Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bright lights and shining stars in L.A.

The Iraqi women of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau completed their North American Courage In Journalism tour in Los Angeles Tuesday night. As in New York and Washington earlier in their visit, their award from the International Womens Media Foundation and Sahar Issa's remarks stirred the capcity crowd in the Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom.

And yes, former journalism student Meg Ryan was on hand to introduce them, huddled in conversation with Sahar throughout dinner and warm and expansive in her remarks about the brave work they've done to shine light into the darkness of the Iraq war.

We were proud just to be in the room with them. Now we're home in Sacramento and Sahar and Bureau Chief Leila Fadel head back to Baghdad. God speed to them all.

Meg Ryan, a journalism major at New York University, pictured with McClatchy Baghdad staffers (not pictured for security reasons) and on the big screen making the Courage In Journalism award in Beverly Hills.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New editors for two McClatchy papers

Melanie Sill has been named editor of The Sacramento Bee, and John Drescher is named executive editor of the News & Observer in Raleigh.

These papers are in fine hands.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Building networks on your beat

Jay Rosen is looking for guinea pigs. Here's a recent note and invitation:

I am currently recruiting good test sites for my next initiative, beat reporting with a social network. It's going well so far, and I believe I will have participation from [several] newspapers in [other companies.]

Participating newsrooms designate a single beat reporter to try to build a social network specifically for that beat. I aim to have 12-15 doing it at once, with help from NewAssignment.Net. That way they learn way more.

Interested? You can contact Jay through the links found here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

AP announces 'member choice'

My email (and probably yours) has delivered this news release about the AP's prospective new sort-of-a-la-carte service:

New AP packaging & pricing plan
to take effect in 2009

AP Board approves 'Member Choice,' making more content available and easier to find

NEW YORK -- The Associated Press Board of Directors approved a set of resolutions today that will restructure the way AP content is packaged for newspaper members as well as the assessment formula to charge for it. The move represents the most comprehensive change in the way AP content is sold in the history of the cooperative.

The new plan, called Member Choice, will make all AP English-language breaking news text available to members -- a step that should enable them to locate significantly more news of local interest for their markets.

For example, in a pilot study of Member Choice this summer, a newspaper in Texas could easily follow stories about an international company that is a major local employer. Another paper, in a city facing an overcrowding issue in high schools, located stories from two other cities in other states facing the same problem. Under AP’s previous distribution model, the newspapers would not have access to those stories.

“As newspapers focus more on local news, this total access to breaking news will greatly expand the amount of locally relevant content they can draw from,” said Tom Brettingen, AP senior vice president for Global Newspaper Markets. “Member Choice offers members more access to news, the tools to identify what they care about most, and the contract terms to use it more broadly. It also comes with a new easy-to-understand pricing structure.”

With Member Choice, members will pay a basic assessment that gives them access to all AP state, national and international breaking news. Using the Web-based AP Exchange delivery platform, newspapers can search this broader pool of content to find the stories that are most locally meaningful to their readers.

For additional fees, members will be able to buy premium services featuring in-depth content in news analysis, business, sports, entertainment and lifestyles. In addition, for the first time, members will be able to buy these stories on an a la carte basis. Members who choose not to buy the premium sports package, for example, will be able to view that content using AP Exchange and purchase individual stories.

Previously, AP sold its text in different-sized bundles, intended to serve the basic needs of small, medium and large newspapers, with the core services including varying amounts of national and international news and content from the newspaper’s home state wire.

Under the new plan, most AP members will experience either a reduction in costs, or no change, from their current AP fees. The basic assessment will continue to be based on circulation, as it has in the past. This move marks the first major change in AP’s assessment schedule since 1985.

Member Choice is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2009. It affects U.S. newspapers, which are owners of the not-for-profit cooperative. Broadcast and new media customers should also benefit from these changes, although specific programs have not been finalized.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

To dig up answers with our bare hands ...

Sahar Issa's acceptance speech on behalf of the Iraqi women of the McClatchy Baghdad Bureau upon award of the 2007 International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Awards is the focus of a powerful New York Times editorial today. Here is the entire text of her remarks:

It is a great honor for me to stand here today.

To me, this award means that my colleagues and I have succeeded in what we set out to do; and that our voices have carried, through war, through death and sorrow, through sleepless nights and fear driven days in an effort to reflect the picture of our country as we see it, and of out people as only we can truly know them.

