Caitlin Johnston

Jobs, vector

Newspaper reporter is ‘worst job’ in 2013, study says

Newspaper reporters can add to the list of sources telling them to flee journalism.

The group took 200 jobs and ranked them in order from most to least desirable, based on factors such as environment, income, outcome and stress. Add all that together and newspaper reporter rings in at a dismal 200 out of 200 – the worst job on CareerCast’s list, below lumberjack, janitor, garbage collector and bus driver.

“We look at a wide range of criteria, as analytical as we can be,” said Tony Lee, CareerCast’s publisher. “There are some subjective pieces but, frankly, it’s really driven by the data.”

The data come from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and trade associations. Read more


Newspaper acquisition market keeps churning: Colorado Springs Gazette resold after four months

Aaron Kushner’s 2100 Trust investment group is selling The Colorado Springs Gazette just four months after buying the paper.


The company, led by former greeting-card entrepreneur Kushner, acquired the Gazette and six other papers when it bought Freedom Communications in July.

But the sale to billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group isn’t a sign that Kushner is losing interest in newspapers. Read more

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Journalism that works: Telling the story of school deterioration, rebuilding

Many of America’s school buildings are in disarray, with leaking roofs, toxic air and termite-infested walls. Parade Magazine decided to tackle this issue in a 2,000-word story, but one that editors and freelancer Barry Yeoman chose to tell through a lens of success rather than as an unrelenting diatribe.

“It was a story that was reporting on a very difficult problem, but we also knew if we didn’t have a solutions piece of it, that it wouldn’t have the impact on readers who tend to gloss over stories that are just unrelentingly depressing,” Yeoman told Poynter. “If you tell an uplifting story, you’re more likely to get readers to be able to focus on the underlying problems.”

Jennifer Marquez, Parade’s articles editor and daughter of a public school teacher, pitched the story after coming across a statistic from the group “Rebuild America’s Schools” about how many millions of students attend class in deteriorating buildings. Her own experience in worn-down school buildings, plus the statistics she found, enhanced a natural curiosity about what she described as a national problem that needed local solutions.

Yeoman, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Glamour and countless other publications, says while the idea didn’t originate as a positive story, it quickly grew in that direction.

“While obviously it’s very important to be unflinching in talking about how bad many of our nation’s school buildings are, it made sense to travel to schools that were doing it right,” Yeoman says. “It’s easy to document poor conditions from a distance … But what I needed to see firsthand were schools that were reversing the trend, that were finding solutions and actually creating really inspiring school buildings.”

One such school was California’s Santa Ana High School. The community filled with immigrant families working multiple jobs banded together and raised the money to renovate the dilapidated 1935 building. Yeoman reports:

Raising taxes would not be easy in a city that in 2004 was ranked No. 1 for “urban hardship” by the Rockefeller Institute of Government. But in 2008, Santa Ana residents voted two to one for a $200 million bond issue that would improve the city’s 56 public schools. The resulting property-tax increase—less than $100 per year for a modest house—meant collective belt tightening. “We saw parents picking up recyclables just to make ends meet,” says Maria Cante, the high school’s community and family outreach liaison. But relatively few complained, she says—they knew that better schools would give their children a surer shot at higher education.

Journalists are hardwired to tell the gritty, dismal, stark stories of injustice. What draws us into the profession – the urge to expose wrongdoings and educate readers or listeners about social and environmental problems – can make it almost unnatural to approach a story from a positive angle, Yeoman says.

“We become journalists because we feel called, because we have a sense of mission,” Yeoman says. “We are more oriented toward telling stories of social problems because we want to see them corrected. Otherwise, why would we stay in a field that is shrinking before our very eyes and has never offered the type of livelihood that other college educated professionals might expect?”

At the very core of many of us is the impulse to write about what is wrong with the world, Yeoman says. And that generally comes in the form of stories that are not uplifting.

But that urge to drift away from the inspiring is also a byproduct of pushing back against the onslaught of spin and agenda thrown at us from publicists daily.

