Bill Mitchell


Bill Mitchell is a Poynter Affiliate who most recently led Poynter’s entrepreneurial and international programs and served as a member of its faculty. Previously, Bill headed for 10 years. Before joining Poynter in 1999, he worked as editor of Universal New Media (‘95-‘99) and director of electronic publishing at the San Jose Mercury News (‘92-‘95). Bill previously was a reporter, editor, Washington correspondent and European correspondent for the Detroit Free Press & Knight Ridder, and a bureau chief for TIME. He served as a Pulitzer juror in 2002 and 2003. Contact Bill at


Google Cardboard: Novelty or Useful?

New York Times distributes Google Cardboard to its subscribers so they can watch virtual reality stories.

New York Times distributed Google Cardboard to its subscribers so they can watch New York Times virtual reality stories. (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Somewhere in a box, I have a cue cat, a device that emerged 15 years ago as the next cool navigator of digital content. Its final destination after an investment of $185 million? Oblivion.

I was reminded of the device in a Facebook post Saturday by Howard Finberg, who recalled its sorry demise by way of hoping for better from the Google Cardboard, the virtual reality device that showed up with home-delivered copies of the New York Times this past weekend.

The future of the Cardboard undoubtedly lies somewhere between the forgettable fate of the cue cat and the world-changing impact of the mouse, that magical explorer of all things digital devised a half century ago by the late Stanford researcher, Douglas Engelbart. Read more


Spotlight: Why it works and how it matters

spotlight-one-sheetThe new Spotlight movie opening in select cities this weekend is such a big deal in Boston that several university journalism programs staged special advance screenings earlier this week.

After failing to worm my way into any of those events, I showed up at Spotlight’s first public unveiling Thursday night. It’s showing at a theater just down the street from a couple of notable scenes in this stunning account of the Boston Globe’s investigation of clergy sexual abuse.

Crossing Tremont Street from the Boylston stop on the Green Line, I confessed to my wife, Carol, a parochial question I imagine one or two other journalists might share.

And that’s this: When the film comes up in discussion with family and friends at Thanksgiving Dinner in a few weeks, what impact will it have had on the public’s perception of journalists? Read more


On the ethics of family obit writing

When I finished the first draft of Uncle Bob’s obit last week, I shared it as a Google Doc with family members and invited their “edits, trims or additions.”

Although I failed to realize it at the time, I was making a fundamental declaration of my loyalties, the sort of critical ethical distinction addressed so precisely by Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach in “The Elements of Journalism.”

“The first loyalty” of journalists, they argue, is not to the subject of coverage, nor is to the writer or the advertiser or even the reader/viewer/listener. Instead, they insist, journalists owe their biggest obligation to “citizens.”

For the sake of this discussion, I’ll interpret “citizens” broadly enough to include not just those with a particular legal status but everyone with a potential stake in the truth of a story at hand. Read more


5 tips for getting people to go on the record

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe's deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the

Michael Kranish, the Boston Globe’s deputy Washington bureau chief, was able to get classmates of Jeb Bush to talk on the record about their recollections. (Screengrab from the

With the presidential primaries just a year away, we’ve entered the stage of the permanent campaign that will include many foundational profiles of the potential candidates.

Among the perennial challenges of such stories: sources reluctant to go on the record with critical remarks or recollections about someone who might end up as leader of the free world.

The Boston Globe published a 4,100-word version of the genre in its Sunday edition: a profile of Jeb Bush’s high school years at Phillips Academy by Michael Kranish, the paper’s deputy Washington bureau chief.

It’s the sort of look back at the bad-boy-years often diminished by blind quotes that readers have no way of verifying (and that I’ve been guilty of relying on myself way back when). Read more

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Journalists can learn how to use Medicare surveys of their local hospitals to develop stories about the quality of the care they provide. (Depositphotos)

How to tap into patient reviews of local hospitals

If you haven’t examined how your local hospitals performed in the latest Medicare surveys, you’re missing out on some important stories with high likely readership.

Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News joined us for a chat on how journalists can use the surveys.

The surveys, one of the first parts of the Affordable Care Act, probe patient attitudes on such questions as how carefully doctors and nurses listened to them, how often they were treated with courtesy and respect, how well their pain was controlled and, among other things, where they’d rate the hospital on a scale from “worst hospital possible” to “best hospital possible.”

The results of the surveys are used to provide more than 2,500 hospitals nationwide with federal government bonuses or penalties, depending on the survey results. Read more

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online money

How two small family-owned newspapers in Vermont had success with a paywall

(This case study, the first of an occasional series, was underwritten by a grant from the Stibo Foundation. Poynter affiliate Bill Mitchell did the reporting for the article in 2012, and it has been updated and edited by Media Business Analyst Rick Edmonds, who is general editor of the project.)

Most discussion about online paywalls has focused on the big guys, and more recently, on big chains. The New York Times boasts of dramatic results from the wall it erected in March 2011 and its subsequent success selling all-digital subscriptions and print + digital bundles. Gannett is the largest of the many chains that have followed suit and seen growth in circulation revenues, up in 2012 industry-wide for the first time in years.

More and more smaller and mid-sized news organizations are investigating ways to charge for content online, but it is a more daunting task for small papers, especially independents. Read more


NY newspapers follow story of cop, boots and barefoot man

(Updated Monday morning with NYT interview of the homeless man.)

Some stories break. Others, as legendary editor Gene Roberts famously observed, ooze. The story of a New York City police officer’s kindness to a homeless man broke last week, went viral on social media and attracted widespread coverage from the established media. It began oozing on Friday.

[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "Next chapter in story of cop, boots and barefoot man" on Storify</a>]<br /> <h1>Next chapter in story of cop, boots and barefoot man</h1> <h2>Some stories break. Others, as legendary editor Gene Roberts famously observed, ooze. The story of a New York City police officer’s kindness to a homeless man broke last week, went viral on social media and attracted widespread coverage from the established media. Read more

How a photo spread of NYPD officer helping homeless man

During a visit to New York’s Times Square this week, tourist Jennifer Foster snapped a cell phone photo of a police officer helping a homeless man. That photo became a story that unfolded for me like this. Read more


New York Times creates new story form for ‘Watching Syria’s War’

Watching the video is almost unbearable.

But grasping the horror of what’s happening in Syria without watching it is almost unthinkable.

A Father’s Farewell,” posted Oct. 12 to a curation site maintained by The New York Times, appears to tell the story of a father clinging to – and praying for – a child killed during shelling in the city of Hammuria.

The post is among about 85 published by the Times on its “Watching Syria’s War” site, which the paper launched four months ago.

Videos shot by non-journalists have become an important source of information about fighting waged mostly beyond the reach of an international press corps barred from entering the country by Syrian officials.

The problem with the videos, of course, is the difficulty in verifying exactly what they show. Read more


Arab Spring journalism advances with Morsi Meter

There’s no doubt that social media played a big role in the Arab Spring’s toppling of oppressive regimes. But now that Twitter and Facebook have helped ordinary citizens get rid of leaders they despise, how might they put social media to work shaping the sort of leadership they want? A new site created by a couple of twenty-something Egyptians is about to shed early light on the question.

Morsi Meter, a watchdog service modeled on Politifact’s Obameter, is tracking 64 promises by the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. “This was a very unplanned project,” one of the founders, Amr Sobhy, told me in a Skype interview last week.

“When I saw Morsi being declared the president of Egypt I was really excited because, finally, we have a civil president. Read more

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