign coverage and how excited they are about the new bureau.

Our Washington operation will be the focus of a great deal of attention in coming weeks. In some ways, it's the most visible, highest profile illustration of how the entire McClatchy/KRI integration is working. Our judgments about journalism will be noted, and no doubt critiqued. People will be watching especially closely to the jobs we fill, the assignments we change, and whatever else may come.

And, of course, there's a pretty tough bunch of critics here in the family. Our overarching objective for Washington is that it make your news products better: in print and online, wholesale and retail, at home and abroad. You're the customers who matter most.

If the bureau and MCT are delivering what you want and need, for God's sake use them. And if they're not, tell David, John and Jane what your concerns are. Maybe what you're after is a key we can use to make everything better; maybe you're wrong and we need to start that discussion instead. In either case, we won't know until we start the conversation.

And as Casey Stengel used to say, include me in. We're spending a great deal of money and energy to get this right. It's my job to make sure we do.
– Howard Weaver