Archive for the 'citizen journalism' Category

Getting press coverage part 2: the editor’s desk

June 29, 2007

I promised over a month ago to write a guide to getting your work into print. Before we start, though, a disclaimer:

If you are serious about starting a writing career, there are books and web sites galore that will give you more than enough information about the process of writing query letters, the right way to pitch ideas, and so on.

But say you just want to get press coverage for an issue you care about or an event you’re running. You don’t really have the time or interest to become a professional freelancer, but you have to learn the basics or no newspaper is going to give you a second glance. That’s where this might help you.

Why do I think I’m at all qualified to write this little guide? I’ve seen both sides. I’ve freelanced for local publications, and before I graduated I spent three semesters as managing editor of my school’s student newspaper. I may not be the most experienced, most rugged freelancer, but I think these tips could help anyone just starting out in the biz.

Read more after the jump.

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Vox: Getting press coverage

May 15, 2007

My friend Vox wrote an excellent post this morning on getting mainstream media to pay attention to issues that don’t get enough coverage. Not only that, but her guide includes tips that any writer who wants to break into newspapers can use.


Write a lede that is one or two sentences long and says, without any adjectives or colorful language, exactly what the story is writing about. Here’s a good example from Fox News: “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa condemned the Police Department’s use of force against demonstrators and reporters at an immigration rally, saying he was ‘deeply, personally troubled’ by the clash.” [This is harder than it sounds. I still struggle with this, of course–I’m just starting out–but I know even well-established journalists have to pay special attention to their ledes. A class I was in last semester spent about seven weeks on writing ledes only–and half the students still hadn’t got it by the end.]

Use “said” or “asked” when quoting someone. Do not use “shouted,” “whined,” or anything else. There are exceptions to this, but when in doubt, just avoid it. [I’m so glad I’m done with professors who hand out “Words to use in place of ‘said'” sheets in their writing classes. Yes, people actually do this, and I’m baffled as to why. It’s not doing anyone any favors to make students think that using a thesaurus indiscriminately–especially for dialogue tags–is good writing.]

There are more tips at the original post. I’d like to see a follow-up post about how to actually get your story seen by an editor (which maybe I’ll tackle later), but this is a great start. Check it out here.

Goodbye, Mr. Imus

April 15, 2007

52-posts-13-dc_wp.jpg 52-posts-13-wsj.jpg 52-posts-13-nyt.jpg

The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times front pages for April 13, 13, and 11, respectively. From Newseum and the NY Times.

Can we please lay Don Imus: The Scandal to rest? The media are jumping on this like he’s the next Anna Nicole Smith. And yet I have yet to hear anyone speak out on the fact that the man and his idiotic comments are overhyped, just like Anna was. What’s the deal? Is it because the man is, technically, a member of the media, and we love pointing out the mistakes of our own kind? (Probably.) Is it because the media gets a righteous satisfaction from pointing out examples of racism? “Look, we’re not nearly as bad as this guy!” (Probably.)

Imus was, still is, probably, a jackass. But that does not warrant the front-page treatment he’s gotten from major newspapers. On the 11th, Imus and the Rutgers girls made the front page of the New York Times, no joke. On the 13th, when Imus’s firing was announced, his mug graced the front pages of papers ranging from the New York Post and Daily News to the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Most of these ran the story above the fold. Slow news day? In Washington, DC? I doubt it.

The SF Chronicle teased the story on the front page but wasted no more space on it. Google News provides 4000+ hits for the man’s name.

Blogs are not exempt from jumping on the Imus-ragging bandwagon. On Technorati on the 13th, “Imus” was the top search and top tag for the day. Since the beginning of April, over 50,000 blogs have felt the need to weigh in on the “controversy.”

The problem is there is no controversy. Don Imus was a racist talk show host. He probably should have been fired a long time ago. Now he has been fired. Hooray! End of story. Rehashing tired “scandals” is not what citizen journalism is supposed to be for. The mainstream media isn’t supposed to leap on these stories either, but I think it’s pretty accepted now that they will, no matter how wrong it is.

