Kelly McBride

Kelly spent 14 years covering saints and sinners in Spokane, Wash. Now she's at Poynter, searching for the soul of American journalism.


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How to build a news apps team (Hint: if you don’t have a lot of money, settle for scrappy)

It isn’t really a question of whether you need a news apps team or not. The question for most newsrooms is what kind of news apps team can you afford? And then, how can you keep them as long as possible, given your scarce resources?

Programmers and developers with journalistic inclinations are in high demand. They command good salaries and they tend to want to live in places where there is a vibrant tech industry.

That means big newsrooms with big budgets in big cities have a distinct advantage. So smaller newsrooms with smaller budgets must be realistic and strategic.

Emily Ramshaw, editor of the Texas Tribune, and Jonathan Keegan, director of interactive graphics at the Wall Street Journal, offered up tips and strategies this past weekend at ONA14 for building the best news apps team possible. (Concession: The WSJ is hardly a small newsroom, but Keegan argues he has a tiny apps team compared to the more than 350 developers working across all departments at the New York Times.)

Ramshaw will have four developers on her team at the Texas Tribune as soon as she makes a couple hires, up from two. Two people work on the front end, two on the back end and they get support from a four-person tech department. Keegan works on a different scale. His team has 16 people, 10 programmers, two designers, two tools developers, and two data developers.

Keegan and Ramshaw both argued for strategy and precision in finding the right mix skills and personalities.

  • Hire for skills: A news apps team member needs to be good at two of three skills: Coding, journalism and design. No one is good at all three, so stop looking for that unicorn. Instead look at the hole you need to fill and find that skill.
  • Look for a background or understanding in journalism: Programmers with no interest in journalism usually don’t get along in the newsroom.
  • Look for reporting skills: “We don’t hire anyone who can’t pick up the phone and ask a source for information. The temptation is to ask the reporter to do that,” Ramshaw said, adding that in her shop, developers are reporters.
  • Hire for chemistry and cultural fit: People who get along get more done. Skills will grow.
  • Once hired, match projects to personalities: Don’t put the guy who hates sports on a football project.
  • Vary projects to combat burnout: That way, team members don’t get stuck with the same kind of work over and over.
  • Be realistic: If you are a small newsroom, paying small salaries, take what you can get in terms of skills and knowledge and give them opportunities to grow.
  • Sell what you can about your newsroom: Ramshaw touts Austin’s culture, microbrews, great food and the fact that young developers will work on big stories and get bylines right away. Keegan talks about the WSJ’s global audience and offices all over the world.
  • Designate a team leader and project leaders to act as point people with the rest of the newsroom: That will facilitate good relationships.
  • Help them grow: Nurture young talent and interns by making them feel like family.
  • Hire your interns: “If someone is doing great work for you, don’t let them go,” Ramshaw said.
  • Scour area startups: Look for burned-out programmers and lure them away with the promise of making a difference in the world and having some fun.
  • Train: If you really don’t have a budget to hire someone new, train home page producers to learn programming skills.
  • Keep the walls up: Don’t let news apps team members get sucked into the product team. News apps should be strictly editorial.
  • Shop in house: When you don’t have enough resources, one strategy is to borrow a promising designer from the graphics team for a month for a special project. Many designers are eager to grow their programming knowledge.

You can find the slides for Ramshaw and Keegan’s session here. The hashtag was #appsteam. Read more

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Bill Simmons’ ESPN suspension and the challenges of editing star talent

Whether you think Bill Simmons is the latest sacrificial lamb at ESPN, or that his suspension is really theater in the vein of professional wrestling, there are important issues behind the suspension that we could all pay some attention to.