“So many of the positive stories that cross our desks have built-in reasons for suspicion,” Yeoman says. “And when that sets off our alarms, we run in the other direction.”

While reporting this story and figuring out what schools to highlight, Yeoman said he relied on what he calls a “pretty good BS detector.” After covering politics and government, he developed a knack for telling when a source is being honest.

“I know when I’m being sold,” Yeoman says. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. At the first warning sign of somebody spinning me, I can detect it.”

Richardsville Elementary, just outside Bowling Green, Kentucky, before and after it was transformed. (Courtesy: Parade magazine)

In order to tell the “good” news but avoid the PR slant, Yeoman made sure to vet all the schools before he even set foot on an airplane. He checked them against multiple accounts from the media and third parties to make sure there were no red flags. And regardless of whether he felt a source was being open and honest, he made sure to fact check everything they said.

That need to assess transformed schools was what made being on the ground and seeing them in person so important, Yeoman said. By visiting Richardsville Elementary, a school in Kentucky that built green to meet district policy and save money, Yeoman was able to see firsthand the impact of the new facilities on the students:

But what really makes Richardsville Elementary stand out—beyond the sunlit corridors and cutting-edge technology—is how conservation is woven into the fabric of everyday learning. Geothermal temperature gauges are exposed for children to monitor. So is a pipe that collects rainwater for nourishing a garden. There are hallway displays about solar power and recycling, and even first graders can explain how renewable energy works. Warren County is doing more than saving money and keeping kids healthy—it’s producing students who are literate about environmental issues before reaching puberty.

In order for a positive story to be successful, it has to have a gripping narrative, Yeoman says. And it also needs to illuminate a bigger issue or inspire a reader to make a personal life change.

But with stories such as these, sometimes a positive outlook helps illuminate a societal flaw while also providing readers with insight on how to fix it.

Fundamentally, Yeoman says, this is a story about a social ill. And writing a story with aspirational examples wasn’t sugarcoating it, he says, but instead providing readers with a look at actions that helped these school systems counter a very real problem.

“It felt to me and it felt to my editors like we could tell both halves of the story with real integrity, while not scaring off an audience as general as a Parade audience,” Yeoman says.

Because Parade is a general interest magazine, Marquez says the staff is always thinking about offering readers a good mix in terms of content and tone, especially cover stories over the span of a month or year.

“We know that a positive story that is heartwarming or uplifting is going to engage people on a Sunday morning, but we won’t turn a good story away just because it doesn’t have a happy ending,” Marquez says.

This report is part of an occasional series on journalism that works, in partnership with “Huffington Post Opportunity: What is Working.” Read more


Media blames itself for ‘the cult of Gen. David Petraeus’

Wired | “Reliable Sources” | “Meet the Press” | The Guardian | BuzzFeed
Since Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation as CIA director, after admitting to an extramarital affair, many journalists are asking, “Were we too easy on him all along?”

“Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus,” writes national security reporter Spencer Ackerman in a Wired piece published Sunday entitled, “How I Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus.”

Ackerman uses his own relationship with the general to highlight how easily the press was swayed by Petraeus’ intellect, personality and willingness to engage with reporters. “I bought into it, especially after I found Petraeus to be the rare general who didn’t mind responding to the occasional follow-up request,” he writes. Read more


BBC Director General George Entwistle resigns after broadcasting false child abuse accusations

BBC | The Guardian | The Telegraph
BBC Director General George Entwistle resigned Saturday, in the wake of a “Newsnight” story that led to led to false accusations of child sex abuse by ex-senior Tory Lord McAlpine.

Entwistle, who served in his position for less than two months, said his resignation was the “honorable” thing to do. He announced his resignation in a statement delivered outside New Broadcasting House.

