A quick survey about comments on your news site

I have a little theory.

It’s my opinion that commenters — or anyone, really — is the most civil when they’re speaking in public and everyone can see who they are.

So, I think that news site commenters/readers are most civil on news story comments, then blog posts, then message board threads.  When I popped off about that on Twitter this morning, a bunch of you said “p’shaw” (to paraphrase).

So let’s gather some data, shall we?

This short survey is also posted at Wired Journalists. If you’d like to share it with your friends and colleagues without sending anyone to Wired Journalists or my blog, you can access it directly at http://tinyurl.com/civilcomments

I’ll share the results in a few days.

Thanks in advance!

SPJ’s News Gems blog to close?

Jon Marshall’s News Gems blog at SPJ.org has been a quiet, consistent resource, chronicling high-quality reporting for more than three years.

Marshall is moving on to other endeavors:

“As we reach the end of 2008, I wish I could say that things have gotten easier for journalists. Of course they haven’t. But after producing this blog for three and a half years, I’m heartened by the tremendous stories we’ve had the honor of showcasing, from the first News Gem about nola.com’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina to brave reporting of the Iraq War to groundbreaking investigative scoops and beautiful profiles, narratives, photos and videos. I worried at first that there wouldn’t be enough good stories to fill the blog on a regular basis. I’ve had the opposite problem: too many great stories and not enough time to highlight them all.”

Read the whole thing.

Good luck to Jon, and a note to the SPJ: Don’t take down the blog, leave it up as an archive — it’s a tremendous list of stories that should stay in place.  Better yet, keep the blog going with new contributors.  I’ve enjoyed it, and learned from it.

Looking back: My year at the Santa Cruz Sentinel

For those of you unfamiliar with my personal and professional timeline, I worked at the Santa Cruz Sentinel from October 2006 through the end of September 2007, first in a position accurately titled Webmaster, and later as the Online Editor, working in a mostly bright, young newsroom in downtown Santa Cruz, blocks from the Pacific Ocean.  I walked to work.  I liked it.

Morale got pretty crappy there a couple corporate owners into my stay, and rather than stick around when the newsroom moved a couple miles up the highway out of town, I took a new job with a GateHouse Media in Fairport, NY, worked from home for a while, and then moved out here to the frozen (well, it’s been warm and melty for a couple days as I write this) tundra.

So the year in question isn’t 2008, it’s October 2006 through September 2007.

Tom Honig was the executive editor at the Sentinel during my time there, and along with Don Miller, the managing editor, presided over what were clearly pretty crappy times for a local newspaper.

If you’ve been reading my blog on any sort of regular basis, you know that I’m not one to pull punches when it comes to newspaper management, but I am going to disappoint you if you expect me to dish about the miniature dramas and deleted blog posts and questionable decisions that are the fodder of local e-mail newsletters and DeCinzo cartoons.

In other words, sure, these guys weren’t geniuses at operating a newspaper in a market that was completely, utterly, and politically disconnected from them, but hey, they certainly weren’t the only ones in that situation in 2006-2007.

That said, I was curious when Honig passed along a link to a recent story he wrote for the local alt-weekly about the state of the Sentinel since MediaNews bought the paper.

Here’s a clip:

“Community newspapers ought to forget about the frivolous stories. Sure, go ahead and put wire stories about Madonna and Heather Locklear somewhere in the paper. But when it comes to local, the core audience–the ones who will keep buying the paper–want real news. Is the water clean, and is there enough of it? If you oppose widening Highway 1, what real-world solution is there to mass transit? How much pollution is spewed into the air over Highway 1, and would it be less or more if a lane were added? Forget the tree-sitters at UCSC–what kind of research is being done on campus, and how about a story explaining in simple language what they’re working on at the Human Genome Project? Is illegal immigration affecting wages in Santa Cruz? What has happened to all those loan officers from the housing boom? Is District Attorney Bob Lee looking into any illegal predatory lending practices? If he isn’t, why not”

There’s nothing in there that’s news to me, and anyone who was in an A1 meeting that year with Tom and Don know what in that paragraph to take with a grain of salt, but it certainly did get me thinking about what I learned (a lot) from my year at the Sentinel.

