Meena Thiruvengadam


I am an experienced multimedia journalist who is social media savvy and comfortable on camera. I have a knack for translating complex financial information into must-read articles and for unearthing unique feature stories that resonate with audiences.


Instagram for newsrooms: A community tool, a reporting tool, a source of Web content

For news organizations, Instagram isn’t just about pretty pictures. It’s about the people they’re interacting with and the stories behind the images.

“Instagram is so immediate and intimate that it creates this close connection with the user,” said Cory Haik, executive producer for digital news at The Washington Post. The Post uses Instagram to share photos, collect photos from users, report stories and have personal interactions with its audience. It’s a strategy aimed not at driving traffic but at building community.

The Washington Post solicited Instagram photos of snow from readers. (Courtesy The Washington Post)

“What we ask ourselves about Instagram,” Haik said by phone, “is ‘are we having a meaningful conversation with our users?’”

Instagram for engagement

At the Chicago Tribune, each week brings a new theme for Instagram users to contribute photos around. “Our approach to Instagram at the Tribune is to make sure followers are included whenever possible. So while we do post photos from staff photographers from big events, we spend much of our time focusing on weekly themes and showcasing the photos of the people who engage with us,” Chicago Tribune Social Media Editor Scott Kleinberg said via email.

NBC News makes weekly callouts related to topics in the news like the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl, holiday weekends and graduation season. It also gives users multiple opportunities to contribute. “A few days after you make a callout people tend to forget about it,” Anthony Quintano, senior community manager for NBC News, said by phone. “We remind them by featuring user photos.”

Quintano said NBC News’ Instagram feed started as an avenue to showcase behind-the-scenes photographs. It has since grown into one of the more prominent news feeds on Instagram. Still, Instagram isn’t a major source of traffic for NBC and other news sites.

An NBC Instagram shot by Frank Thorp V of Michael Isikoff doing a standup in Boston.

“Instagram is more about engagement and brand awareness,” Olivia Hubert-Allen, The Baltimore Sun’s deputy director of audience engagement, said during a phone call.

Quintano suggests newsrooms respond to their followers and to the comments left on photos. He also recommends liking user-submitted photos, particularly those shared in response to a callout. “We use a like as a thank-you and acknowledgment that we’ve seen your photo,” he said.  “The idea there’s a human being behind the account is what you really want.”

Instagram for reporting

When ProPublica reporter Justin Elliott was working on a story about Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling, he sought out Instagram’s help.

About six weeks after he became chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Hensarling’s political action committee held a fundraiser at a fancy Utah ski resort. Elliott imagined it was the kind of event people would likely capture with Instagram. “Thats just what people do when they’re on ski vacations,” he said.

Elliott searched Instagram through the site Statigram looking for photos tagged at the St. Regis Deer Valley hotel, where the fundraiser was held. “I went through the photos and looked at each user and tried to figure out if they were a lobbyist or lobbyist family member,” he said. While Elliott found no evidence the fundraiser broke campaign finance rules, he did find and publish a photo posted by a lobbyist who declined to comment for his story.

ProPublica has sinced developed an open-source tool for searching Instagram.

“If you’re trying to background a person or institution, it’s always good to look at Twitter, Instagram anything you can find on social media,” Elliott said. “If it’s something widely attended, by maybe a couple of hundred people, there’s a decent chance you’ll find photos.” Read more

hand with money

8 ways to increase the chances that you’ll get funding for your media startup

Journalism skills and a good idea are essential for bringing your media startup to life — but they don’t entitle you to financial support from a foundation or an investment from a venture-capital firm.

“Assuming that you can get funding because you have journalism skills and an idea is not very persuasive in this particular environment,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which funds entrepreneurial projects. Instead, she said in a phone interview, media entrepreneurs have to prove to investors and grant providers why they and their idea are worth it.

So how do you prove that? Here are eight tips:

1. Partner up

Being a jack of all trades and master of none isn’t the best way for journalists to approach entrepreneurship. Instead, media entrepreneurs should build a multidisciplinary team that’s capable of accomplishing their goals, said Corey Ford, CEO of Matter, a startup accelerator and early-stage venture-capital firm that invests in media ventures.

“One or two journalists working together to build something usually leaves a big hole in the team,” Ford told me over the phone. To fill that hole, find developers, business people and others whose skills complement those of the journalists.

“Multidisciplinary teams are going to be more successful,” he said.

2. Know your customers

Aspiring media ventures and entrepreneurs should work to identify their consumers early in the process and ensure that their proposed products are in line with what those consumers want or need.

