Friday, August 31, 2007

Potent tools in Wichita's opinion toolbox

In an effort to smoke out Kansas' mediagenic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on where she stood on a proposed coal-firec power plant, Wichita EPE Phillip Brownlee and his "Brownback Girl" video crew have fired up their satire machine again.

"Coal-Lovin Governor" builds on "Coal Miner's Daughter" in much the same way the Brownback video tapped "Material Girl." A local actor and editorial page crew went on location for this shoot, and even managed to corral a local television news team who reported on "the making of Coal-Lovin Governor."

The effort is "just another form of satire that we do," Brownlee said. "It's actually a serious subject but we'll do it in a humorous way and hopefully get people to think about it."

The governor apparently did. Their report includes video of her reacting to the satire, and a follow-up editorial suggests she's moving out of the shadows on the issue.

"Coal-Loving Governor" is unlikely to attract the viral internet interest that the Brownback effort captured, but its direct impact will likely be more profound. Wichita has a new tool in the opinion toolbox – and Brownlee & Company are clearly ready to use it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A mission-driven company

Forgive me if it sounds like bragging, but may I say that this is a damned fine time to be a McClatchy journalist?

I wrote earlier this morning about how proud we all are of the fine way our colleagues in Idaho have covered the Sen. Larry Craig story. Operating under great pressure and later facing direct accusations, they've showed the professionalism and poise we'd all hope for in such situations.

Earlier in the week the nation's biggest story was the resignation of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, an event related in no small part to the work of reporters in the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Marisa Taylor, Margaret Talev, Greg Gordon and others have been out front on reporting about firings of U.S. Attorneys and politicization of the Justice Department for months.
And far to the south in Mississippi, our colleagues at the Sun Herald have won an important victory for the public interest after months of fighting to make video of a deadly jailhouse beating public. As the paper reported today:

The release of the video for public view marks the conclusion of months of legal action by the Sun Herald in efforts to restore public records to the people of Harrison County and shed light on what has been taking place behind the bars of the county jail.

The Sun Herald began filing public-records requests in search of answers within days of Williams' death. In October 2006 the FBI seized thousands of pages of records from the jail without making copies. That December the Sun Herald filed public-records requests that led to a lawsuit in Chancery Court.

Like everybody else in our business, we're struggling with changing economics and audiences these days. Unlike some, we have a fixed star to guide us: the McClatchy mission.

We're a public service journalism company. It's what we do and why we exist. Yes, it's tougher than ever these days, but as our colleagues have demonstrated so well this week, we're making a difference for our communities and our country.

Thanks to all of them for the affirmation – and to all of you for being the foundation of this worthy enterprise.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's called "reporting"

Nobody wants her newspaper to become part of the story. I can tell you from experience that hearing a senator or governor call a press conference to denounce you is no fun.
But when it happens – as it did, big time, in Boise yesterday – wouldn't it be nice to be able to stand up tall and issue a statement like this one from Bill Manny, managing editor of the Idaho Statesman?
As our story today demonstrated, we followed leads and asked questions. We worked hard and behaved responsibly, not publishing a story until it was ready. We didn’t print anything until the senator pleaded guilty. Our story outlined what we’ve done and it speaks for itself.

In Sen. Larry Craig's only public statements Tuesday about the story of his arrest in an airport bathroom, he blamed what he characterized as relentless, vicious harassment by the Statesman for creating the stress that made him plead guilty.

I haven't been involved in this story and will leave it to the capable journalists at the paper to respond as they see fit. But I do know this: when other papers and outlets in the region were relying on unsubstantiated blog postings for stories, Statesman staffers were doing something different. They were reporting.

Welcome home, pilgrim

When Kathleen McCoy ventured north from California sunshine to the rocky shores of Alaska's Bering Sea 20-some years ago, she was clearly pioneering. At the Nome Nugget and later the Anchorage Daily News, she brought elegant writing and tender editing skills that helped us create a splendid features section and – by the way – win a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Now she's covering girls' flag football.

Well, not exactly. What's she really doing is pioneering once again, this time at the edges of cyberspace, not Norton Sound. Freshly returned from her Knight Fellowship at Stanford, she's AME for Interactivity at the ADN. So far, all the evidence is that the pathfinder hasn't lost a step.

Her recent posts at Hello From Kathleen are all worth reading. Here's a taste of one of the latest:

Why am I doing it? Because I believe that community news organizations like the one I work for will soon (now, even) include a blend of us and them. Them is the people who live and work in the communities we report on. Us is, well, the fewer and fewer of us left in American print newsrooms. We need them to build connection in our pages, the glue of community. They need us to hold powerful people's feet to the fire: government officials, school administrators, business people. We work for the readers. So if they can contribute some of the content that binds a community - names, faces, achievements, good work - then the newspaper's reporters can focus on their role, getting at the hard and complicated truth, facts people need to know.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Appetite for victory

The Association of Food Journalists has honored two McClatchy newspapers for the best food sections in their circulation class: the Anchorage Daily News (under 200,000) and the Kansas City Star (200,001–300,000).