To be a journalist in violence ridden Iraq today, ladies and gentlemen, is not a matter lightly undertaken. Every path is strewn with danger, every checkpoint, every question a direct threat.

Every interview we conduct may be our last. So much is happening in Iraq. So much that is questionable. So much that we, as journalists, try to fathom and portray to the people who care to know.

In every society there is good and bad. Laws regulate the conduct of the society. My country is now lawless. Innocent blood is shed every day, seemingly without purpose. Hundreds of thousands have been killed for seemingly no reason. It is our responsibility to do our utmost to acquire the answers, to dig them up with our bare hands if we must.

But that knowledge comes at a dear price, for since the war started, four and a half years ago, an average of about one reporter and media assistant killed every week is something we have to live with.

We live double lives. None of our friends or relatives know what we do. My children must lie about my profession. They cannot under any circumstance boast of my accomplishments, and neither can I.

Every morning, as I leave my home, I look back with a heavy heart, for I may not see it again – today may be the day that the eyes of an enemy will see me for what I am, a journalist, rather than the appropriately bewildered elderly lady who goes to look after ailing parents, across the river every day. Not for a moment can I let down my guard.

I smile as I give my children hugs and send them off to school; it's only after they turn their backs to me that my eyes fill to overflowing with the knowledge that they are just as much at risk as I am.

So why continue? Why not put down my proverbial pen and sit back?

It's because I'm tired of being branded a terrorist: tired that a human life lost in my country is no loss at all. This is not the future I envision for my children. They are not terrorists, and their lives are not valueless.
I have pledged my life – and much, much more, in an effort to open a window through which the good people in the international community may look in and see us for what we are, ordinary human beings with ordinary aspirations, and not what we have been portrayed to be.

Allow me, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to reach out. Help us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even though the war has cast a dark shadow upon your nation and mine – it is never too late.
I thank my bureau chief and our editors for retaining a high standard of balance and credibility, and I thank you all for being here today.

Good Day.

(We include no photo of Sahar, or the other Iraqi staffers because their lives are endangered because of the work they do.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Proud day for McClatchy

This report is from McClatchy Washington Editor David Westphal:

It was a proud day to work for McClatchy. Six current and former Iraqi staffers in Baghdad were awarded the Courage Award in New York today by the International Women's Media Foundation. Four of the six were present for the awards lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, and one of them, Sahar Issa, gave a smash acceptance speech on everyone's behalf. Standing behind her were Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed and Alaa Majeed. Not able to attend were Zaineb Obeid and Shatha al Awsy. A McClatchy fan club, including John Walcott, Mark Seibel, Leila Fadel, plus Knight Ridder alums Clark Hoyt and Steve Butler, led the cheering section.

We are so proud of them. Their reporting from the streets and roads and markets of Iraq is the foundation of our Baghdad report, and it was obvious from the crowd's reaction (and individual comments afterwards) that McClatchy's sparkling work on Iraq was widely understood and respected.

But this was a day to honor the courage of Ban, Huda, Alaa, Zaineb, Shatha and Sahar -- and by extension all of the Iraqis who have worked for us in Baghdad. Only the handful of you who have worked in Baghdad can fully glimpse what it means to be an Iraqi journalist working for an American news organization. The rest of us can only stand in awe, and express our thanks for all they have given, and risked, to tell the story of their country.

As Bob Woodruff said in his introduction, "These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts."

Woodruff, the ABC newsman who was critically injured in Iraq, gave me a copy of his introduction. We'll send Sahar's remarks later.

Introduction of McClatchy Courage Award by ABC newsman Bob Woodruff:
This has been the most dangerous war for journalists. I have American and British friends who have died there. Still, Iraqi journalists have suffered the most. More than 80 percent of the reporters who have died there are Iraqis.

They are courageous and busy, day to day traveling on the streets. Among the best of these journalists are the six Iraqi women from McClatchy’s bureau whom we honor today. They have become the eyes and ears of a nation... their nation.

