Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hot fuel, hot story

Kansas City's powerful "Hot Fuel" stories appeared around the country recently, provoking a storm of reaction. Among other readers was California's AG Bill Lockyear who (presumably) saw the A-1 story in The Sacramento Bee (pictured here) and ordered an investigation here in the nation's gasoline-thirstiest state.

I thought you'd be proud (as I was) to see this reaction, representative of what we're hearing from around the country. This testimonial is from Mark Lauffer, wire desk supervisor at the Arizona Republic:

I am in charge of wires for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. I was blown away by your hot fuel series. When I pitched it to our editors last week, they were blown away, too. We ran it on Monday and Tuesday Aug. 28-29 on the front page. On Monday it was the lead story / centerpiece, above the fold. We a photo and graphic on the cover and another graphic inside. On Tuesday, we did an Arizona reaction piece to go with your story and we used another photo and graphic. By the way, the graphics showing how hot fuel works and how the pumps would work were outstanding.

I see on the wires that hot fuel already is becoming a campaign issue in Missouri. You and your staff may end up affecting millions of Americans.

What better journalism is there? When I pitched the story, I said it could be the best piece of consumer reporting I had ever seen.

–Howard Weaver

Monday, August 28, 2006

And now for some shameless self-promotion

Late last week quietly slipped into the market with, an approach to a younger audience we hope will ultimately provide greater audience and revenue. It is an interesting new twist on reaching new audiences: part publication, part application.

While we will be utilizing some of our tried-and-true publishing of StarTribune entertainment stories, the true success of the site will be demonstrated by the audience's participation. We invite them to write reviews, create lists, tag stories with their own keywords, even re-write guides. They can save stuff that is relevant to them, like favorite venues, restaurants, etc. And, hopefully, they will communicate among themselves in many valuable ways, too.

The site is the brainchild of Deputy Editor Matt Thompson and he describes for the audience the purpose: " is your ultimate guide to what's going on in the Twin Cities. Here you can connect with other locals to share thoughts and recommendations on Twin Cities hotspots and happenings."

Matt set out to answer the question, "what's the coolest thing happening in the Twin Cities." The answer that emerged was that it might be different for every user and, so, the users were much better prepared to answer the question than we were. We provide the tools, users create the content.

The site also provides a guide to its use that will be molded by readers and re-written as readers find new ways to participate. Anybody can join the fun. We hope you will.

Please sign on, poke around, create a user profile and let us know what you think. We're pretty new at this and your input and thoughts can help us understand where we take it from here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Should we broadcast news on the web?

I met last week with the founder of an internet-based audio news service called the Quality News Network. This embryonic outfit consists of about a half-dozen journalists in Monterey, CA who write and present an hourly news report intended to serve as a more substantive alternative to network radio. They also do interview programs, candidate interviews and the like.

They want some kind of relationship with us. At the simplest level, we might link to (or otherwise implement) their newscasts from our websites, adding an audio component and, presumably, some advertising opportunities.

If you get a chance, go to Quality News Network and listen to a little of their work. Let me know if you think it's the kind of thing that would enhance your website.
–Howard Weaver

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Linking Raleigh and Charlotte

Ted Vaden, the News & Observer's excellent public editor, has a piece today that describes increasing cooperation between the N&O and their new cousins in Charlotte. He also asks whether this will be good for readers and decides that it probably will be, in the main.

We'll be talking a lot about sharing and cooperation in Ft Worth Tuesday. You might want to look at the Vaden column here.
–Howard Weaver

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pew survey on the press

This detailed Pew study on how people get news and what they think about it was released July 30, but I just came across it. On first blush it seems to like their analysis is fairly predictable and occasionally superficial.

The lead breathlessly reports that 10 years ago only one in 50 Americans read news on the internet. Hell, 10 years ago even people that knew about the internet were lsitening to AOL busy signals on 1200-baud dial-up. I also don't find it illuminating to know that in 1965, 71 percent of news consumers read the paper; what else were we going to do?

But there's clearly a wealth of detail in the subsequent section about attitudes, media credibility (WSJ was most credible newspaper) and the like. I'd love to hear what you found most interesting.
–Howard Weaver
NABJ recruiting report

I joked with some of you that for some reason, I had never been as popular at ASNE as I was at this year’s convention.

Judging from our reception at NABJ in Indianapolis this week, the same is true for our whole company. Although attendance at the convention and recruiting fair were down and the total number of interviews reduced, I had more inquiries from experienced, talented journalists than ever before.