Update: Kathleen Purvis in Charlotte won third place for Best Food News Story, a competition open to all circulation sizes.

We're proud of them all.

The Oregonian won in the biggest circulation category; come on, Miami.

Details are avaliable here.

Opus in chains

Joan Walsh in Salon, here, and Dan Gillmor separately on the Citizen Media blog, here, have some observations about some newspapers deciding to reject recent Opus comic strips involving Islam.

Gillmor is the most succinct:

Puritan prudishness and political cowardice: Now there’s a combination that’s just certain to attract more readers.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lamentate exultate

Having just taken issue with one Shorenstein Center report, let me hasten to pay homage to another: a long, elegant essay by William Powers entitled "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal."

This is not your standard elegiacal lamentation by an aging newspaperman–the kind linked to six times a day from Romenesko and honed to perfection by one of our best here. Powers is a savvy, modern media consumer, more internet literate than most and far more thoughtful. His column of media criticism in the National Journal frequently delivers a tough love message for the media masses.

Thus it is reassuring to find in this useful essay the kind of considered, well-grounded contrarianism that makes his work important to people who care about news. His basic thesis is self-evident: paper must be pretty useful to have lasted so long and remained so ubiquitous. The payoff comes in his exposition of why that's true, including:

  • the difference between communication and storage;
  • differing roles for technologies in connecting us to information and mediating our relationship with it;
  • envisioning paper as the piñata's covering, something that grows even as the piñata's interior volume expands;
  • contrasting the quality of attention derived from the "battle for control" involved watching video with the "embrace" of reading; and,
  • examining ways in which the finite nature of printed information helps promote a sense of order, refining data into knowledge.

We've talked about many of these things in musing about newspapers here before – for example, Data Isn't Knowledge; Publishing, Primates and Pattern Recognition; and, more recently, Saying No to Abandonistas.

Powers' arguments and explications yield a solid foundation for predicting a long and productive role for printed journalism in the future–if we understand and play to its strengths.

Powers does us all great service in making a cogent, coherent case for that proposition in this essay. I commend it highly.

P.S. The link takes you to a pdf document; as Powers himself suggests in a related article, it's better to print it out and read it on paper.

Talking back to Harvard

It’s hard to overstate how much I think is wrong with the recent Shorenstein Center report “Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look at News on the Internet.”

McClatchy editors, at least, will be startled to see conclusions like these:

  • “The websites of national “brand name” newspapers are growing, whereas those of many local papers are not.”
  • In contrast [to national brand name papers], the websites of most other newspapers—whether in large, medium-sized, or small cities—have lost audience. Their sites on average have substantially fewer visitors now than a year ago.
  • “The internet is … a larger threat to local news organizations than those that are nationally known. Because the Web reduces the influence of geography on people’s choice of a news source, it inherently favors ‘brand names’ …”

I'm not a scholar and don’t have time to do a detailed analysis and rebuttal of this academic paper, but let me note two reasons to distrust the overbroad conclusions:
  1. The data are wildly at odds with our measurements and experience at more than 30 local newspaper web sites in McClatchy; and,
  2. His notion about the disappearing link between geography and news preference is just plain upside down – at least in the local news business, which is where we operate.
For those of you who read this report or summary and wondered about the apparent reality disconnect, here’s what the world of local online news looks like to those of us living it: traffic is growing robustly, in direct measure to the amount and quality of local news we deliver (and how we deliver it); and among the fastest growing revenue sources are local advertisers who aren't ever going to advertise in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.

Here’s our overview data, from Omniture: at 30 McClatchy sites stretched from Anchorage to Miami, monthly visitor growth gained 20.5% from April 2006 to April 2007 (the period covered in the Shorenstein study). At sites with more than one million monthly uniques, it averaged 20%; at those with fewer than 200,000 monthly it was 16.4%, and at those in-between, obviously, growth rates were somewhat higher.

We also know audience growth at our sites is accelerating; today many of our sites are enjoying growth rates that are far higher than 20%, owing partly to advantages gained in converting former Knight Ridder papers to the same web publishing platform as McClatchy classics, and even more to the fact that we’re learning how to serve and engage audiences better with constant breaking news updates, vigorous video reports, blogs, participative features and other popular local content.