They words say it all:

“Abu Salah heard the screeching tires and gunfire outside his home in central Baghdad, and cowered. He’s feared this moment. He’d even plotted leaving the city. Now invaders had entered his street, and he knew that as the only Sunni on a street filled with Shiites, he was probably their target, whoever the invaders might be.” – Zained Obeid

“I left my home Monday. As my family fled the fighting that’s engulfed our neighborhood in Baghdad, I gazed out the car window, thinking that I might never again see the fruit stand off our street, the shops where my sisters and I bought soft drinks, the turquoise-domed mosque where we prayed in the Holy month of Ramadan.” – Shatha al Awsy

“We were asked to send the next of kin to whom the remains of my nephew, killed on Monday in a horrific explosion downtown, can be handed. From the waist down was all they could give us. ‘We identified him by the cell phone in his pants’ pocket. If you want the rest, you will just have to look for yourself. We don’t know what he looks like.’ Now begins the horror that surpasses anything I could have possibly envisioned.” – Sahar Issa

These six Iraqi women have reported the war in Baghdad from inside their hearts. They have watched as the war touched the lives of their neighbors and friends and then they bore witness as it reached into the lives of each and every one of them.

All the while, they have been the backbone of the McClatchy bureau, sleeping with bullet-proof vests and helmets by their beds at night, taking different routes to work each day, trying to keep their employment by a Western news organization secret.

All have lost family members or close friends. All have had their lives threatened. All have had narrow escapes with death.

(Then a video about the McClatchy bureau, including interviews with Leila Fadel and Nancy Youssef.)

With us today are four of the incredible journalists from McClatchy’s bureau: Ban Adil Sarhan, Huda Ahmed, Alaa Majeed and, accepting the award for all of them, Sahar Issa.

We ask that you refrain from photographing them, because if their identities should become known, it would pose a threat to both themselves and their families living in Iraq.
click to enlarge

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Questions without answers

Just for fun, have a look at this list of questions for which tech├╝berblogger David Pogue has no answers.

A sample:

  • Why is Wi-Fi free at cheap hotels, but $14 a night at expensive ones?
  • What happens to software programs when their publishers go out of business?
  • Would the record companies sell more music online if it weren’t copy-protected?
  • Do cellphones cause brain cancer?
  • What’s the real reason you have to turn off your laptop for takeoff?

thanks to Kottke for the pointer

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thinking about rivers of news

Doc Searls, one of the web's leading-edge thinkers and co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, says a year from now we'll all know the term "newsrivers" and, indeed, be producing them.

From his recent post:

News is a river, not a lake. It is active, not static. It’s what’s happening, not what happened. Or not only what happened.

But what happened — news as olds — is how we’ve understood news for as long as we’ve had newspapers. The happening kind of news came along with radio, and then television. Then we called it “live”. Still, even on the nightly news, what’s live is talking heads and reports from the field. The rest is finished stuff.

There’s a difference here, a distinction to be made: one as stark and important as the distinction between now and then, or life and death. It’s a distinction between what’s live and what’s not.

This distinction is what will have us soon talking about the life of newspapers, rather than the death of them.

Because it’s not enough to be “online” or to have a “presence” on the Web.

To be truly alive, truly new, truly part of the life of its readers, a newspaper needs to be on the live web and not just the static one. It needs to flow news, and not just post it.

It needs to flow rivers of news, or newsrivers.

I have one version of a New York Times "newsriver" bookmarked on my iPhone. You can cruise it online here. This is obviously preliminary, proof-of-concept stuff. We've used Typepad blogs at our DC website to flow rivers of breaking news in the past, most recently I believe for the Virginia Tech shootings, or maybe the Petraeus testimony.

But there's a lot of thought and experimentation to be done with this concept. I think it's fruitful, and I'd love to hear what you've been doing that touches on this.

Warning signs for Google?

Shortly after writing the post below, contrasting certain techblogger ethics with traditional journalism standards, I read this story in Friday's Wall Street Journal about Google's troubles with Brazilian law. It's well worth your time.

Google's extraordinary profitability comes not only from its vast traffic, but also from automated, self-serve advertising sales that cost virtually nothing to handle. Unlike the way we sell ads for print and online – with sales staff earning substantial salaries and commissions – the Google engine is fueled by AdSense and its cousins. Like eBay, it's a dream business model: the customers supply all the inventory AND do all the work.

This story makes it clear that global domination is going to be a lot more complicated. As with the observation below about the need for oversight and accountability, it looks like the whole hands-off-my-internet model may not be nirvana, after all.

Score one for integrity

Maybe the corrupt old mainstream media isn't the worst of all possible journalism.

Check out Techbloggers Have Sold Their Souls for some observations about why the conventions of honest journalism, integrity and accountability still belong in the world of news and information.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rick Rodriguez resigns

Sacramento Bee Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez has resigned his job at the paper, he and Publisher Janis Heaphy told the newsroom here this afternoon.