  • Too much content, too little editing: From podcasts to blogs to social media posts, there is a fair amount of content that goes straight to the audience with very little editing. With small changes (see word choice, below) to his rant, Simmons could have stayed within the boundaries of ESPN’s acceptable journalistic standards. In broadcast, that’s the producer’s role. In writing it’s the editor’s role. There is editing and production that takes place. But do those people do their work with an ear toward editorial standards? It’s hard to say if that’s even possible with a marquee talent like Simmons (see Stars, below.) But they could and they should.
  • Word choice: Simmons was on solid ground when he called Goodell’s response “fucking bullshit.” Suggesting the football commissioner take a lie detector test was clever. But calling him a liar went over a line, because it draws a conclusion that we cannot draw.  The best reporting has demonstrated that the Ravens’ staff were aware of the contents of the elevator video and that someone at the NFL knew as well. It’s easy to assert that Goodell should have known. But that doesn’t add up to liar. When you make accusations you can’t verify, you have moved outside of journalism into something else – politics, spin, deception? Even opinionated journalists should base their work on established facts.
  • Stars: When I served as the head writer for the ESPN-Poynter Review Project, several ESPN employees told me, in confidence, how difficult it was to edit Bill Simmons. ESPN is not unique. This is true of many big stars in many newsrooms. Stars that operate outside the rules of engagement leave the organization exposed. It’s good for ESPN to have commentators pushing the boundaries of taste and journalistic ethics, that’s what the audience wants. Provocation is tried and true meme. But it’s even better to have a process that prevents stars and everyone else from blowing through those boundaries because they don’t realize it or they don’t care.
  • Consistency: Ethics codes and editorial standards are fabulous, but if an organization inconsistently applies them, they become a weakness not an asset. That’s because they can be used against you. An organization as big and spread out as ESPN has steep challenges. How can it apply to same standards to its premiere investigative show, Outside the Lines, as it does to blog posts and podcasts? The answer lies in constant attention to process.

It’s hard to measure whether an organization has healthy processes. We never hear about the times that ESPN dials a writer or on-air talent back. We don’t see the great catches that editors make. We only see the gaffes. And given the volume of content that ESPN produces, there will likely be plenty of fodder for critics like Deadspin.

That said, when your biggest star declares himself above his newsroom’s standards, the boss has to respond. Read more

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If you must unpublish, here’s how to maintain credibility

Gawker

Gawker notes that BuzzFeed has unpublished more than 4,000 articles recently, disappearing posts on the 8-year-old company’s website. Editors at news websites usually take articles down with great reluctance, because doing so undermines public confidence in your newsroom’s work. Why would anyone trust what you say today if you routinely take down pages that you can no longer stand behind?

RELATED: Fairness and credibility guidelines for unpublishing online content

Still, there are rare occasions when taking down a post is the best option. Here are some best practices:

  • Keep a blank page up, rather than making the entire URL disappear or redirecting to a homepage without note.
  • Leave the tags and searchable information, so folks can find what’s left behind and know for certain the information is no longer valid.
  • On that blank page, insert a precisely worded explanation from editors describing why the material had to be removed. Was it entirely untrue? Inappropriately attributed? Obscene? Telling people why allows the audience to discern your editorial standards.
  • If the item was inaccurate, do your best to redirect the audience to accurate information.
  • If the item was accurate, yet inappropriately harmful to an individual, (this happens to college news sites all the time) explain what your news organization’s threshold is for making such a decision.
  • Direct readers to an online copy of your code of ethics or editorial standards.
  • Remove entire articles only as a last resort. If it can be fixed or attributed, you owe your audience that first.

I stop short of telling editors they should never unpublish information. Taking articles down is a rare phenomenon among trustworthy institutions, and it should be executed in the full light of day.  If you have editorial standards for publishing information, you might as well have standards that guide you through the decision to take it down. Read more

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NPR One app potential is huge

Public radio and podcasts have taken on an increasing role in my life. I listen while running, cleaning, cooking, driving long distances or taking public transportation, mostly times when I can afford to multitask, but can’t be looking at video or don’t want the added work of reading text.

I downloaded the NPR One app this week and listened to it twice during long morning jogs, and while I was riding public transportation and hanging out in airports. I’ll stop short of calling it a game-changer. But it’s clear that this app, or one like it, has the potential to become a content platform for news and culture audio, the way Amazon is for shopping or Netflix is for movies.

NPR One is like Pandora for public radio content. Because I already have an NPR account, even though I was in New York, it immediately knew that my local station was really WUSF in Tampa Bay.