“You really need to be able to describe the specific customer you’re designing for,” Ford said. He also recommends testing ideas out on potential consumers to see how viable they are in the real world.

“You’ve got to validate your ideas,” Ford said. “Get them out of your head and in front of people.”

3. Figure out your business model

Whatever your idea is, you need a viable strategy for keeping it alive. “You’ve got to figure out how you’re going to take your idea and turn it into a business,” Schaffer said. “Often, that doesn’t receive enough consideration.”

4. Find a good fit

Part of finding funding for your media startup is deciding which investors are the right ones to pitch. “Like any good story, you need to know who your audience is,” Ford said.

Before seeking funding, Ford suggests determining your business goals and finding sources of funding that have similar goals. For example, a business with high growth potential may be more successful seeking venture-capital funding, while a proposed non-profit would do better going after foundation-funded grants.

“Before you raise money, know who you’re trying to raise money from and whether your team goals align with that firm’s goals,” Ford said. “You don’t want investors who are a mismatch to what you want to accomplish.”

5. Show don’t tell

Making a strong pitch on paper may not be enough to win over potential donors. Creating a prototype that shows what you plan to do with a donor’s financing can be more persuasive.

“We find it a lot easier to fund projects when you can see what the vision is,” Schaffer said. She suggested budding entrepreneurs consider launching proof-of-concept projects or websites to help donors see what they’re pitching.

“Once you have that proof of concept, it’s a little easier to raise funding,” she said, noting web entrepreneurs can often launch such sites “with a little bootstrapping and sweat equity.”

6. Do your homework

Schaffer said she’s astonished by the number of applicants who apply for funding without having done proper research.

Media entrepreneurs have to pay attention to what kinds of projects foundations fund and make sure their projects fall within those foundations’ guidelines. She noted that getting considered for funding requires both a strong presentation and an idea that fits the foundation’s current call for proposals.

Schaffer also suggested surveying the competition, obtaining necessary web domains and trademarks and ensuring your team is eligible for programs.

Several organizations already are in place to help with that process. “The reason why we exist is to help foster new organizations,” said Kevin Davis, CEO of the Investigative News Network, a foundation-funded non-profit aimed at supporting non-profit public-service journalism. “We want to help make sure these organizations can take advantage of what’s been done before.”

7. Show you’re worthy of investment

“You’re going to want to be able to answer questions like how much money you need and how you’re going to spend it,” Davis said by phone. “You have to be able to show your plans, show your contingencies and demonstrate you are worthy of that investment.”

Ford said as an investor he wants to know how much money an entrepreneur needs to get to the next point, what that next point looks like and if an entrepreneur will be able to use investment funding to get there.

8. Plan for the long-term

Keep in mind that money from buyouts disappears quickly: Investors will demand returns, and foundation funding may run dry within a few years.

“Foundations are not equipped and are generally unable to provide sustaining support,” Davis said. “It’s a short-term revenue solution.”

Whatever your source of funding, it’s temporary. To survive, entrepreneurs should be thinking of how to create sustainable ventures even as they’re launching their businesses. Read more

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How journalists can measure engagement

Most journalists now understand they need to engage with audiences, whether online or in person. But it’s still not clear how news organizations can measure whether their attempts at engagement are paying off.

“Engagement isn’t just Twitter, Facebook or social media. It’s really getting to know your audience,” said Kim Bui, associate editor of social media and outreach for KPCC in Los Angeles and cofounder of #wjchat.

Some organizations use live events as a tool to get to know their audience. “Things like tweetups and other opportunities where you get to meet audience members keep this full circle going and give them this feeling of having a much more personal connection with the station,” Bui said.

But for audience relationships that primarily play out online those personal connections can be tough to gauge.

“Social journalists are accustomed to thinking about engagement as likes, retweets, shares,” said Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news at The New York Times.  “Those are all important, but we need to go beyond Facebook and Twitter to look at ways people can participate in a story.”

Another problem, Pilhofer said by phone, is that there isn’t much of a standard by which one can judge metrics like shares. “It’s like having a numerator in search of a denominator. You don’t know what it actually means,” he said.

Among the questions journalists need to ask but may not have the data to ask are whether stories are being tweeted or retweeted at higher than expected rates, he said. “That’s a more interesting number,” he said.

At Guardian US, social news editor Katie Rogers said she sees successful engagement as “when a reader takes the time to share something that furthers the story or kickstarts something completely new.”

She said via email that she measures online engagement by looking at metrics including social shares, on-site comments and page views.