As director general, Entwistle was also the editor in chief and responsible for the news organization’s content. Entwistle previously told John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4′s “Today” program that he knew nothing about the McAlpine story before it was broadcast Nov. 2. Read more


Architecture photographer explains how he got that New York magazine cover shot

Shooting in the dark, with a handheld camera, in a vibrating helicopter, 5,000 feet above land sounds like a photographer’s nightmare. But Iwan Baan made it look easy.

The Dutch photographer’s image of a half-illuminated, half-powerless New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy captured the nation’s attention on the cover of New York magazine.

“It was the only way to show that New York was two cities, almost,” Baan said on the phone Sunday evening from Haiti. “One was almost like a third world country where everything was becoming scarce. Everything was complicated. And then another was a completely vibrant, alive New York.”

Baan made the image Wednesday night after the storm, using the new Canon 1D X with the new 24-70mm lens on full open aperture. The camera was set at 25,000 ISO, with a 1/40th of a second shutter speed. Read more

Members of the Ross family, from Egg Harbor NJ, watch the rough surf of the Atlantic ocean in Margate N.J., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, as the area prepares for Hurricane Sandy. Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate coastal areas Sunday as big cities and small towns across the U.S. Northeast braced for the onslaught of a superstorm threatening some 60 million people along the most heavily populated corridor in the nation. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek)

Newark’s Star-Ledger stays close to readers during Hurricane Sandy

As people across the East Coast hunker down in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey’s Newark-based Star-Ledger is focused on staying close to its audience and providing around-the-clock information through the next few days.

“Readers want to have a direct line to us,” Editor Kevin Whitmer says. “And on something like this, having been through Irene last year, we’re in a little bit better position to learn from what we did there, what worked, what we need to do a little bit better.”

When Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast last August, it turned into a week and a half of non-stop reporting for The Star-Ledger staff. One big lesson from that was learning how best to deploy people and making sure the staff manages to still get rest, Whitmer says by phone Sunday night after putting the print edition of the paper to bed. Read more


Des Moines Register endorses Mitt Romney for president, becoming 6th major paper to flip from Obama in ’08

The Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney Saturday night for the presidency. Breaking from 40 years of Democratic endorsements, the Register cited the economy, job creation and an ability to work across party lines as reasons for their support of Romney.

“The former governor and business executive has a strong record of achievement in both the private and the public sectors,” the paper wrote in its endorsement. “He was an accomplished governor in a liberal state. He founded and ran a successful business that turned around failing companies.”

The endorsement breaks the pre-existing tie in endorsements from major papers in Swing States. The Register joins five other papers — including the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel — to flip its support from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012, giving the GOP nominee the lead in Swing State newspaper endorsements.

“Our support for Republican Mitt Romney may surprise, it may anger, it may please,” the Register’s Editorial Board acknowledges. “Opinions expressed by this board in no way affect news coverage, except to the extent than an endorsement itself becomes news.”

The New York Times underscored its editorial independence as well Saturday when it announced its endorsement of Obama, citing the economy, health care and women’s issues as key reasons behind its decision. The Times also backed Obama in 2008. Read more


What BuzzFeed’s evolution says about the future of longform journalism

It’s not often that a job posting creates such a tizzy. But BuzzFeed’s search for a longform editor signifies more than just a new hire.

The announcement, which spawned headlines such as “BuzzFeed (yes, BuzzFeed) begins search for ‘longform editor,’ ” aggravated ongoing tensions between the intersecting worlds of print and online journalism. The question became not whom would BuzzFeed hire, but how the site previously known for memes and cat photos could delve deeper into investigative, in-depth reporting.

BuzzFeed ignited that debate again when reposting a video Friday of a live suicide shown on Fox. Columbia Journalism Review intensified it when asking the Twitterverse, “Who’s worse? ‪@FoxNews for airing the suicide, or ‪@Buzzfeed for re-posting the video just in case you missed it the first time?”

Unsurprisingly, responses came in from all across the board: against Fox, in support of BuzzFeed, and even against Columbia Journalism Review for getting “self-righteous” about it. BuzzFeed political reporter Andrew Kaczynski defended the decision on Twitter, but the scenario left many wondering how BuzzFeed would balance both hard-hitting and tabloid-style journalism.