There were Blackberry-based scanners that let us record barcodes from name badges of applicants, so we should have a fairly comprehensive database of names from our walk-up traffic. Many candidates were interviewed by only one or two of us, of course, so it may be a little harder to get details on everybody, but we’ll work to gather that info, as well.

We had a couple of corporate folks and recruiters from Miami, Ft Worth, Kansas City, Raleigh, Columbus, Tacoma, Myrtle Beach, Belleville, Charlotte, Wichita and probably somebody I forgot (sorry). All did yeoman duty on the floor and in the hallways. How they did at the parties remains unreported.

This was my first experience working with Knight Ridder’s super-rep Reggie Stuart, who worked hard and well on our behalf. He’s a legend in recruiting circles, for good reason, and it was a pleasure to have his assistance.

We’ll talk some in Ft Worth Tuesday about opportunities. We need to be sure we capitalize on them all.
–Howard Weaver

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shashank Bengali,
interviewing in Ethipoia

Meet your correspondent

There's a nice interview online at the South Asia Journalists Association with McClatchy Africa correpsondent Shashank Bengali, who has lately been one of our team covering war in the Middle East.

I haven't met Shashank yet, and found the story illuminating. I think you'll find some insight here into the dedication our folks are bring to their work overseas. You can read the whole piece here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Football, anybody?

I happen to know that at the News & Observer it's called High School Huddle. What's special about local football coverage at your paper? (Are you listening, Ft. Worth?)
–Howard Weaver
Be the clearninghouse

This post was adapted from a comment I shared on the new editorial page editors listserve:

Like many of you, I started a local community columnist rotation while I was EPE in Anchorage. (We called it "Compass: points of view from our community." Clever, huh?) It's still running and while I assume it is still as big a pain as it was back then, to my occasional eye it still looks like a valuable addition.

One huge difference between now and the Olden Days when I was editing: blogs.

There is a lot of spirited, robust local opinion being written in your communities, whether you know it or not. Much of it would not meet your standards for publication, but even in its more extreme iterations, it's indicative of local passion and engagement you need to be aware of. If you're not plugged into the local blogosphere, somebody on your staff damned sure better be.

I have seen some prototypes of a very promising effort at Sac Bee to make the opinion page's web presence a clearinghouse for local opinion blogs. As the leading media company in your community, you need to be the one-stop shop people turn to for pointers to such items. With few exceptions, it will be to our advantage to be the place where people come to explore local commentary ... even when the commentary itself sometimes comes in packages we wouldn't otherwise endorse.

When David feels ready, I hope he'll open that experiment up for you all to see.

Yes, this will be tricky. But I think it's essential. If you don't fill this need, somebody else will, and your own voice will be increasingly marginalized.
– Howard Weaver
The art of talk

I have long thought there was much for us to learn from ESPN.

The network doesn't do everything well; despite some exceptions, it isn't much for investigative journalism, for example. It seems tone deaf on occasion, as when it allowed Barry Bonds unfettered air for his point of view while controversy swirled around him everywhere else.

But as a demonstration of enthusiasm and focused energy, it has no peer. There's a palpable sense of fun in every Sports Center broadcast, of staffer's expertise and deep knowledge, of precision calibration of what the audience wants.

I wish our sports sections had half the energy and excitement.

Now there's an intriguing story from NPR about another enviable aspect of ESPN: the training course it mandates to teach staffers how to interview.

Nut graph:

Now, every single editorial employee at ESPN is expected to attend a three-day seminar, where they encounter a lanky, slightly awkward 58-year-old man with little flash. In his efforts to illustrate what he considers the "seven deadly sins of interviewing," John Sawatsky methodically eviscerates the nation's most prominent television journalists.

"I want to change the culture of the journalistic interview," Sawatsky says. "We interview no better now than we did 30 years ago. In some ways, we interview worse."

You can read a transcript of the David Folkenflik story (and listen to some audio about interviewing technique) at this link.
–Howard Weaver

Monday, August 14, 2006

Assault on the press

We've talked some here about the corrosive effect created by constant attacks on press. The noise machine powered by ideological bloggers, hysterical talk show hosts and partisan news organizations trumpets our failings (real and imagined) 24/7.

But the bigger threat by far comes from a much more potent source: the government of the United States. New Yorker editor David Remnick does a fine job of detailing that in a brief Talk Of The Town piece you can find here.

