Jeff Sonderman

Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in online news. In addition to training journalists and writing for Poynter.org, he manages the development of Poynter-related mobile apps including Help! For Writers and Settle It! PolitiFact's Argument Ender. He is also currently an adjunct faculty teaching digital journalism at Georgetown University. Find ways to follow him at jeffsonderman.com/connect


Reading the newspaper

Washington Post appoints its first ‘reader representative’

Washington Post
Doug Feaver “will serve as an advocate for readers, responding to their questions and concerns,” the Post announced today.

Doug Feaver

Feaver was a career Postie — a reporter and editor for 29 years on the Business, Metro and National desks. He then became executive editor of washingtonpost.com in 1998 and retired in 2005. He stayed involved for a few more years with a blog called dot.comments that responded to reader comments on the site.

The Post just ended its ombudsman program, replacing it with this new reader representative. Unlike Patrick Pexton and other Post ombudsmen of the past, the reader rep is a Post employee (not an independent contractor) and will not have a regular weekly print column.

It seems the primary outlet of expression for Feaver and assistant reader representative Alison Coglianese will be a blog on washingtonpost.com. Feaver is on Twitter (@feaverdb), but has barely used it since 2011.

Related: Washington City Paper writer appoints himself as the Post’s new ombudsman

PreviouslyPexton: Ombudsman can get answers from reporters who won’t answer readers Read more

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tweets

Twitter research shows how multimedia increases engagement

To update an old saying for the Twitter era: A picture is worth a thousand characters.

Research by Twitter shows that tweets that include a photo or video receive 3 to 4 times more engagement (retweets, replies, etc.) than those that don’t. Read more

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Virginia paper confused over flooding location

Sent by a reader: “From today’s Newport News (Va.) Daily Press — a weird reference to Afghanistan’s Wardak province was inserted into a local weather story by the Tribune/LA Times copy desk in Chicago.”

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The Daily Caller’s Menendez prostitution ‘scoop’ unravels

The Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson’s conservative version of Huffington Post, is at the center of a media controversy. And loving it.

In November, the Caller published a story based on two anonymous Dominican women claiming that New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez had paid them for sex.

ABC News says it received similar information at the same time, as Republican operatives organized interviews with those two women, plus a third woman the Caller did not talk to, all of whom said the senator paid them for sex. But ABC News didn’t run with the story, because “none of the women could produce identity cards with their names, and they all provided the same story almost word for word, as if they had been coached.”

After the Caller’s story was published, things started to unravel. Read more

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Atlantic case raises question: When does it make sense to write for free?

This week’s controversy over the Atlantic asking a freelancer for an unpaid contribution has reignited a debate among journalists — when, if ever, does it make sense to write for free?

Jason C. Fry says that even a seasoned writer, like himself, may occasionally choose to write for free to help out a friend or to get a particular piece in front of a particular audience. But it’s especially tempting for young, unproven writers, he says.

Fry advises young writers they might consider writing for free if the platform is prestigious enough to bolster a résumé, big enough to reach a huge audience and build a lasting relationship with readers, or has an editor who can improve their writing.

But, he also cautions:

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‘Oh, this is just unfortunate’

The fruit slice was supposed to represent a “G”:

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Atlantic is ‘sorry’ to have offended freelancer with request for free content

Nate Thayer | James Bennet
Editor-in-Chief James Bennet would like you to know this recent dustup — over asking a freelancer to provide free Web content — isn’t how The Atlantic normally operates.

Freelance writer Nate Thayer posted to his blog Monday an email exchange between himself and an Atlantic editor, who wanted to see if Thayer would “repurpose” a recent article into a shorter version for the Atlantic website. For free.

Atlantic editor Olga Khazan wrote, in part: “We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month. … I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure.”

Thayer stridently refused: “I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. … Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them.” Read more

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Press+ data: Publishers tighten meters, increase digital subscription prices

Paywall software provider Press+ released new data today about the more than 400 publishers who use its service to charge for digital content. (Poynter uses Press+ to solicit donations.) Overall, publishers are gradually squeezing readers with higher digital subscription prices and fewer free articles per month.

Infographics below, provided by Press+, show the trends. Earlier data from the company showed that sites producing more content made more money from digital subscriptions. Read more

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Copy editing, page design jobs to be outsourced at Toronto Star

Globe and Mail
Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, is the latest to reduce costs by laying off copy editors and outsourcing their work for a fraction of the expense.

The Star will outsource page design and copy editing to Pagemasters North America, Globe and Mail media reporter Steve Ladurantaye reports. The cost savings come from efficient centralized production, but also lower pay for editors. “The top union rate for an editor at Pagemasters is $48,000,” Ladurantaye reports, “while the same job at the Star comes with an annual salary closer to $85,000.”