Perhaps the most immediately suspect part of the Harvard report is its dataset: reports from Compete (I know; I never heard of them either). Jeff Jarvis knows more about Compete than I do, and he takes a few whacks at their performance (and the study generally) here. And forgive me if I read too much into this brief note in the Shorestein report about why this particular dataset was selected: “… Compete’s data are available without charge.”

While there are genuine arguments and uncertainties about different web audience measures – hey, it's a relatively new and complex, distributed medium – we have confidence in our Omniture numbers, as do our advertisers. We’re also able to compare them with lots of other measurements since some of the KR papers used Hitbox, and others in the company have had Nielsen/Net Ratings and others. We also calibrate against survey research, our own and Scarborough.

The short version is that, while there’s some uncertainty about measuring audience this new medium, we’re growing robustly at our sites. Our experience just flatly contradicts some of the central foundations of the report, such as “Mid-sized city newspaper sites are not growing,” and “The sites of small-city dailies also are not growing.”

Wrong, Professor. From our vantage point, just plain wrong.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Check out Salt Lake's prep site

Courtesy of Innovate This (Andria Krewson from Charlotte), this look at how the Salt Lake Tribune is handling prep sports online:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time-shifted readers

Slate's media critic Jack Shafer is an idiosyncratic commentator who often hits right at the heart of things. Especially on occasions when (like this time) he agrees with me.

This recent column (Already Chewed News) from Slate echoes points we've been discussing about what role printed newspapers will play in the hybrid company we're rapidly becoming: as a briefing, an orientation and entertainment.

It's worth the read. Here are a couple of key graphs:

But even if all I've pre-read from the Web are the Page One headlines, the print stories don't really pop out at me unless they're packaged with a terrific photo I haven't seen before. Horrible as it may sound, on many days the newsprint front page tastes of already chewed gum.

I'm not the average reader, but anecdotes convince me that the average reader is becoming more like me every day—reading tomorrow's news today. This time-shift is as historically significant as the great migration of newspaper readers from afternoon to morning dailies, or the adoption of AM news radio by sequestered commuters. Where the newspaper was once considered the day's complete news, it's now just all-the-news-that-fits. The genuine news enthusiast trolls the AP wire, foreign news sites, and the usual aggregators for the biggest picture ...

... [but as] good as the Web is at keeping apace with the current, it isn't very good at telling me when my news tank is full. The final editions of well-edited newspapers still do a better job of conveying the most vital news than does a browsing of the Web. It gives readers a yardstick with which to measure the news before they dive in. If I had just 10 minutes to catch up on what's happening, I'd rather fan through the paper pages of the Times and Post than click my favorite sites.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Now playing ...

Our alt.campaign feature is now up on the McClatchy DC site, with this intro:

A poet? A screenplay with fictional endings? Pop culture?

What's all that doing alongside the REAL campaign coverage on a news site?

Well, it's amplifying, we hope. Illuminating. Invigorating.

The new feature we're calling "alt.campaign" is intended to be just that: an alternative look at the campaign news we (and so many others) will be presenting for the next 15 months. A world where YouTube and Swift Boats are crowding Tim Russert and George Will deserves some new points of view. When one of the top stories from the real campaign is about an Obama Girl who doesn't have a thing to do with the Obama campaign, you might as well ask a screenwriter to spin out some alternative endings now and then.

We're asking a handful of high-quality observers to make some non-traditional observations for you as this campaign unfolds. Your ideas, reactions, suggestions and opinions are solicited. Help Joe find an angle that needs coverage in our campaign screenplay. Whisper campaign secrets in Amy's always-eager ear. Send us your own video coverage of campaign events, or your own commentary about the unfolding pageant of democracy.

And welcome to alt.campaign.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Size doesn't matter

Jeff Jarvis reiterates his frequent observation:

Once and for all: The size of the site doesn’t matter to advertisers. Oh, yes, they still think its matters and for a time that’s still how they buy, by reflex. But get this straight: Just because a site has 100 million users, that doesn’t mean 10o million people see your ad. It’s not TV. Repeat: It’s not TV. The only people who will see your ad are the ones who see the page on which it appears. If you buy 10,000 impressions, aka eyeballs, you can buy them on a big site or a bunch of small sites, it doesn’t matter. Big brings no advantage other than convenience and it also brings some disadvantages like inefficiency and price. This is the essence of the change in the economic model of media. Post that on your wall and stare at it.

Blogging the campaign

McClatchy campaign reporters, from the Washington bureau and (soon) individual papers, will be blogging at a new spot introduced by the bureau today.

Their blog is Hot Off The Trail.

McClatchy Interactive is monitoring company sites for appropriate material, but Jim Van Nostrand is asking editors to nominate worthy content via email to

Check it now to find out who thinks Karl Rove was overrated ... and what Hillary said about her White House experience driving her to prayer.

Coming soon ...

