ON THE MEDIA – Poynter Big Ideas conference


UPDATED 11 a.m. (EDT) Building local community
Did you know that most of the black press contingent was barred from the Staples Center Michael Jackson memorial? Neither did I – but The Skanner did, and so did thousands of people who clicked on their story.

The Skanner news group is a 34-year-old African American newspaper in Portland and Seattle, an area that editor Lisa Loving described as overwhelmingly and demographically white, white, white,” adding that The Skanner is one of the few avenues in Seattle and Portland for the African American community to get their message out to a wider (and whiter) audience. Among The Skanner’s Big Ideas:

• A Google cold case map, created in cooperation with Portland police, which gets “mega hits” — and four of the cases have been solved.

Poynter Big Idea highlights

Building local community

Virtual copy desk

Making social networking work

Producing three minutes in 2.5 hours – nightly news podcast

Big News=Big Work
The 7 to 7 Breaking News Blog

• A mission to build web-based community service projects “rooted in our local communities but with an appeal to wider audience.” Two examples: an emergency preparedness page and a soon-to-launch project to help bridge the digital divide, that has led to a partnership with local Sabin CDC to run computer skills training at five community locations targeting job seekers, senior citizens, teen parents, and more. The Skanner also has a job search page with tips and links to help for resume-building, computer skills classes and more.

UPDATED 10:00 a.m. (EDT)
Virtual copy desk
A virtual copy desk in Georgia and a new Facebook app for the Charlotte Observer.

From Columbus, Georgia
Jerry Morehouse at the Ledger-Enquirer talked about a virtual copy desk shared by four McClatchy newspapers in the area. They have developed a system of editing once and laying out content once, but only for limited sections of the newspapers.

• What they send to the shared, virtual copy desk: Some whole pages, such as stock reports or baseball scores. The common layout is done daily (nightly) and then shipped to all four papers – saving them time and freeing people to do other work.

• What they don’t send: Local stories – “I don’t know the names of the streets or the people” in other cities.

Making social networking work
Steve Gunn at the Charlotte Observer is making social networking work for the newspaper. Two strategies:

• Aggregating Twitter feeds – each staff member who participates has their Tweet aggregated, which means that each has a separate Twitter account and identity but all the Tweets appear in the Observer’s stream.

• A particularly cool Facebook page, inspired by a University of Minnesota/Knight Foundation project, is about to launch. The page gives people points for participation – check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/observerfacebook

UPDATED 11:40 a.m. (EDT), 7/14/09
Producing three minutes in 2.5 hours – nightly news podcast
Suzannah Gonzales, a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, developed her own podcast and sold editors on the idea. The three-minute, Monday-through-Friday podcast features top local news stories from all sections of the paper. People can subscribe or listen on the computer.

Gonzales estimates that this takes about 2.5 hours per day, Sunday through Thursday. Staffing: two reporters (who maintain regular beats as well as podcasting), one editor to look over the scripts each night, and a digital recorder, microphone and microphone stand in a soundproof room.

Gonzales says the podcast “embraces new technologies, adds another dimension to the overall operation, and aims to capitalize on the different ways people are getting news.” She says that, with the procedures she has developed, it’s simple enough for an intern to do it. An intern may have done the podcast one night while she’s here, but Suzannah anchors the podcast four out of five nights, and it’s hard to imagine that it would go for long without her obvious news savvy and behind-the-mike talent.

Her Big Idea bullet point page provides a recipe for producing a three-minute podcast. (It’s not on a public web page yet, but I’ll ask her permission to share it with anyone who’s interested.) She’s got a great idea, and it’s also easy to see how it could be adapted to include website video.

UPDATED 10:40 a.m. (EDT), 7/14/09
Big Ideas=Big Work
Big Ideas mean big work for somebody – and in today’s journalism / recession / funding climate, that means killer workloads and impossibly long days.

This morning’s presenters at Poynter’s Big Ideas conference got some push-back, with questions from the group arguing that the workload required for multimedia, social networking newsrooms requires journalists in those projects to be “on” for 24 hours, always ready to respond to breaking news, in an unending 24/7 (or at least 24/5) schedule.

I know that’s true for small operations like the TC Daily Planet – but I am hearing that it is also true for major news operations that have a newspaper, on-line presence and on-line video and audio news delivery. Including readers – via blogs, Twitter and other social networking – improves the end product through greater interactivity and contributions, but it takes more time, not less.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure there is one. Now – back to hear from the Austin American-Statesman’s Suzannah Gonzales on her podcasts. If you want to tune in to the liveblog of the conference, go to Poynter’s liveblog.

UPDATED 2:15 p.m. (EDT), 7/13/09
The Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact is a dynamite project of the St. Petersburg Times that political junkies like me love. And here’s Scott Montgomery, one of its editors! If you don’t know PolitiFact.com already, check it out. Here are some of the bullet points from Scott’s presentation:

• Every day, reporters and researchers from the Times examine statements by members of Congress, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in Washington. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.

• The first thing we did – we ditched fake balance. No need for comments about why someone got something wrong – just the facts.

• We used our news judgement: We didn’t feel compelled to fact check every Rotary Club speech by every candidate. We went after things that we didn’t know the answers to, but we knew they were interesting and that illuminated public policy issues.

• It’s just as valuable to say what’s true as what’s false. We are not a gotcha site, not just trying to trash everybody.

• We’re not afraid to waste good reporting. If there wasn’t enough information to reach a conclusion, we didn’t publish it. We are not going to fake it, not going to make a call on something when we don’t have an answer.

• Most important: We make the call, rating the statement as true, false, barely true, pants on fire. The website shows the statement, and the ruling on our snazzy little graphic Truth-O-Meter. Click on the judgement, and go to a page with documentation. We list all of our sources and provide links to every document, creating a strong sense of transparency and credibility.

• Now we have built the Obameter. We have built a database with every one of the president’s promises. Even if we didn’t check up on all those things all the time – as a primary document of the Obama presidency, it’s an amazing thing.

• Staffing and platform: Two full-time reporters plus Bill Adair (Washington bureau chief) and Scott Montgomery (St. Petersburg Times) and a part-time reporter. It’s built on Janga, which our IT department had never worked with.

• On an average day now, the Truth-O-Meter has 30-40,000 unique visitors. We’ve seen it in the million range, so it doesn’t seem as good.

The 7 to 7 Breaking News Blog

The 7 to 7 Breaking News Blog is the Providence Journal’s Big Idea – and all 80 reporters and photographers on the paper contribute, resulting in blog posts on every “interesting and important” story. Stories appear first as a single line or paragraph, following the motto, “Blog first – write now.” Updates add details, links, and more info.

Everything is edited before being published, but the lag time is still less than 10 minutes. Multiple reporters can contribute, with blog posts connected by common tags and similar heads.

One key: “Through frequent training of reporters and editors in the finer points of blogging — blog style, linking, tagging, etc. — we drive the point home repeatedly: We are serious about not just competing in, but winning, the breaking-news struggle with TV, radio and the Associated Press.”