I wasn't taking notes but Janis said something like this: "Rick and I have worked together for many years and I have immense respect for him and his contributions. However, Rick and I differ over my vision for the long-term future direction of the Bee and so we have mutually decided to part. We have agreed not to publicly discuss this, though I want to reassure you our differences are not based on expenses or staffing or our commitment to quality journalism." She repeated in answer to a question later that the issues weren't financial.

UPDATE: Sacramento Bee story here.

Neither of them answered questions about Rick's decision.

Janis also announced that Rick will start working as a consultant with me after the first of the year. Asked what he planned to do, Rick said, "I'm taking a vacation and then after the first of the year I'll be working with Howard – unless I get a better offer."

UPDATE TWO: Bee's internal announcement here:


DATE: October 18, 2007

TO: All Employees

FROM: Janis Heaphy

RE: Rick Rodriguez steps down

After nine years as The Bee’s executive editor and senior vice president, Rick Rodriguez has announced his plans to leave The Bee and pursue other opportunities.

I am close to naming his successor and hope to do so shortly. Managing Editor Joyce Terhaar will serve as editor in the interim.

Rick served The Bee and our community with pride, determination and compassion. Under his leadership, The Bee won virtually every major journalism award, culminating in a Pulitzer Prize for feature photography earlier this year. Rick is highly regarded throughout the industry and served as president of The American Society of Newspaper Editors in 2005. He was named one of America’s 100 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine in 2006.

As the Sacramento area grew, Rick recognized the opportunity for a strong regional news source and positioned The Bee to fill this role. He overhauled the paper’s regional coverage, opened news offices in Roseville, Folsom and Elk Grove and built an influential Capitol bureau to serve as the source of record for California politics.

Rick also championed high-impact investigative journalism, and projects like “Chief’s Disease,” which detailed disability claim abuse in the California Highway Patrol, and “Pineros,” a series on the hardships and inequities facing immigrant forest workers, sparked lasting social, legal and political reform.

A graduate of Stanford University, Rick began his 28-year career with McClatchy at The Fresno Bee in 1979 and moved to The Bee in 1983 as a political reporter and then editorial writer. He was named managing editor in 1993 and promoted to executive editor in 1998.

“I’ve had the experience of a lifetime working at The Bee and am grateful to the passionate journalists who have dedicated themselves to this paper and to working with me, “ said Rick. “I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together and the reputation that we have built for this fine paper.”

Starting early next year, Rick will begin working with McClatchy’s Vice President for News, Howard Weaver as a consultant on journalism issues, providing analysis, personnel advice and other assistance.

I have immense respect for Rick and wish him all the best in his new ventures. Please join me in thanking Rick for his many contributions.

A current look at video

Current TV has been interesting since its inception, but it's getting a lot more interesting now. Sporting an elegant new design and an energized community, the site offers remarkably high quality video storytelling from a huge range of sources.

It'll take you a while to get your feet wet at Current; I feel like I've just started. Virginia Heffernan's blog The Medium at the NYT has a short exploration that might help you get started.

I especially like this story, which I found while poking around earlier.

UPDATE: Here's a second piece well worth watching:

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lessons of the dog-poop girl: the internet is a cruel historian

For an engaging, thoughtful post about the role of the internet in enforcing social norms, see The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet.

Here's a sample:

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne was forced by her colonial New England village to wear a scarlet letter A to represent her sin of adultery. The Internet is bringing back the scarlet letter in digital form – an indelible record of people’s past misdeeds. One commentator to Don Park’s post about the dog poop girl said it best: “Right or wrong, the internet is a cruel historian.”

A roadmap to tomorrow?

Pat Dougherty in Anchorage flagged this post from the new MediaShift Idea Lab blog (which ought to be amongst your RSS feeds): Jay Rosen's formula for online success.

While I distrust any simple list or formula in matters that are evolving as quickly as this, there's no denying that Jay has assembled a potent recipe. It comes as close as anything I've seen to a roadmap for the near future.

The best news? This is all stuff we can do – and in many cases already are. As we settle into a more familiar relationship with the emerging online gestalt, all this will seem as natural as subheads and agate pages – things we naturally know we need to employ in pursuit of the big mission: public service journalism.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The biggest local news

[click to enlarge image]

When the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, returned to Ft. Lewis, WA this week from a 15-month deployment in Iraq, 48 of the Stryker troops who left with the brigade did not return.