To those journalists and readers steeped in a traditional media landscape distinguished by conventional silos of metro and feature sections, the addition of longform stories to a site that posts photos of NFL players who look like Muppets can be jarring.

But to BuzzFeed Executive Editor Doree Shafrir, who is leading the hiring search, the idea that there are “fun” posts and “other” posts is an antiquated way of thinking. Instead, BuzzFeed requires three things of each story: that it entertain, inform, and manifest itself as something people want to share with their friends.

“Almost everyone always wants to talk about this split, which I feel is sort of a false dichotomy,” Shafrir says. “Why should we take for granted that a sort of quote, unquote ‘longform,’ serious piece won’t be shared on social media, as if the two things can’t exist in one ecosystem? I think that’s an old frame of thinking, and we’re trying to break out of it.”

The short and long of it

The BuzzFeed staff doesn’t divide stories into quick hits or in-depth, serious or funny. And because online outlets aren’t held hostage by white space to fill, there’s more freedom in story selection, Shafrir says.

“I think to people who come here from more traditional media outlets, it’s sometimes a little scary to them because there aren’t as many explicit boundaries as there are at a local newspaper or magazine,” Shafrir says. “But that’s also what makes it exciting.”

Historically, start-up online publications were told only short stories and quick hits would perform well on the Web, says Choire Sicha, co-founder of The Awl.

“We all were told keep it short, cut up those paragraphs New York Post style, and nothing could be more than 800 words,” Sicha says. “We just finally stopped listening, and realized it was the completely opposite that was true. People wanted to read things and experience things and learn things. The Internet isn’t just for those of us who are bored at work in the afternoon and shuffling through things.”

And with the advent of social media, better mobile devices and sharing systems such as Longreads, experiencing longform writing online has only gotten easier, Sicha says.

Online readers don’t shy away from long stories, says Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads and editorial director of save-for-later service Pocket. In fact, data, page views and experience have shown they crave the deep read. And while the source of a story clearly plays a role, a reader is going to be more concerned with whether their friend gave it a nod on Facebook than if they saw it on a prominent publication’s homepage.

“I think people are increasingly agnostic about where exactly they’re reading something or what print edition it came out in,” says Longform co-founder Aaron Lammer.

That’s not to say that name recognition and the track record of the publisher and writer aren’t still important, Armstrong says. They’re just now part of a greater equation that includes who else is recommending it and whether the reader trusts that recommender’s taste. After clicking through a “READ THIS NOW” link on a friend’s Twitter or Facebook feed, the reader is then more open to what comes next from that site.

Awl as precedent

While much has been made about BuzzFeed posting cat photos and investigative profiles on the same site, Shafrir doesn’t think readers will be too concerned with the eclectic mix.

“I think people adapt much faster than we give them credit for,” Shafrir says. “There’s no handwringing of, ‘Should I read this serious, political story on BuzzFeed? They also have cat videos.’ I don’t think that’s a consideration point on the part of most readers.”

While BuzzFeed’s job posting got journalists talking about the addition of longform to online-native publications, this isn’t a new concept, Lammer says. But it’s one that still takes some adjustment.

“We’re seeing a string of online-only publications that share some DNA with BuzzFeed who have started doing more and more features, whether they’re actually advertising it as a job or not,” Lammer says. “I’ve seen a lot of different publications that are ramping it up. Clearly, there’s an incentive for people.”

Sites such as The Morning News, Gawker, The Verge and Grantland all provide readers with a variety of story types and lengths. But the leading example in this type of story combination is The Awl. Lammer, Armstrong and Shafrir all praised the 3-and-a-half-year-old site as an example of balancing quick hits with substantial stories.

Creating that balance wasn’t a conscious decision, Sicha says. Instead, it grew out of a desire to provide a place for length and intensity that writers weren’t finding elsewhere.