Your blog, our headlines

Almost all the McClatchy news websites include a list of updated headlines from our world and national bureau in D.C. like the one in the right column, below.

It's easy to include the same thing on your blog or website just like all the other cool kids.

Instructions for using the widget are here.

P.S. If you use the widget, let me know and we'll include a link back to you on the instructions page.

Knight News Challenge

This just released:
It's time to enter this year's Knight News Challenge, which awards big money for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news.
The contest is run by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Last year's winners won awards ranging from $15K to $5 million.
Winning projects included:
* Open-source software that will let citizens find public information about their neighborhoods.
* Young journalists covering the 2008 presidential election on cell phones, for cell phones.
* Online games to inform and engage players about key issues confronting New York City.
* Digital newscasts for Philadelphia's immigrant community distributed through a new citywide wireless platform.
Anyone worldwide can apply at

Marc Fest, Director of Communications
Office Tel.: (305) 908-2677 | Fax: (786) 924-2977

Bankers, hookers and opportunities

In the early 1970s I patrolled the Anchorage demimonde for the Daily News, a rookie cop reporter with romantic notions and limitless ambition. Probably the tired, frontier hookers and small-time con artists I drank with thought of me as something between quaint and insufferable; I mined that vein as deep and thoroughly as I could, but rarely felt like I was learning the real story.

Overnight, things changed. The wife and son of Kit Kat Club owner Jimmy Sumpter were murdered, their house burned with the bodies inside. Jimmy's thirst for revenge was palpable; barroom conversations dealt with little else. And suddenly, everybody wanted to talk to the long-haired kid from the Daily News.

Later I realized why. They were scared – Jimmy was going to have somebody killed, for sure, and information had become precious. What do you hear? Who does he think did it? Did he really hire The Brothers (a motorcycle gang) for a revenge hit?*

As a detached, presumably neutral party I could carry the gossip from one ear to another. I was briefly more important to them than they were to me, and I learned a lot.

That was lesson one. Lesson two came years later, when I was editor and an overbuilt real estate market was imperiling local savings and loan institutions and banks. Everybody knew there were federal bank examiners in town, and that somebody – more than one, perhaps? – was going down.

And just as in the Kit Kat murders, people who formerly shunned reporters from the paper – bankers, developers, pinstriped lawyers – were suddenly eager to talk. What do you hear? Where have those examiners been lately? Who were they talking to?

And what did I learn from all that? Two things, mainly: that bankers and developers have a lot in common with hookers and drug dealers when they get scared; and that there is often opportunity in crisis.

And that, as you may guess, is why I wrote about this today. I quoted a brief bit from an essay making that point last week, and the notion keeps running through my head. In a period with plenty of pain and anxiety, it's nice to recognize that there are opportunities, as well.

The fences are down, the hookers are talking and the Feds are questioning the bankers. It's a ripe time for us, if we're up to it.
* Footnote: Somebody with a 12-gauge shotgun did kill Jimmy's suspect: the brother of a high-school classmate of mine whose last day alive I was able to reconstruct. I remember my lead on that story as one of my favorites: "Gary Zieger lay dead alongside the Seward Highway Tuesday, his life of 20 troubled years ended by the shot he waited for all day."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Our problem, not the readers'

If you're a McClatchy journalist trying to meet the needs of changing audiences, I hope you make time to read Clark Hoyt's "Public Editor" columns in the New York Times. There are always valuable lessons to be had there.

That was true for me today, when I read his thoughtful piece about an NYT Iran story that occasioned considerable reader reaction. He makes a larger point about the role of context and perspective in reporting, but boils it down to a supremely useful observation I think we all should take to heart:

... there are special lengths that The Times — or any other news organization — must go to when dealing with an issue so protracted, so complicated, and so politicized [as war in Iraq]. It must take pains when reporting today’s events to add yesterday’s perspective. It must attribute information exhaustively to keep sources’ credibility and motives in view. And it must be willing to revisit old ground when new developments change the context.

The recent article demonstrates some of the pitfalls. I think it had avoidable problems that helped lead to the eruption of criticism ...
(emphasis added by me)

As Clark notes, that's true in epic issues like war and peace – and, I'd argue, in much of what we all cover every day, as well. Audiences bring different expectations to journalism nowadays. We can blame blogs and talk radio for distorting their percentions and perspectives – the "journalism of affirmation" problem – but in the end it does no good for us to pretend this is the readers' problem rather than ours.

"I was teaching, but they weren't learning" is axiomatically false. And so is, "I was editing but they weren't reading it right."

They won't wait for you

Google CIO Douglas Merrill on the advantages of fast-loading web pages:

We can loose 15 percent of our traffic just by slowing down 200 milliseconds. … We’ve done a lot of work to answer any question in the world in 400 milliseconds ...