NPR One began with a Guy Raz welcome and a request for access to my microphone (I’m not sure why). It then gave me the latest three-to-four-minute top-of-the-hour news update. Then it bounced through radio news, first from the last 24 hours of daily NPR shows Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Soon I started getting a mix of more evergreen content, blended in with the day’s news. I got a heavy dose of WNYC content, presumably because that’s where I was, but also because there is no content from my local market currently available.

The app draws from a big pool of NPR-owned products including podcasts, Joel Sucherman, NPR senior director of digital products said. The algorithm blends machine learning and editorial curation to ensure users don’t end up in a filter bubble, he said.

When you like something, you can tag it interesting. When you don’t like something, you click the forward triangle, and it skips to the next story in the queue. Soon, the app was delivering Planet Money reports, Scott Simon interviews with interesting musicians and stories about books and authors. I clicked past a Terry Gross interview once, because it was really long, and I never heard from her again, even though I wouldn’t mind the occasional film director interview. Some of the most pleasurable stories came from something called Vintage NPR, a collection of ‘driveway moments’ that manage to stand up over time.

NPR staff currently tags all NPR content as it goes into their management system, Sucherman said. A second level of NPR One editors then determine what “buckets” that content should go in. Those buckets determine how long the content will be available on NPR One and how and when the app will match it to customers.

NPR One was publicly available Monday for Android and IOS. They won’t say how many people downloaded it, but it was in the top three free apps in Apple’s App Store all week. Jeremy Pennycook, NPR One product manager, described the debut as more of a preview than a launch. Developers perfected the software enough so that users could open it up and press play. Many additions and improvements are in the works, he said. Eventually it will learn what time of day or days of the week users prefer shorter, newsy content to longer feature content.

The developers specified that all the audio listeners hear on the app will have “that NPR sound.” But they didn’t say how that will happen. Content like This American Life, that is heard on NPR stations but not owned by the NPR network, isn’t currently available on NPR One. There will be interesting negotiations about the pricing and licensing, considering that This American Life has recently gone out on its own. NPR One’s success is contingent on it being the go-to mobile platform, at least for public radio stories and shows, but maybe for an even broader array of audio content. How or even if independent content that seems as natural fit, as well as the good stuff from Public Radio International and American Public Media, isn’t clear.

“It’s a big ecosystem and the edges are very fuzzy,” Pennycook conceded.

(Disclosure: I have weekly media segment on WUSF and also a side podcast; neither are available on NPR One.)

NPR worked closely with six big local stations in the initial development and then later brought in a broader working group of large, midsize and smaller stations Sucherman said. While the app was smart enough to know what my local station was, it couldn’t recognize that I was already a donor. Thus the occasional instructions to press the “donate” button seemed annoying in a way that doesn’t bother me when I hear the same plea on the radio. When I did press that button, I got an email with “give now” button that sent me to my local station’s pledge page.

In order to capitalize on the opportunity, staff at local stations will have to load their “segmented audio” into the NPR One content system. That should be an incentive to the notoriously thinly staffed mid-size and small stations to create such content and produce it in a way that in conforms with the technical requirements of the app. Local stations will be rewarded with data about public radio listeners who may not be donors, including who their listeners are, where they go, when they listen and what they are most interested in. That kind of data will be a goldmine for local stations.

Sucherman and Pennycook pointed out that NPR was conscientious to connect users to their local station, which by design are crucial to NPR’s revenue model. With money from their pledge drives, local stations pay their own bills as well as pay the fees to license NPR shows.

“We had the best interests of the network and local stations in mind,” Pennycook said. “We are disrupting ourselves so someone else does not come in and eat our lunch.”

For me, the user experience was slightly addicting. Unlike the Public Radio app, NPR One can run in the background, so you can text and surf while you listen. It downloaded enough ahead of time that even in New York City, on the notoriously spotty AT&T connection, it didn’t drop as I ran through the streets. On an airplane I was able to listen to four or five stories after my phone lost its connection.

The most notable glitch was repetition, which Guy Raz promised in his introduction wouldn’t happen. The app delivers two quick sponsor messages in a row, which often repeated one right after the other as I continued to listen. I heard a few of the same stories the second time I used the app as well. Also, it drained my battery quickly.