Here are a few of the more specific things I learned at the Sentinel that should apply to any newsroom:

  • The copy chief is likely to be the smartest person in the room.
  • Make sure that crazy thing you heard on the scanner isn’t a drill.  Do not speed over to the wharf unless you’ve confirmed there’s a car in the water, or a beached whale.  (Alternate: If the sun is setting and you really feel like taking a walk on the wharf, don’t confirm anything. Just go.)
  • If anyone tells you it’s a good idea to do a daily video newscast that’s anything less than Ledger Live, tell them they’re wasting your time, then go outside with the video camera and shoot something new.
  • Make friends with the cops reporter, who will have a steady supply of breaking news.
  • Any camera will do the job when news breaks.  Many reporters e-mailed in photos taken with mobile phones from accident scenes and other situations where it would have been at least an hour before a photographer’s camera or a reporter’s SD card would have been back in the newsroom to be ravaged.
  • Let everyone take a turn with the audio and video equipment, but put everything in crash cases so when it falls off their desk, it bounces..  (You know who you are…)
  • Don’t lay off the education reporter AND the higher education reporter in a college town with serious school funding issues.
  • If you can’t figure out what photo would go with your story, you’ve written the wrong story.  Go back to your notes and find a human being.
  • When you’re shooting video for a newspaper and you find yourself standing next to three shooters from local TV, you’re standing in the wrong place.  Don’t bother duplicating their story — go find something better than a stand-up.
  • The reporter who writes the “society” column is the person to go to when you need a source, or a phone number, or a story idea.
  • If you want to get anything really great done, treat every conversation with management as though it were your exit interview. 😉

Bonus link: A letter to the editor in the alt-weekly the following week, which manages to both amuse and sadden while it repeats the common jab at newspapers that don’t write stories about their own layoffs. (It really is a personnel issue, people.)

Super-extra bonus link: The video I shot of the last press run in downtown Santa Cruz before the press was sold for scrap and the Mercury News started printing the Sentinel.

Only-in-Santa-Cruz bonus link: The truck carrying the press over Highway 17 wrecked, providing the Sentinel with a news story.  Eh, actually, no link to that.  Either it happened before the Sentinel switched content management systems and is gone from the Interwebs for now, or it’s behind an archive paywall anyway.  The jist of it: The truck carrying the Sentinel press to be scrapped rolled over on Highway 17.

CoPress launches hosted WordPress sites for student media

First, a bit of history: The first time I fiddled with a newspaper Web site, it was thespartandaily.com, after I walked into an adviser’s office at San Jose State’s School of Journalism & Mass Communications and asked something like “hey, any way to get an RSS feed off that thing?”

There was, and we did, and I spent a good chunk of time over the next two semesters redesigning the site, migrating it from one host to a second one that had purchased the first, and supporting early efforts at multimedia at the Daily.

But it wasn’t easy. And little of the code I had to muck about in to get the site to do what I wanted was code that I could learn from, or re-use, or maintain in any sort of extensible way.

Since then, more options have popped up for hosting student media Web sites, the most popular and obvious one being to launch a WordPress site on your own server.

But of course, it would be nice if there were one place to share tips, tricks, plugins, ideas, and code snippets with other students and advisers working with WordPress for student newspapers, right?

CoPress wants to be that place.

I’ve had a chance to talk, chat, and tweet with some of the students and recent graduates behind CoPress over the last few months, and I think they’re clearly the sharpest minds in online student media right now.

Here’s the short list of resources, places to start looking into CoPress, if you’re serious about getting your news site off that big popular hosted solution and thinking about giving students, staff, and advisers a chance to learn more than how to paste from Word into a WYSIWYG editor:

  • CoPress.org: Subscribe to the blog’s feed, read more about the budding organization, and contact the team.
  • CoPress Hosting: Not planning to deal with development, design, or server hosting on your own?  Talk with the CoPress team about what they can do for you.
  • CoPress on Twitter: Follow the team on Twitter.
  • CoPress on iTunes: Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.  The CoPress team has done an amazing job of staying transparent, posting recordings of their conference calls as a regular podcast.

If it sounds like I’m excited about this, I am.  This blog started out life in 2005 as “Ryan Sholin’s J-School Blog,” and as far as I’m concerned, working in student media is the best way to build your skillset, on deadline, with real stories, photos, video, readers, comments, and every other element live and in play.  If CoPress makes it easier for students to expand that skillset to cover development, design, and site management for online news, that’s fantastic.

Wired Journalists in 2008: Were you in it to win?

Howard “yes, he’s my boss” Owens follows up on the December 2007 post that spawned Wired Journalists with an update as the year grinds to a burly, overwhelming close. (Well, it’s been that way the last couple weeks for me, at least.)

Howard asks how wired you’ve become in 2008:

The post stirred a lot of conversation, but I only heard from a couple of reporters who were taking on the MBO program.  I’ve not heard back on progress from any of them in months.

Editors John Robinson in Greensboro and Linda Grist Cunningham in Rockford set up similar programs for their newsrooms.  Robinson, I know, rewarded at least two staff members for completing his list of “get wired” goals.