How does your website measure up?

(Thanks, howardowens, for highlighting this.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Here comes Publish2

If you roam around the journalistic blogosphere, you'll soon encounter news of Publish2, a nascent new service that may well be of interest to journalists.

It's not simple to explain everything involved, so I'll refer you to CEO Scott Karp and his excellent description. You can read his introduction to the service here, including this snip:

Here’s the short version: Publish2 is a social network and 2.0 platform for journalists (and independent “news bloggers,” “citizen” journalists, student journalists, i.e. ALL journalists, BROADLY defined), which aims to put journalists at the center of news on the web by creating a journalist-powered news aggregator.

You may also notice that I'm listed as an "advisor" to the project, which is right. I started talking about it with founder Robert Young early on, and I've been enthusiastic about the concept ever since. In my view, the idea has gotten better as they've refined it, and I think you'll be interested.

I'm going to ask a couple of McClatchy operations to participate in beta-testing, so you may be hearing from me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

When the borders are open

There is great opportunity in disruption. You know that, surely. But it can be hard to feel it when you're living it, when treasured institutions and traditions are crumbling, when every change starts to feel like a loss.

I came across this favorite passage from a splendid book (Air Guitar, by Dave Hickey) describing how things felt to him in the late 1960s. It seemed worth sharing (and the book is certainly worth reading):

We had grown up with the myth of the open range, with that unreflective, visceral cowboy hatred for fences, and, just for that moment, the fences were down. The institutions that strung them were in disgrace, and the borders were open: the president was a crook; the generals were losers; corporate culture was in disarray; and the universities were irrelevant. So there was a sense of making it up as you went along, with new rules in a new place, where , if you wished, you could bring your Deleuze and your Stratocaster, too. And there was plenty of sleazy fame to go around -- except that, back then, it was still the colossal joke that Warhol intended it to be, still marketing and not yet a religion.
– Dave Hickey
From the essay “Magazine Writer”
in Air Guitar (p116)

Tell me that you care

I'm still digesting the findings of the latest Pew study of internet users' attitudes about the press (there's a lot there) but one item in particular jumped out at me: more and more people think the press doesn't care about them.

We know – from a lifetime of experience, and surveys like the landmark Readership Institute findings – that believing their newspaper "looks out for people like me" is a key driver of readership and loyalty. What's more, we know that we actually do that in many, many cases.

Many of the entries in our recent President's Awards competition demonstrated that. Take two of the winners: busting a fraudulent used car resale operation in Tri-Cities and shoddy, unsafe home construction in Hilton Head. For a giant example, uncovered over several years, look at the Beazer homes coverage in Charlotte. (There are links to these and more great stories in this earlier post about winners).

We need to look for every way we can find to let people know we do care – that we do these investigations to look out for them, to make our communities better places to live, to hold elected officials accountable.

We do journalism for people, not to them. And we need to tell them that, too.

Customizing your crime map

The Tribune in San Luis Obispo had to configure its crime map code to match information they could get from local authorities, but the result is another winner:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Farewell, Mahad

McClatchy Africa correspondent Shashank Bengali salutes and mourns a fallen colleague and frequent McClatchy contributor, Mahad Elmi. His death provides still more tragic evidence of the dangers of telling the truth – and the necessity of doing so. RIP, Mahad.

Politics for the rest of them

We're planning a new feature for McClatchy's national website, called alt.campaign: politics for the rest of us. The premise is that we can assemble a collection of non-traditional, non-journalistic voices to augment and amplify the outstanding traditional journalistic coverage our bureau folks are providing on politics and the presidential campaign.

We offered a small sneak preview when one of the contributors (the 2004 National Slam Poetry Competition champ) posted his first video commentary on the site. He's the guy called Rives talking about the Democratic debate at Howard University. We've also signed up a screenwriter who will take real campaign events and spin them into a sitcom format with new endings every two weeks; a sassy pop-culture diva (she also blogs as Citizen Mom) to write essays and posts combining campaigning, celebrity and culture; and an especially cyberliterate pundit who will explore the extremes of the blogosphere and report on what he finds there.

Here's the promotion pitch planned for each:

Fade in: a campaign sitcom by Joe Acton
Sometimes it takes a little fiction to get you closer to the truth.

Moonbats & Wingnuts: Mark Paul surveys online commentary
We read all the rants so you don't have to.

Confetti Betty: politics & pop culture by Amy Z. Quinn
When rock meets righteousness, somebody ought to be watching.

Rives: on the scene but off the bus for Election 2008
America's 2.0 poet tracks the candidates with a fresh eye and uncensored voice.