“I wish I could say we had a strategy, but we did see people could digest and people could retain the information and people could share these stories,” Sicha says. “We definitely saw there were positive effects, but we weren’t thinking like, ‘Yay, let’s chase that.’ It just sort of happened organically.”

‘Maybe longform features are actually a good gateway drug’

So if BuzzFeed isn’t the first site to branch out into such a range of stories, why the interest in their hiring enterprise?

To Lammer, it has to do with BuzzFeed’s status as a shorthand reference for any kind of page-view based journalism.

“Maybe it’s because of the emphasis they’ve put on cat features, but, whether they like it or not, they’ve become sort of the face of a certain kind of website,” Lammer says. “So when they announce this position, people are interested.”

But this interest might be representative of a greater realization in the minds of traditional longform publications, Sicha says.

“People are finally realizing that BuzzFeed is going to eat their lunch, which maybe they didn’t see coming,” Sicha says. “Let’s not forget that like seven or eight years ago, people turned up their noses at the Internet, and reasonably so in many ways. But I think there’s still a lingering thing where they’re like, ‘The Internet’s so cheap and cheesy and they don’t know to report.’ There’s still some of that baggage.”

And that baggage makes BuzzFeed’s foray into the land of longform – traditionally held by magazine writers and newspaper barons – a little hard to swallow for legacy outlets, Sicha says.

But from an operating standpoint, it just makes sense. Shafrir says the editors at BuzzFeed saw how well readers were reacting to a few of the longer stories the site had published, such as her own 7,000-word story on night terrors that brought in more than 100,000 views in two weeks. And the stories are generating a whole new audience BuzzFeed hasn’t seen before.

While the common conception says a publication would churn out quick hits to drive traffic and funding to support the meatier, longer pieces, that doesn’t quite hold true for BuzzFeed, Lammer says. After all, the site already exists just fine based on the shorter pieces and pop culture references. The reality, Lammer says, is there is an intrinsic value within longer pieces. And it comes down to acquiring a new audience.

“Maybe longform features are actually a good gateway drug to quick hits rather than vice versa,” Lammer says. “A lot of people who might not have come across BuzzFeed before might see a feature because it gets passed around a different way or through a friend. I can certainly tell you my parents don’t know what BuzzFeed is, but I can see BuzzFeed doing features that I would e-mail them. But I would never send my parents a cat video.”

Longform stories also have a much greater shelf life, Armstrong says. After a story is posted on Longreads, Armstrong often sees readers sharing the story on social media days, weeks, months, even years after the initial publication.

People get excited when they’ve read something that really moves them, and they want to be that story’s biggest cheerleader,” Armstrong says. “If a reader is spending 25 minutes with something your publication has created, that’s ultimately a very good thing.”

As for what types of longform stories BuzzFeed is looking to do, the door is wide open, Shafrir says.

“I think that stories with some sort of emotional core tend to resonate with people more,” Shafrir says. “That leaves a lot of room. I could also see us breaking some sort of big investigative story, maybe on the politics desk. I really don’t think there’s a limit to the types of story we have the capacity to do.”

An understanding of that unlimited capacity and an inherent intellectual curiosity will be crucial in whomever BuzzFeed hires as its first longform editor, Shafrir says.

“I don’t think the person we are trying to hire for exists yet in the form we are trying to hire them,” Shafrir says. “That’s just by virtue of how journalism has evolved.”

While Shafrir says she doesn’t pay much attention to the opinions of other media outlets, she does understand how BuzzFeed’s atypical approach and the changing media landscape could be unsettling.

“If you worked all your life in print, I could imagine that it would be scary to see these changes going on and you don’t know how you’re going to fit into this new media ecosystem,” Shafrir says.

“The sort of natural reaction is to sort of lash out and criticize and say it’s not real journalism or its not professional or whatever. I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. I understand it. I feel bad that people sort of don’t want to evolve, but that’s why I’m at BuzzFeed and not a local print newspaper.” Read more