“The metric that seems most valuable to me on Facebook is a share, simply because shares open a post up to new reader networks,” she said. She uses Facebook analytics to inform decisions on how to structure posts and Social Flow to better understand what content readers are most responsive to on social networks, particularly Twitter.

Rogers said she uses Facebook analytics to inform decisions on what post structures successfully generate shares and comments. She also keeps an eye on real-time traffic numbers and shares information with reporters and columnists. “People behind the journalism need to be aware of how their work plays in the outside world,” Rogers said.

Bui said she’s particularly interested in how people share content that isn’t first shared by the station. “People share our stuff without us knowing a lot more than we think,” she said on the phone. “We make assumptions on what our audience wants to see and sometimes our assumptions are wrong.”

To help track organic shares, Bui likes to create shortened links for projects but said it’s an approach that does come with limitations. “It’s really difficult to find a way to follow a link across the Internet,” she said.

Still, engagement isn’t just about quantity, it’s also about quality, something that can be even more difficult to gauge, particularly for metrics focused newsrooms.

“Engagement to us is very much about how people are participating in what we’re doing,” Pilholfer said. “Engagement is one big step toward to what we ultimately want to know, which is what kind of impact our journalism is having.”

Amanda Zamora, ProPublica’s senior engagement editor, suggests news organizations pay close attention to the tone of the interactions they have with people online.

“Engagement to us is very much about how people are participating in what we’re doing,” she said. “Those are all important, but it’s also important to go beyond Facebook and Twitter to look at ways people can participate in a story.”

One thing ProPublica pays close attention to is responses to callouts for readers to share their own experiences.  “When we get responses, we’re tallying these forms,” Zamora said. Often, she said the data is captured in spreadsheet form.  “At the end of the day a successful result for us is when people somehow added to the journalism we’re doing.” Read more


How reporters can become better self editors

The accelerated pace of journalism means many reporters have to write, edit and quickly publish their work online, sometimes without the benefit of an extra set of eyes.

Given this reality — and the fact that there are fewer copy editors these days –  it’s more important than ever for reporters to become their own self editors.

Here are a few steps you can take to help yourself produce cleaner copy and avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Print out stories, proof them

Tom Orsborn, a sports writer covering the Dallas Cowboys for the San Antonio Express-News, often picks apart his own stories long before his editors have the chance.

Self-editing is one situation where exhibiting obsessive-compulsive tendencies can help, he said during a phone interview: “Sometimes I can’t let go of a story because I just want it to be perfect. It can take a toll on you mentally, but it also leads to clean copy.”

Orsborn said he tries to give each story at least three reads. He’ll read once for content and flow, once to check facts and again to check for grammatical mistakes and typos. “I’ll take a story apart sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph,” he said. Then, he’ll read the story from top to bottom and again from bottom to top.

Often, Orsborn said he’ll try and print a copy of the story then step away from his desk. “It can really help to take a walk with it, get a cup of coffee or something,” he said. Occasionally, though, there just isn’t time. And printers aren’t always easily accessible on the road, which is where he and many sports reporters do a lot of their work.

In those situations, Orsborn said he tends to develop close relationships with copy desk colleagues. “I’ll always call if I see any type of error in my stories,” he said. “I don’t worry about irritating people. Some young reporters may worry about calling the desk more than once or twice, but I say call them. I do.”

Still, he tries not to rely on the copy desk too much. “You have faith in the copy editors, but ultimately you’re responsible for whether there’s a mistake in the story or not,” he said, urging reporters not to fall into the trap of expecting copy editors to catch their every mistake.

Read stories out loud

Another option when you can’t print is to read a story aloud to yourself, said Poynter Editing Fellow Jacqui Banaszynski.

“When I read my own work out loud, I hear things that my eyes look over,” she said by phone. “I hear when sentences are getting too long or when I’m using adjectives or adverbs I might not need. I also hear when I’ve built in some lack of clarity.”

Still, like Orsborn, she also likes printing stories. She suggests going through hard copies with a marker to highlight verifiable facts and parts of speech whose use may be questionable.

“I almost always find a typo that I read right over when working on the computer,” she said.

Banaszynski also suggests narrowing the width of the copy on the pages you print. “When you narrow your columns, you might see more,” she said. “Otherwise, your eye isn’t going to be looking as closely at that stuff on the periphery.”

Find your editor persona

Meticulously editing your own copy before filing takes time. But savvy reporters can get faster with practice, particularly if they’re able to separate themselves from their stories. “The real key is to switch gears in your head so you’re looking at your copy differently,” Banaszynski said.