But they were not forgotten. This front page of The Olympian was an unforgettable reminder of their sacrifice and a tribute to their memory.

It was, as editor Vickie Kilgore told readers, "
the biggest of local stories."

Readers generally applauded the gesture, which coincided with memorial services at the fort. It was a splendid example of impact journalism and community service.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The war comes home

The News-Democrat in Belleville has moved opportunistically to leverage local interest in Ken Burns' PBS documentary on The War, building a site where local folks can tell their own stories and share histories.

The effort is in its infancy, editor Jeff Couch reports, but "we believe we will be able to build a rich, layered
WWII page with lots of reader participation and full use of multimedia story-telling tools."

I love the way they jumped right in and plan to improve and elaborate with experience. I'd like to see what else McClatchy sites are doing with this.

Fait divers (encore)

I wrote admiringly here not long ago about the spare elegance of a recently published collection of short French newspaper fillers called "fait divers" – sundry items.

Here is another, longer piece from the NYRB discussing these gems and their author, whom the reviewer credits with "considerable talents for compression, distillation, and skeletal evocation..."

One more sample:

There was a gas explosion at the home of Larrieux, in Bordeaux. He was injured. His mother-in-law's hair caught on fire. The ceiling caved in.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Two faces of innovation

Tim McGuire and Howard Owens doubtless agree on many things about our business – Tim's excellent points about the necessity of value-added journalism, for one – but they're miles apart on the question of innovation and breakthrough thinking.

Tim's speech is available here, and Howard's rebuttal is over here. Tim has always been a big, Beyond The Horizons kind of thinker, and his speech reflects that. Howard's more likely to be found down in the trenches.

Tim's indictment:

Innovation is big, bold and a little nuts. Starting an online website and putting video on it is not innovation. Kicking the stuffing out of old boundaries, now that’s innovation.

Innovation is not safe. Innovation calls for risk. Look at the innovators of the last several years. Google, eBay, Auto Trader, Pay-Pal, Craigslist, Monster and thousand of others. Those innovators did not introduce incremental change, their changes were giant leaps forward.

Look at that list again. Any body missing? You don’t see a newspaper on it. Newspapers have shown themselves incapable of innovation for a couple of reasons: they are risk averse and want to keep the business they have even if it’s not going to grow or perhaps wither away ...

From the rebuttal:

Here’s the rub, and why I think McGuire’s assertions are dangerous: If you believe you can’t innovate, you won’t. And if you believe that innovation takes big blow-out expenses, you will never innovate.

Google was started on two computers in a garage. Craigslist was started by one guy sending out a few e-mails to friends. Yahoo! had the same humble beginnings.

All of these ideas began with an insight on how something might be done better, not with big budgets, bright-light epiphanies, or an understanding how available tools and previous advancements could be used to create a new opportunity.

As soon as you think you can’t do something, you are already defeated.

... If you’re waiting for the publisher to hand you a million dollar check, or for that big break-through thought, you’ll never be an innovator. But if you get busy thinking about what problems need to be solved and what available resources you can use to solve those problems, then you have a chance to make a great contribution to our industry.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tips for livebloggers

"Liveblogging" – basically, real-time reporting from an event, game or conference – can be a compelling tool in the right circumstances. Bureau reporters in DC used it recently to post frequent updates during the Petraeus' Iraq testimony, and many others in the company have employed it elsewhere.

Here are some tips from veterans of the conference liveblogging circuit that may be useful for staffers who intend to do it. I'd love to hear about your experiences in doing so.

(Thanks to Giussani and Zuckerman).

Monday, October 01, 2007

What's new?

I don't typically nod in agreement when I read Steve Borris' observations about news, but I found a lot to think about in this post about why blogs represent a potent way to spread the news.

What's new? The answer found in blogs can be personal, tentative, textured and interactive. But traditional top-down media, he argues, answer the question like this:

... ever since the printing press was invented, when we’ve asked “what’s new?” we’ve been getting answers to a very different set of questions. What’s new among people who are richer, more successful, more glamorous, or more powerful than you are? What’s new that most people are at least somewhat interested in? What was new yesterday? What objective, verified facts are new? What new things perfectly fill-up a specified amount of time, column inches, and publication frequency? What’s new in New York and Washington, or the downtown of your metro area? What do New York Times editors want you to know today? What bad things were done by someone the editors don’t like, or good things were done by someone they do?