Rant-O-Rama: your video soapbox
We provide a national platform for the campaign's most important voices: yours.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


We've talked about the Fresno Crime Map here before – a compulsively useable reader reference that seems certain to appeal to audiences everywhere. Others have had success with features like the Crime Scene K.C. blog at the Star, and Lights & Sirens, in Tacoma. The L.A. Times has a sophisticated new iteration, too, available here.

Each of these projects takes a different approach, but each rests on a fundamental truth: people are interested in crime, especially when it gets localized and focused on their own back yard.

Why aren't you running the Crime Map, for starters? Fresno can supply the architecture; you just need to arrange for local data inputs.

Congrats to the Sun-Star

In a Thursday post, I highlighted Jeff Jarvis' suggestion about building a participative journalism site and asked our editors, "Who wants to be first?"

Well, Merced did. Online Editor Brandon Bowers spotted the post, began tinkering and two hours later had a new map component attached to Tip List, a longstanding feature that let citizens sound off about problem areas in the community.

Jeff noticed, too. His comments are here, including this:

Note that innovation didn’t take a lot of time or a big staff or any geeks writing complex programs to complex specs. Somebody saw an idea and used available tools to just do it and then the paper will add what it can: promotion and reporting. Viola.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Instant public service project (just add water)

Jeff Jarvis has a great suggestion over at his blog BuzzMachine: a plan to enlist your audience in identifying and cataloging infrastructure problems in the area.

A taste:

Put up a Google map (with Platial on top) and town and neighborhood wikis and ask them to pinpoint every failure of infrastructure — or feared failure — they see: streets that flood every time it rains, bridges that look just too damned rusty, potholes, pipes that burst, streets that don’t get plowed, streetlights that don’t work, signs that are missing. . . . Ask them for dates and other specifics and for pictures and video. Urge them to blog their stories of frustration and bureaucracy.

Use your promotional power and influence to mobilize your public.

Then do what you do best: add journalism.
Who wants to be first?

UPDATE: As often happens, the Merced Sun-Star is way ahead of me on this. Have a look at what they're doing here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

McClatchy President's Award winners

Here's the press release announcing winners of the McClatchy President's Awards for the first half of 2007.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 7, 2007 – The Anchorage Daily News won two McClatchy President’s Awards for work in the first half of 2007, and seven other entries were honored with prizes announced this week in Sacramento.

An innovative online news aggregator that assembles information from many sources – the Alaska Newsreader – was one Anchorage winner, and the other was a collection of newspaper stories examining the impact of Iraq war casualties in Alaska. Judges hailed the Newsreader as an innovation worth emulating by other newspapers and had high praise for the writing quality in the newspaper’s Iraq home front reporting.

Other winners from across the company included investigative projects, extensive website video reporting and photographic coverage of an epic disaster.

McClatchy’s Washington bureau won an award for reporting that played a leading role in illuminating the unfolding story of U.S. attorney firings. Work by Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev was especially cited for helping advance the story with key findings about the reasons for the firings and about White House involvement.

In North Carolina, Charlotte Observer staffers, including Binyamin Appelbaum, were honored for an extensive report on widespread deceptive practices of a major regional homebuilder that led to federal, state and company investigations. In Raleigh, News & Observer reporters showed how speeding violations were routinely minimized or unpunished despite a deadly toll on the state’s highways. The project resulted in swift legislative action to close loopholes exposed by the series, which employed innovative participation by readers.

Two McClatchy President’s Awards honored investigations that hit close to home by The (Hilton Head, S.C.) Island Packet and Eastern Washington’s Tri-City Herald. In Hilton Head, a reporter who learned of badly constructed roofs on new homes pursued the story until builders changed their practices and government regulators began enforcing codes. And in Eastern Washington, a Herald investigation exposed practices of an unlicensed ring that purchased abandoned and damaged cars to resell in cash-only transactions in local parking lots.

Two photo staffs won President’s Awards: The Wichita Eagle for coverage of a devastating tornado; and The Kansas City Star, whose photographers have aggressively embraced video reporting and produced more than 650 video news reports for the paper’s website. Judges praised the Kansas City video report for high quality and aggressive implementation. In Wichita, photos of damage from the Greensburg tornado were the world’s window onto the devastation.

Two judges from outside the company joined Howard Weaver, McClatchy vice president, news, in evaluating entries: Ronnie Ramos, senior editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Carroll Wilson, who recently left his position as editor of the Times Record News in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Here are the award winners, judges’ comments and related internet links, where available. Daily News
Alaska Newsreader
Assistant Managing Editor David Hulen and Online Editor Scott Levin

David Hulen and Scott Levin were challenged to aggregate news from throughout Alaska, rewriting some stories, editing and cutting many and also pointing out to readers offbeat, humorous, particularly scary and just darned interesting tidbits from all over. The result is a prototype for other newspapers in McClatchy and elsewhere – a way to become THE place online where readers or visitors can find not just what they want and need to know about their geographic region but also items that they might not otherwise but would like to see and read – from blogs to videos to podcasts to photos and text. Weird things really do happen in Alaska. Above and beyond that, the online aggregator (a human being) also sends out an e-newsletter.