Here's a frightening sample:

In the past six years, the Administration and its surrogates have issued a stream of disinformation about intelligence an Iraq; paid friendly “columnists” like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher tens of thousands of dollars to parrot the White House line; accredited to the White House press corps a phony journalist and ex-prostitute (Jeff “Bulldog” Gannon, a.k.a. James Dal Guckert) as a reliable pitcher of softball questions; tightened Freedom of Information Act restrictions; and pioneered a genre of fake news via packaged video “reports.” The President has held fewer solo news conference than any of his modern predecessors The Vice-President kept the Times reporter off his plane because he didn’t like the paper’s coverage...

I was raised in the "never let 'em see you sweat" era of newspapers. "We stand by our story," you said in public. On a panel discussion you might venture as far as, "The journalism speaks for itself."

That's not cutting it any more. It's past time to fight back.
–Howard Weaver

Sunday, August 06, 2006

About trust and transparency

Here's a link to a story from AP about the survey that found half the adults in America believing that there were WMDs in Iraq just before our invasion.

My own view is reflected in this quote:
"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said.

So, what are we going to do about this?

We talked about transparency and wasy to "build and maintain reader trust" at a McClatchy meeting about a year ago. I made some notes about ideas that surfaced, including these:

• Greater transparency however possible
o Invite readers to a-1 budget meetings
o Pubish statement of purpose regularly
• On front page?
o Ask readers to hold us accountable
o Public editors
o Accuracy questionnaires
• Use web as authentication (eg publish transcripts, back-up documentation for controversial stories)
• Find ways to talk with readers when there’s no current crisis or problem
• Webcast endorsement interviews at editorial board?
• Tell readers about news staff credentials (house ads? Bio blurbs?)
• Use the “how we got this story” form to explain our process more often
Are you doing or thinking about other things that could help?

–Howard Weaver

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

McClatchy President's Awards

We've just announced the results of the competition for McClatchy President's Awards for the first half of 2006 – a period that obviously covered only the "McClatchy Classic" papers, but which I thought would be of interest to you all. I thought this was a particularly broad and strong set of winners.

Results are posted at under the "Newspapers" drop-down menu. Here's a summary from the press release:

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 2, 2006 – McClatchy President’s Awards for excellence have gone to eight different organizations in recognition of superior work in the first half of 2006.

Three of the award winners were powerful examples of reporting that holds government accountable and brings needed change. The Merced (Calif.) Sun-Star’s uncovering of abuses by the county district attorney; exposure of a questionable program that lets some defendants substitute charitable contributions for jail time in the Tri Cities in Washington state; and a comprehensive, condemnatory report on untested, unsafe water wells by The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., were all honored by the judges. In each of those cases, substantial change came about as the result of their journalism.

Two winners were praised for powerful storytelling: a dramatic series about a tragic shipwreck in Alaska, and a touching portrait of cloistered nuns in Fresno won for the Anchorage Daily News and The Fresno Bee.

A McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter and a Minneapolis Star Tribune photographer were honored for telling about how the economic fortunes of Axochiapan, Mexico, are entwined with the Twin Cities; and a Minneapolis reporter and photographer also won for their gripping, real-time account of the separation of cojoined twins at the Mayo Clinic.

The Sacramento Bee’s website also won a President’s Award for an extensive redesign that judges said greatly enhanced its journalistic presentation and helped ensure that online operations stay in touch with the way audiences choose to access information.

By way of background to those of you unfamiliar with the contest, it's a free-form exercise designed solely to recognize excellence. There are no categories, no circulation size classifications, no established number of winners. Here's a summary of info that I usually send to the judges (from outside the company) to explain our intentions:
The contest is open to all 12 McClatchy dailies and their websites. Whether an entry is a humor column, government investigation or web feature, it is judged on a single, subjective criterion: does it represent the highest levels of journalistic quality and excellence to which we aspire at McClatchy?

The papers compete to reach that standard, not against one another. Beaufort, with 12,000 circulation, isn't expected to match the resources Minneapolis brings to bear. In theory, every paper could win -- or none could. In practice, we generally come up with six or eight fine entries that win recognition.

The fact that our award is so entirely subjective and qualitative
underscores the need for judges who themselves embody solid journalistic judgment and high standards ...

So, will we be continuing the contest for all 32 papers in the future? I believe the answer is yes, though I haven't yet decided if we can do so in precisely this form. Our rules allowed a maximum four entries per paper and two per website, typically resulting in 50-60 entries. Do the math with 32 papers and the result (192!) seems unmanageable. We may need to refine the contest somehow.

Any ideas?
–Howard Weaver
5 true things about blogs

Reacting to Nicholas Lemann's recent New Yorker article about blogs, Steven "Everything Bad is Good for You" Johnson has written a funny piece suggesting five things that nobody ever needs to say about blogs-versus-MSM again.

You can find it here.
–Howard Weaver