Whether NPR One becomes a true platform, as opposed to just an app, will depend on the mix of content, transparency and sophistication of the algorithm. The reason Amazon works is because consumers can get to the variety of what they want, in a environment where Amazon controls for quality. That ‘NPR sound’ that both Sucherman and Pennycook mentioned can be a bit like Starbucks: It’s consistent and reliable, but sometimes you want a local vibe that is completely different.

Of course, there’s a natural evolution for all platforms.

Facebook had three distinct phases for me. First there was novelty. Then, as more and more people that I cared about joined, I felt a true connection to the platform because it enhanced my life by giving me information I wasn’t getting anywhere else. Lately, as it has become harder to find the content that actually enhances my life, that connection to Facebook has waned such that it’s more an indulgence than a necessity.

Maybe that’s natural evolution for all platforms. At first cable TV was so cool, then it was so pointless, but eventually it brought me unique content from MTV’s “Real World” to “Mad Men.” At first Netflix saved me time, then I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch, and now I have “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.”

It’s obvious that there is an audience for this type of news and culture audio and I think a need for a platform, outside of terrestrial radio, to deliver it. If NPR One doesn’t grow into that platform, something else will. Before Facebook there was MySpace.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Guy Raz’s last name and Terry Gross’ first name. Read more

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Egg donation, first conceived as personal essay, becomes investigative report

When Sarasota Herald Tribune business reporter Justine Griffin set out to donate her eggs, her editors asked her to consider doing a personal essay. What she discovered during the year-long journey is that fertility industry has some serious conflicts of interest and that nobody advocates for the health of egg donors. As her approach morphed from a personal essay to an investigative package, Griffin had to deal with her own conflict of interest. She was part of the story. Read more

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9 best practices for publishing provocative opinions in a polarized world

Clashes between professional provocateurs and the masses, like the recent criticism that rained down on Washington Post columnist George F. Will over  #survivorprivilege, are on the rise.

See #checkyourprivilege. Remember the reaction to the equally appalling Richard Cohen column that suggested a gag reflex is a normal reaction to learning the white mayor of New York is married to a black woman and they have biracial children.

As more voices crowd the opinion space, some writers might become more shrill and provocative to garner attention. Certainly Will deserved the outrage he received for his recent column where he argues that the increase reported sexual assaults on college campuses is a ploy by women seeking to gain a status of privilege.

The ire over Will’s opinions on rape likely intensified the howling over PostEverything’s guest column two days later suggesting with an incredibly flip headline that marriage is the best way to protect women from violence. That interesting argument had its own guest appearance on #survivorprivilege, particularly when Post editors changed the headline from: “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married” to “One way to end violence against women? Married dads.”

Opinion editors are looking for the sweet spot in social debate. The hashtag that’s not a meme. Passion, not poison. Undershoot that sweet spot and no one notices. Overshoot it and no one actually reads the essay. Instead they read those ridiculing the essay. As a democracy, we’re probably better for it when opinion writers and editors overshoot. Unless we get to a point where most people are tuning out most conversations to avoid the vitriol.

So what’s an opinion editor to do to increase the chances that an idea will land in the space of vigorous debate, but fall short of ridicule? Here are nine best practices for publishing provocative pieces on polarized issues.