Anchorage Daily News
Iraq Home Front
Reporters Julia O’Malley and George Bryson; Photographer Marc Lester

Timely, well-reported and strongly written news stories gave readers an insight into local people dealing with the impact of the war. The stories are quick-hit enterprises – one was off a live event – filled with sophisticated writing and elevated by intensely emotional photographs. Stripped of politics, the stories capture everyday people struggling with extraordinary experiences.

McClatchy Washington Bureau
U.S. Attorneys Firings
Reporters Marisa Taylor, Margaret Talev and Ron Hutcheson

There was a time last spring when controversy about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys seemed destined to fade into obscurity – but that was before the McClatchy Washington Bureau weighed in. Building on initial reports from prominent political blogs, bureau reporters brought the subject out into the limelight, demonstrating that many were not actually fired for cause, that prominent Republican officeholders had intervened, and that White House strategist Karl Rove was intimately involved. These and other “outside the Beltway” stories by bureau reporters – especially Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev – moved the story forward and commanded the attention even now being focused on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and looming constitutional confrontations between Congress and the White House. This was public-accountability reporting at its best.

The Charlotte Observer
“Sold a Nightmare”
Newsroom Staff

Groundbreaking reporting revealed how the shoddy sales practices of a major homebuilder led to numerous foreclosures in starter-home neighborhoods. Reporters knocked on doors, used computer-assisted reporting to analyze data, and created strong graphics to show where and how the homebuilder was taking advantage of people trying to buy a house. As a result of the paper’s work, the FBI, IRS and (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) have launched an investigation, new laws have been passed and the builder’s chief accounting officer was fired when he was caught shredding documents.

The News & Observer
“Speed Unlimited”
Reporters Pat Stith, Mandy Locke and David Raynor

Reporters revealed how thousands of drivers are using massive loopholes in the state law to repeatedly get away with speeding. In-depth, computer-assisted reporting coupled with strong interviews – including a sitting judge who is the state’s most lenient on speeders – documented how the system is broken. The package also tackled the skepticism surrounding the dangers of speeding with additional analysis and input from readers, inviting readers to participate in surveying speeding conditions and sharing personal stories.

The Island Packet
Sun City Trusses
Reporter Ginny Skalski

When Ginny Skalski found out that Sun City Hilton Head builders in her community might be cutting corners when constructing homes, she took after them like a heat-seeking missile. Very quickly, she had to learn what a truss was and how roofs are supposed to be built correctly. That meant, among other things, climbing into hot attics to verify reports of shoddy workmanship. Ultimately, the county was forced to hire private inspectors to examine trusses in as many as 2,000 homes. Had Skalski not been persistent and had her editors not used her reports to call for government action, high winds might have meant death for hundreds of residents. Public-service reporting can take many forms. Skalski used shoe leather and smarts to sweat out the truth.

Tri-City Herald
“Dubious Deals”
Reporter John Trumbo and Photographer Bob Brawdy

A few years ago Northwestern University’s Readership Institute reminded us that one of the key drivers of reader interest is journalism that looks out for the interests of the average citizen. Few newspaper investigations can have hit that target more squarely than John Trumbo’s “Dubious Deals” series. Initially tipped by a 22-year-old caller who felt cheated on a used car purchase, Trumbo launched an exhaustive investigation that tracked a local duo who bought abandoned and damaged cars at auction and sold them duplicitously via cash-only deals in parking lots. Trumbo and Bob Brawdy worked incognito to track the sellers, nail down their prior criminal records and expose a ring that dozens of callers said had stung them, too. Consumers in Washington and Oregon are better prepared to be smart buyers as a result.

The Wichita Eagle
Greensburg Tornado
Photo Staff

The photo staff of The Wichita Eagle was as an award winner for coverage of the Greensburg, Kan., tornado. While the entire staff of the newspaper jumped onto the story about the devastation of a whole community, the photographers’ images were particularly adept in capturing the impact on the lives of 1,400 people, their grief and horror and their courage in the face of ruination. When they needed to get in close, they were in close, and when they needed to help the reader stand back and assess the situation, they did that, too. Their photos surely exceeded readers’ expectations.