Of course, Howard framed this as an “MBO program” and to me, it’s always going to be more organic and harder to track than any checklist with accountability, so here’s my completely anecdotal analysis:

  • More journalists are using Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking and reporting tools to connect with their peers, sources, and readers.
  • More journalists are learning multimedia skills, whether it’s as simple as point-and-shoot video or as complicated as XML-to-Flash.
  • More journalists are getting curious about what all this new media talk is all about, even if that just means they’re curious enough to sign up for Wired Journalists (where there are now more than 3,000 members) and lurk.
  • All of this is good.

What about you?  How do you think journalists, in general, are doing at adopting (and adapting to) new technology? 

If Howard were to re-write his post for next year, what should the objectives for a wired journalist be in 2009?

Carnival of Journalism: Five positive predictions for new media in 2009

For this month’s Carnival of Journalism, Dave Cohn is asking for positive (if possible) predictions for the new media world of 2009.

How about 5?

  1. Mobile video streaming goes mainstream: Probably tied to disaster/breaking news reporting from non-professionals, a la 9/11 blogs, the YouTube tsunami of 2004, Flickr bombings of 2005, and the livetweeted siege of #Mumbai in 2008.  Whether it’s the expansion of a startup like Qik or Flixwagon or a wildcard like an improved iPhone with a real video camera, something is going to change in 2009 that’s going to put live mobile video at our fingertips.
  2. Fewer newspaper jobs means more local news startups:  As major metro news organizations continue to contract, consolidate, and implode, more journalists will walk away from the press, but not walk away from reporting.  Right now, most of this is happening at the national level (think: Politico) or in local blogs, but as more entrepreneurial journalists leave the “industry,” more of them will start small businesses of their own, reporting on their neighborhoods.
  3. Local news organizations will continue to improve at being “of” the Web and not just “on” it:  Yep, that means more newspapers (and local TV stations) on Twitter, blogging, livechatting, streaming video, participating in comment threads, and generally getting in gear — though still perhaps far behind the pace of Internet time.  This seems obvious enough, although as a media critic, if all you’re looking at is a selection of major metro papers, you’re not going to see the changes as clearly as readers — or participants in the news site’s social web — will see them.
  4. Alternative business models for monetizing journalism will flourish: There are plenty of ideas kicking around already on this front, although few of them are coming from traditional news organizations.  That won’t matter, because people with ideas for solving the riddle of funding quality journalism without the revenue of a standard daily print product are already having success.
  5. Crowdsourcing tools will evolve on the backs on existing platforms: I’m thinking DocumentCloud plus Twitter or Facebook, or some similar combination that lets a large news organization with a large social network power through large documents (think: US Attorney firings data dump analysis at Talking Points Memo, but with a much bigger crowd and structured data instead of a comment thread.)

And of course, a bonus prediction:

  • Major newspapers and huge newspaper companies will continue to consolidate, sputter, fail, and close — but it won’t matter.  The people formerly known as readers will be too busy informing each other about their world to notice.

So, got any predictions of your own for 2009? (Remember, we’re trying to keep it positive…)

Is this the democratization of media or a Media Republic?

A massive new report from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University takes on some of the most important questions about change in the world of journalism — and to be more precise, change in the world of information distribution, consumption, and participation.

I talked with project leader Persephone Miel during a Knight Foundation conference at MIT this summer.  She worked on this report for a year, thanks to a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

What was most striking about her attitude then, and what stands out now in the chapters of this report, is a refreshing purity of cause.  This is not a report about what newspapers are doing wrong and how to fix it; this is a real live report on how well New Media appears to be informing the citizens of the world on themselves.

It’s not about whether or not new tools for communication are successfully replacing or supplanting the old ones, it’s about whether or not we’re getting the information we need to make educated decisions about our lives.

So, take a look at the menu of PDFs, and choose a few to crack open over the weekend.

I’m going to take a closer look at Ethan Zuckerman’s report on International News, having been blown away by the work of Global Voices since I started reading blogs four-plus years ago.  Why am I so interested in international news when I spend 40-96 hours a week working with small-town-America newspapers?

Well, the quality of international news coming out of wire services and national news organizations was one of the big reasons I decided to get into journalism in the first place.  As I’ve learned more about reporting and reporters, I think in most situations, it is extremely difficult for an objective outside observer to understand what’s really going on in a town, a neighborhood, a favela, a rancho, a barrio — there are barriers of language, class, nationality, culture, attitude, wealth — the same way we talk about newspapers being “on the Web” or “of the Web,” well, you can be “in the neighborhood” all you want, but if you’re not “of the neighborhood,” you’re not getting the whole story.

That’s what keeps me so interested in projects like Rising Voices and other small-town versions in the U.S. that aim to empower people “of the neighborhood” to do their own reporting.  That’s the difference, from my point of view, between a media republic, where we entrust a limited number of experts to provide us with information, and a true democratization of media, wherein we take up the cameras and notepads and laptops ourselves and tell the stories of our neighborhood.