  • Watch the flippancy, especially in headlines. It implies a lack of respect for those on the other side of the debate. When issues are highly polarized, go for a straight, descriptive headline. Clever headlines may gain traction on social media, but when they cause folks to debate your opinions without reading them, they do more harm than good.
  • Jump into the stream and defend the decision to publish when the comments take off. That may be on Twitter or Facebook or in a comments section.  You don’t have to respond to every knucklehead out there. But when someone asks a rational question, answer it. You’ll elevate the sophistication of the debate and increase respect for your publication as an idea broker.
  • Curate the best of your critics and follow up. Dialogue implies back and forth, give and take. When people feel ignored or dismissed, they often get louder. Particularly when things start to get a bit uncivil, sometimes a few civil voices can refocus a conversation.
  • Ask genuine questions of those who oppose a point of view. When you invite others to share their experiences or their views in response to a piece they disagree with, you indicate a sportsman-like approach to the debate, rather than a take-no-prisoners battle.
  • That said, avoid dialogue with trolls and idiots. A good rule of thumb on Twitter or in the comments section is to respond to civil questions the first time you hear them, then move on.
  • Recognize and acknowledge the conversation you are in. If you are merely using a hashtag to introduce a new idea, be honest about that.
  • Offer support to the writers and editors who throw themselves out there. We live in a democracy where unpopular ideas sometimes emerge as good ones decades later. We depend on people to challenge conventional thinking.
  • Offer a diversity of opinions. You don’t necessarily have to do it all on the same day. And it won’t buy you credibility with everyone. But if over time, you can demonstrate provocative, well-written, original opinions across a wide spectrum, your audience will keep coming back.
  • Admit it and fix it when you make a mistake, whether it was a miscalculation in tone or a misinterpretation of data. No sense handing people the stick to beat you with.
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Two students comfort each other during a candlelight vigil held to honor the victims of Friday night's mass shooting on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. Sheriff's officials say Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The right way to publish a killer’s deranged manifesto

There’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.

But don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document. (Though perhaps you wouldn’t want to annotate it like this.)

Art Caplan, head of the bioethics division at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, advocates the same approach when considering the publication of medical research produced by Nazi doctors. By explaining the flaws behind information, we contribute to an improving body of knowledge while neutralizing the potential of perpetuating harm.

“Make it clear this is the raving of a devious and delusional mind,” Caplan said of Rodger’s manifesto. “Help us understand what compels someone to be so hateful and mysogonistic.”

Also, help the audience see what hate and misogyny really look like. You can do that the way the New York Post did, by labeling the killer’s ravings as those of a lunatic. Or you can point out the many places misogynists turn to reinforce their hate, the way the Soraya Nadia McDonald did for The Washington Post in this piece.

Journalists who repeat the names of childhood acquaintances that Rodger faulted for his personal misery have a particular responsibility to counteract that blame in their reporting.

When we leave out the additional context that would condemn Rodger’s logic, we run the risk of legitimizing his rationale. It seems ludicrous, until you consider the fact that misogyny is the root of many crimes.

Journalists asked similar questions when The Washington Post and The New York Times, at the request of the FBI, published the Unabomber’s manifesto in 1995, hoping that someone might be able to identify him (which worked.) That 35,000-word screed against technology, equality, and progressive causes remains available today. Read more

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Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. attends Marina Abramovic's "The Artist is Present" exhibition closing party hosted by Givenchy at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tuesday, June 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes

The New York Times owes the audience an explanation

Jill Abramson’s departure as the executive editor of The New York Times and Dean Baquet’s appointment as her replacement was abrupt.

Times Company Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told senior editors at a 2 p.m. meeting and the rest of the staff and the world found out around 2:30 p.m.

Abramson had been in the position since 2011, a relatively short time. She won’t stick around for the transition. For now, Times leadership is not answering the question: What happened?

The Times’ own story was cryptic. Reporter Ravi Somaiya wrote, “The reasons for the switch were not immediately clear.” In a later version he wrote that Sulzberger declined to directly address the question he said was “’on all of your minds’ – the reason for the sudden switch. Citing newsroom management, he said it was not about the journalism, the direction of the newsroom or the relationship between the newsroom and business sides of the paper.”

Capital New York reported it this way: “And that’s all I’m going to say about it,” said Sulzberger, according to two sources who were present. “It was an issue of newsroom management.”

That answer isn’t just frustrating to journalists. It’s dismissive of the audience with whom the Times presumes a relationship of trust.

Poynter’s leadership expert, Senior Faculty Jill Geisler, explained that management is often in a difficult position when going through an unexpected and unpleasant parting of ways. But if Abramson was fired, that should be said out loud.

“When personnel changes are made, employers balance two competing responsibilities: employee privacy and customer interest,” Geisler said. “Because The New York Times is at the epicenter of journalism, and aggressively covers changes at the top in other industries, it should aim for maximum transparency in sharing the story behind this apparently swift and surprising move. To do less leaves the door open to speculation ranging from a personal life decision to under performance to palace coup.”