The Kansas City Star
Video Reporting
Photo Staff

When Kansas City Star editor Mark Zieman challenged staffers to adapt to the demands of web platforms, none responded with greater alacrity than the paper’s photo staff. Tasked with what the paper’s publisher described as “launching a robust video operation from scratch on a shoestring budget against entrenched competition,” the staff proved more than equal to the occasion. Today, the paper presents an average of more than 30 staff-produced videos per week, helping drive traffic that in June was five times greater than a year ago. Most staff photojournalists (and many others) have been trained to shoot and edit video, including some who regularly file cell phone video from the field as a “rough draft” that ensures the paper is first online with breaking news.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

NFL: wear the vest

From ASNE:

In a letter received Aug. 6, Greg Aiello, vice president/public relations for the National Football League, defends their position on the use of logos on photographers' vests required for credentialing.

Aiello says logos are not intended for advertising purposes, rather acknowledge sponsorship of the vests and will remain.


Listen while you read

Editors at the Sun-Star in Merced are now attaching audio interviews with reporters to select stories on their website. Here's a link where you can listen to an example, attached to an important local story they've been following for months.

I like the additional information, the background perspective and the fact that it makes the reporters more approachable. Is anybody else doing this? Any thoughts?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saying no to 'abandonistas'

Calls for newspapers to abandon or rapidly decommission their printed products are commonplace in the echo chamber of the journalistic blogosphere – suggestions arising from a combination of enthusiasm, ignorance and shallow thinking.

Many of these voices belong to otherwise insightful people who correctly recognize the enormous power and potential of digital, networked, distributed journalism but then leap to a conclusion that isn’t there: that in order to embrace a new order, we must quickly abandon the old. (Often their pronouncements remind us of Isaiah Berlin's warning against those who care more about whether their ideas are interesting than whether they are true.)

It’s easy to view the world from an “either/or” perspective, but that’s often the wrong approach. Albert Einstein famously observed,“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The abandonistas are too often doing just that.

The printed newspaper retains enormous strength. Half the adults in the country read a newspaper yesterday. Half. Fifty percent. That’s a powerful platform; it reaches a vast audience, delivers satisfying results for advertisers and – not incidentally – produces revenues that in companies like ours still add up to healthy, double-digit profit margins.

The only conceivable reason to abandon that would be because continuing precludes our shift to the digital future we all know awaits us. But does it?

Au contraire. The legacy, reach and profitability of printed newspapers actually underwrites that transition, strengthens our journalism and adds depth and texture to our content in ways that can keep us at the center of the new media landscape.

What’s more, a properly tuned and focused daily paper can provide an attractive complement to the continuous, multimedia news report we’re learning to produce. An intelligently designed and focused newspaper that serves as a summary, briefing and orientation to help people manage the rest of their information habit will be part of the news landscape for a long, long time.

Even while we’re still learning how to do this, our hybrid combination of printed and digital journalism reaches an audience that is steadily growing larger. You’ve heard this here before, but let me say it again:

More people want what we produce today than wanted it yesterday. This is certainly not the profile of a dying business.

Yesterday’s newspapers often produced a 40% profit margin, but things changed; today’s are closer to 20%. Yesterday’s papers, facing few rivals, reached 60-70% of their markets; with powerful new competitors, today’s are closer to 50%. Well, so what? That’s still healthy reach and profit, and smart companies are using it to fuel the transition from a “one-product-once-daily” past to a “hybrid-continuous-targeted” future.

People who mistake transition for a terminal decline are making the wrong bet.

Just five years ago, probably 95% of the effort in our newsrooms focused on producing tomorrow morning’s newspaper. Our transition has been swift and striking; I can't fix a precise percentage today, but it’s dramatically lower. Papers like the Kansas City Star post updates to their website 50 or 60 times a day; video-ready reporters at the Merced Sun-Star are as mo-jo as anybody at any Information Center. Unsurprisingly, those are among the many McClatchy operations growing total audience at a healthy pace.

To paraphrase William Gibson, our future has already arrived; the job now is to make sure we distribute it evenly across the company.

I’ve recently been talking in newsrooms about ideas for what kind of printed newspaper fits best into our emerging hybrid future, and I’ll post some ideas about that here shortly.

Start by thinking about this: if half the adults in the country are still using a product mainly designed to serve pre-internet interests, how many would read a paper specifically tuned and focused as an information-management tool that complements their other news sources?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ed page editors can't dance ...

... unless, of course, their name is Phillip Brownlee of the Wichita Eagle, who is seen here as one of the two back-up dancers in this Brownback Girl video. The other (honest) is editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson. The two collaborated on the video and script.

"As I mentioned to you when you were here, I think that to be worth a viewer's time, an editorial page video needs to be funny or kick ass," Brownlee reports. Mission accomplished.

This is just a screenshot; click the link above or the photo for a trip to's answer to Obama Girl and Hot4Hill.