It wasn’t so long ago, though, that we dreamed that blogs would fill in where the mainstream media left off. Bloggers would call attention to stories and issues neglected by the big newspapers and TV stations. Beautiful dream, eh? Instead, everyone with a keyboard feels the need to give their opinions about the exact level of jerkitude possessed by Imus. Enough! Where’s the outrage that important issues are being neglected for this circus? (The New York Observer’s Media Mob has started an Imus tally, a tongue-in-cheek count of the number of Imus pieces in each major New York City paper.) Here on Long Island, Imus’s firing topped the news hour on CBS, relegating the governor of New Jersey’s car crash to much later. Governor Corzine remains in critical condition.

On the blogosphere, I have no way of knowing which stories have been pushed to the side in favor of rehashing the “racist talk show host” debate. It’s up to you guys to tell me! There are so many things going on in the world at any given moment. Pick one. Inform me.

(For three takes on Imus that are more than just bashing or rehashing the news, try these: Chicago Tribune | Washington Post | Newsday)

Tapping into the power of the masses

March 22, 2007

Broadcast media can’t just be a bullhorn anymore; it has to be an invitation, or it misses out on some of the best stuff happening around it.

Radio is so boring, isn’t it? All the commentators on the morning programs sound exactly the same (this is a proven fact, look it up) and the rest of the time you hear the same old tired mix of music, news, traffic and weather. If you have a question or a comment or a song request, you’ve got to sit on hold, or worse, sit listening to the phone ring, wondering if anyone will ever pick up. Sometimes, since ClearChannel owns all our radio, you can sit, receiver to ear for hours, waiting for someone to pick up, but no-one ever will. (Not to compare this disaster to one’s inability to request “Flashdance” for the fifth day in a row. But you see the point.)

Now there’s a new kind of radio in town. Radio Open Source, hosted by the man who delivered the world’s first podcast, Chris Lydon. Four times a week, ROS releases hour-long radio shows on tons of diverse topics. What got me listening was an archived show on the literature of 9/11; what I’m excited to listen to in the future is the Passion Thursday series, where Lydon interviews average folks about their passions. One week it’s the tuba, the next it’s candy, the next it’s birdwatching. All the shows are freely available online, in streaming and in podcast form, and are syndicated on public radio stations in ten states.

But here’s the fun part: Before, during, and after the show, Lydon and his staff solicit comments through ROS’s blog. “[Commenters] give us their reading lists, suggest sources, and tell us what to ask,” goes the pitch. “You can call this citizen journalism, or you can call this lazy.”

It’s not lazy, of course, though it isn’t exactly citizen journalism, at least by the definition I was taught. What it is, is a smart way of using technology to make intelligent products that (I hope) people want to hear.

Lydon adds that ROS tries to get at least one blogger on every show:

We look at every blogger as a “fixer,” a journalist”s term for someone with local knowledge, someone who speaks the language and can tell us who to talk to.

(Caveat: Radio Open Source is not “new.” But I’d imagine their subscriber base has really taken off in the past few months. I’ll report back to you what I find!)

This is very similar to what Wired magazine is doing with Assignment Zero : they call it “crowdsourcing.” According to the New York Times, after about two months, Jeff Howe, the contributing editor at Wired who coined the term, will “draw on the reporting from AssignmentZero to write a feature article in Wired about the phenomenon.”
Gosh, I hope the Times got something wrong here. I love all this Web 2.0 junk, but if it takes two months of work by the plebian masses to produce one story, perhaps we’re not going about this the right way.

On the other hand, all the information collected, even if it doesn’t make it into print, will remain archived on the Web, easily accessible by Google. The information at Radio Open Source (such as the “extra credit reading,” links to relevant information that appear before the show airs) will still be there. The work won’t be wasted. This is akin to a “traditional” reporter making his or her notes available after a story’s been written; maybe there were a few good anecdotes that didn’t make it into the profile, maybe some important background information on an issue that was cut for space. I’m hopeful that the crowdsourcing concept can also filter through all the extraneous materials of differing importance after the really important stuff has been published; seems to be doing a fairly decent job at this.

Even keeping this in mind, though, it seems like an enormous amount of work for what will be, in the end, a small finished product. The costs are immense–sure, Wired and Radio Open Source get free labor, but they and other similar organizations have to employ editors, tech people, and reporters to make these things work well. Not to mention fact-checkers. It is a pain, I’d guess, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is a lot of work to open your newsroom to the average person.

But I don’t think journalists can afford not to.