Transparency is important in a trust relationship, especially when something unexpected happens. Transparency is increasingly important for news organizations, because the audience is constantly asking, “Why should I trust you?”

The details will certainly creep out. It’s just a question of whether Gawker, BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post will get them first. Given that reality, it doesn’t make sense for the Times to sit back and concede the story to its competitors.

But even if the details weren’t likely to leak out, hypocrisy can taint a newsroom’s brand. Certainly if this were another private company where there is significant public scrutiny, Times reporters would be aggressively working sources to get the details. Journalists are often counseled to expect the same scrutiny of their lives that they provide to the lives of others. News companies should abide by the same advice.

“The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century” is now available. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracyYou can find more information about the book here. Read more

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Can journalists prevent suicide clusters?

Suicides sometimes happen in clusters. Epidemiologists and suicide prevention experts have often claimed that media coverage is partially to blame for this. Thus that old-fashioned and often ignored rule: Don’t cover suicides.

Of course that rule came with a couple of caveats. Celebrity suicides were fair game. So too were suicides that happened in public places. Because of those carve-outs and others (if it’s really interesting, or if people are talking about it) the rule never really worked. The news media have always covered suicides, sometimes badly.

While suicide prevention advocates cite the potential for contagion in their effort to get newsrooms to change their standards, journalists, including me, have responded with skepticism. That’s because there has never been a conclusive study in a peer-reviewed journal that specifically tied contagion to media coverage.

Until now. This month a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal confirms that certain types of media coverage do indeed make suicide contagion more likely to happen, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

The author, Dr. Madeline Gould, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, conducted the statistical analysis as part of a larger autopsy study, then compared suicides associated with a cluster, to suicides that were not part of a cluster, and media reporting.

Her conclusions: Stories about an individual with the word suicide in the headline, stories on the front page of a newspaper, photos of the dead person, detailed descriptions of the act of suicide and portrayals of the suicide victim as noble, angelic or heroic, are associated with more suicides in the same community. It’s not a causal relationship, but rather they are related. Brandy Zadrozny’s Daily Beast article does a good job translating the study into layman’s English.

But here’s the problem for journalists. Those are the devices of good story-telling and effective headline writing. Suicides are tragic events. And when you decide a story is interesting enough to tell, you want to pack it full of emotional punch. But those details can be a factor that contributes to a suicide cluster.

Why? There are both biological and sociological reasons, she said.

Biologically, the frontal cortex doesn’t fully mature in humans until the early 20s. An immature cortex is associated with impulsive behavior. Teens and 20-year-olds are also at the age when serious psychiatric problems can emerge.

Sociologically, during the teen years, family becomes less important and social peers become more important. That reverses for most people in their 20s. Young people also have not had the experience of watching difficult problems come and go. So when they experience serious depression or anxiety, it seems like life will always be that way, Gould said.

“I’m not saying that this will occur in a vacuum with healthy people,” Gould said. Instead, she is suggesting that media attention to individual suicide victims can be harmful to people already at risk for suicide.

But there’s a catch with this study: All the data was gathered between 1988 and 1996. And the media examples most likely to lead to contagion all came from newspapers.

It’s hard to believe that newspapers could have the same influence with the modern under-25 set, who are more likely to consume information through social media and mobile devices. Instead we have to extrapolate her findings into an environment that’s harder to measure and control.

Along those lines, just today, celebrity shrink Dr. Drew Pinsky lead the announcement of Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, a more general set of best practices which seem to address the general public, suicide prevention advocates, and  journalists.

The guidelines acknowledge something that suicide researchers have been talking about for some time, that all stories about suicide and attempted suicides are not equally harmful. In a social media setting, it is impossible to prevent people from discussing suicide. The guidelines suggest best practices about language choices, audience engagement, privacy concerns and how to address suicidal content.

Several organizations including Facebook, RTDNA and the Entertainment Industries Council endorsed the guidelines.

Journalists may find more practical advice from the Reporting on Suicide guidelines, which were developed in collaboration with a number of journalists and journalism education institutions.