Pagemasters North America is owned by The Canadian Press news wire, of which the Star’s parent company Torstar Corp. is a co-owner. News & Tech reported in 2009 that the Star was in discussions to begin a small amount of outsourcing to Pagemasters North America, but did not. Other major Canadian newspapers including The Globe and Mail, do the same. And other branches of Pagemasters serve newspapers in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Read more

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cycling

How The Washington Post created a breakout experience for cycling story

The Washington Post on Thursday became the latest news organization to take the increasingly fashionable step of blowing up its article template to present a feature story in a unique, immersive format.

In December, The New York Times blew some minds with its special multimedia presentation of “Snow Fall” — a six-part narrative about skiers trapped in an avalanche.

The Washington Post invented a similarly innovative presentation for sportswriter Rick Maese’s profile of professional cyclist Joe Dombrowski, a talented 21-year-old from the D.C. area who some hope will redeem the sport in a post-Armstrong era.

One section of the story has an interactive map of a cycling route, matched to audio interview clips and Dombrowski’s physical performance data from the ride.

The article presentation is notable for several reasons. Its full-width photos completely immerse the reader; multimedia elements blended throughout the text reinforce that deep experience; and the responsive design adapts to all screen sizes.

I asked Washington Post Information Designer Wilson Andrews, one of 12 Post staffers credited with contributions to the piece, to give us some background on how it came together.

Poynter: Where did the idea for this kind of presentation come from, and what were you aiming to accomplish by doing it this way?

Wilson Andrews: Because last year was an election year, much of what we did then had very specific focus. After the election, we took a step back and were able to broaden that focus somewhat and look to try new things.

This story presented a great opportunity for a new storytelling model that we had never tried. It was a sports feature that didn’t peg on something we normally do, and we had the fortune of a looser deadline because of that. Rick Maese was a great partner to work with, he had a lot of enthusiasm for and partnership with what we were trying to do, so that helps a lot.

Wilson Andrews

We wanted to try a new form because we want to elevate the experience that our readers have. They come to the Post to read stories from some of the best journalists in the world. We want our presentation, visual storytelling and the overall experience that our readers have to match that level of quality. At the root of it, when you plan and design your visuals specifically for a story, it allows for a much better story. It’s why I pursued a career in journalism.

How much time, resources, people went into building this?

Andrews: We started discussing the project in mid-January, about a week before Rick was to travel to Nice to report on Joe. The sports editor on the project, Mitch Rubin, approached me and representatives from other visual departments with the idea that this story could be elevated to a unique presentation. We were looking for opportunities for this format, and decided this story was a great one.

I worked on the design and front-end development of the project and got major art direction and style from Tim Wong and Sarah Sampsel in digital design. I probably started spending a majority of my time on the story in early February, and really crashed on it after we got the first draft a week and a half ago. Gene Thorp and Bonnie Berkowitz from graphics helped report and produce some of the graphics with me. Rick shot video in France, and videojournalist AJ Chavar shot interviews with Joe in Virginia. The footage from these two sources were edited by AJ to create the 5 videos in the piece. We had a freelance photographer shoot photos with Rick when he was in Nice. Our dedicated copy editor David Larimer spent the past week with all the different elements. And then in the past couple days we spun up a new WordPress instance and Yuri Victor and Amarilis Munoz helped me migrate the story prototype into the beginnings of a template that we plan to reuse in the future.

What plugins or other pieces of technology did you use, and how did they make it easier?

Andrews: The backbone of the project uses Bootstrap, an awesome responsive framework developed by Twitter that made it relatively painless to design for all devices. This was probably one of the biggest complexities of the project, that we wanted one page for all devices. And that one page had to look really good on all devices. This was our guiding standard.

As I mentioned, we deployed the project with WordPress, which is super flexible and easy to add features on the fly, especially in the ways we’ve used it at the Post. Yuri Victor and Greg Franczyk in IT get all the kudos for making WordPress work as a great templating engine for us.

One other way we made the page mobile-friendly was to lazy load almost all of the heavy, bandwidth-hogging visuals. We load videos and photos as you approach them in the story. That way, we don’t have to preload dozens of images and five videos when the user gets to the page. This was the biggest mobile performance improver by far.

Does this build off any previous projects? And do you expect to reuse this template in the future?

Andrews: This project was a ground-up, from-scratch implementation. We have a few in-house modifications to Bootstrap, but overall the project was very custom from the start. Now that we’ve done it, we’ve learned a lot, and we fully intend to re-use a large portion of this project to power other enterprise stories and custom presentations. Keep an eye out for much more visual goodness from the Post. Read more

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