Will any of this matter? While suicide rates are declining among teen and young adults, they are rising among baby boomers and veterans. Because true statistical analysis takes so long, it’s hard to say what really contributes to pattern changes.

“Suicide behavior is complex, contagion is one piece of the puzzle,” Gould said. “But it’s worth addressing every piece of the puzzle.”

In addition to avoiding the behaviors that might lead to contagion, journalists can find stories of hope and recovery among people who have contemplated or attempted suicide. Those stories were taboo among suicide prevention advocates for a long time, for fear of contributing to contagion. But that community has opened up, and as a result it’s possible that journalists will find new ways to tell compelling stories about suicide and mental health.

And even if they don’t, Gould suspects the public will do its own storytelling, using social media. Once the underlying stigma of seeking treatment for mental health issues diminishes, there may be real progress in reducing rates of suicide. Read more

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Eagle huntress photos by 24-year-old documentary photographer go viral

 

You know those stunning photos bouncing around the Internet of the Mongolian children hunting with eagles? The 24-year-old photographer who took them self-financed his expedition and at first had a hard time selling the images at all.

Asher Svidensky told me in a Skype interview Thursday that he got three offers from magazines in his home country of Israel. One offered him $80 and a byline. The other offered to run the photos for free along with a credit. A third suggested that he pay them $200 to publish the photo essay, because it would help his tour guide business.

Svidensky said he trained as a documentary photographer during his service in the Israeli Army. Since his release, he’s wanted to strike out as a freelance travel photographer. He’s done a lot of commercial and PR work, and served as a tour guide for Israelis traveling through Mongolia and Kazakhstan. “I took a lot of pictures of things I didn’t want to photograph,” he said.

In 2013, he packed his Canon gear, two shirts and a bag and set off on an open-ended trip to Mongolia. He planned to travel through Asia and document a variety of cultures, but Svidensky found himself drawn to the tradition of hunting with eagles.

He spent 40 days on the story. A lot of that time involved knocking on doors, learning the culture, deciphering the story. Ultimately, he decided he wanted to document children learning to hunt at the traditional starting age of 13. “There was no telephone book to say where the hunters are,” he told me. “It was just like a children’s book. You knock on a door and find out there is no kid here. Then you go to a house and they have a kid, but he’s too scared of the eagle. Or the father doesn’t want to go into the mountains.”

Eventually he met Irka Bolen, a 13-year-old boy in training and the main subject of his photos. Together they trekked into the mountains on horseback.

While the photos are breathtaking, Svidensky felt like the story was incomplete. The culture of that region is changing and he wanted to capture that as well. That’s when he discovered Ashol-Pan, a Khazak girl who may be the only eagle huntress in the world.

He went into the mountains with her and her father as well. But the story Svidensky documents is not the simplistic one that’s taken root in social media. The girl was training with her father, but not considered a full-fledged hunter. Her father told Svidensky that he had trained a son before her, but he was conscripted into the army. He would only continue training his daughter if she continued to ask for it.

In his blog, Svidensky quotes the father: “It’s been a while since I started thinking about training her instead of him, but I wouldn’t dare do it unless she asks me to do it, and if she will? Next year you will come to the eagle festival and see her riding with the eagle in my place.”

That nuance was often lost as the photos ricocheted around the world via social media. Most of the news organizations and blogs that have republished them have focused exclusively on the girl, ignoring the ambiguity of her future as an eagle hunter. Some headlines changed the context completely, like “13-year-old Mongolian girl hunts with eagle, has coolest childhood ever.”

But Svidensky isn’t upset. He’s relieved people are seeing the photos at all.

After his initial disappointment trying to sell the pictures to magazines, Svidensky published four images on 1x.com, a curated photo blog. From there, the U.K.-based Caters News Agency spotted the work and contacted him. Now, Svidensky gets a cut every time the pictures are published. Since the BBC Magazine and radio program have highlighted his work, the images have caught the imaginations of many. He believes he will recoup his financial investment.

“But that’s not what’s important,” he said. “This is my dream to be a documentary photographer. My hope is that through this project, I will get other opportunities.” Read more

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