Los Angeles Times reporter Rick Rojas sees it as switching from his occasionally sloppy writer/reporter persona to his exacting and picky editor persona. “I try and go back to my stories with a different mindset before I file,” he said.

His editor persona tends to look for strong verb use, word choice and potential holes. “I’m looking at everything I can to see if the story can stand up to scrutiny,” Rojas said by phone.

“I am always a little paranoid that people are going to find something to quibble with in the story.”

He’ll double and triple check all facts, spellings and ages, particularly if a story has been in progress for some time. And he admits his weak spots to himself in the process. “I’m a terrible speller, so I have to go back and make sure that I spelled things correctly,” he said.

Switching between personas, however, can be a challenge. As a self editor, Rojas said, “You can’t look at a story like it’s your baby. You have to step back and distance yourself from it. Ask yourself questions like ‘is that nice phrase really accurate?’”

Putting yourself in the readers’ shoes can ultimately help you be a better self-editor, and a more thoughtful reporter and writer.

What tips would you add? Tell us in the comments section.

Related: Check out News University’s upcoming online group seminar, “Writers without editors: How to edit your own writing.” Read more


How journalists can create better explainers

Explainers are one way for journalists to give audiences the knowledge they need to better understand the news or the world around them. Crafting an effective explainer requires savvy news judgment, inquisitive reporting and the skills to tell a strong story.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when creating them.

Figuring out what to explain

Brian Palmer, Slate’s chief explainer, said by phone that he explains aspects of stories that publications mistakenly assume readers know. When Rick Perry was reported to carry a gun while running, for example, Palmer explained to Slate readers how runners use jog holsters to more safely carry weapons.

Slate Science and Health Editor Laura Helmuth suggests setting out to answer interesting and unexpected questions that go deeper than the traditional five Ws. “In this age of Google, the trick is to have an unanswered question that requires more than a fact to explain,” she said by phone.

NPR Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein told me he likes to start with data. “You sort of swim around in it for a while and try to find something interesting,” he said. Goldstein prefers to examine themes in the news and look for ways to build narratives around them. He’ll follow issues like housing prices and income inequality and look for the stories others aren’t doing. He also recommends looking for opportunities to explain things that may not be making headlines. “Thinking beyond the news is a good way to be distinctive,” he said.

For the Planet Money team, that can mean obtaining customized data sets from government agencies that make it easier to explain things like what Americans actually spend their weekends doing.

Reporting the explainer

The best explainers reflect deep original reporting. “Call multiple experts if necessary,” Heidi N. Moore, the Guardian’s U.S. finance and economics editor, said via email. “If you don’t educate yourself on it, you can’t educate anyone else.”

Palmer visits libraries. “I’m the one who gets the librarian to go and find that obscure book that no one’s ever heard of,” he said. He also frequently consults academics, a task that can at times be awkward.

“You’ve got to lose your sense of shame a little bit,” he said. “Some of the questions are sort of embarrassing to ask but you have to ask them anyway.” A few recent examples he shared: asking one expert about what causes people to pee in their pants when they’re scared, and another about why men’s hair will turn gray while their eyebrows don’t.

New York University professor and explainer advocate Jay Rosen encourages reporters to embrace basic questions. In explanatory journalism, asking even the basic “what were you thinking?” at every level of a story can have great value, he said by phone. “That’s what’s so hard to understand about some of these stories — stuff like Madoff and Enron — the what were they thinking.”

Crafting the explainer

Instead of starting at the beginning of the story, lead with the most important or surprising elements of a story and then work down to the details, Moore suggested. A story she and a colleague wrote on the fiscal cliff last year started not with a history of the fiscal cliff but with a look ahead to a looming tax hike that was bringing the U.S. fiscal situation under increased scrutiny.

Palmer starts his Slate articles with a question, follows with a succinct answer and then elaborates and adds peripheral details. “The crucial thing is to nail the simple question and to write it in a way that doesn’t require any background knowledge,” he said.

When Research in Motion changed its name to BlackBerry last week, Palmer asked whether corporate name changes ever save struggling companies. A few days before the inauguration, he asked whether the Secret Service was responsible for protecting Bo, the Obama family dog.

Writing, of course, isn’t the only effective medium for explanatory journalism. One of the best explainers, Rosen said, is This American Life’s “The Giant Pool of Money,” which took the form of an audio documentary. Lam Thuy Vo frequently explains economic-related issues through graphics on NPR’s Planet Money blog. And David Holmes keeps busy creating music videos that explain complex topics in the news.

Holmes, a musician who is head of social media and experimental journalism for PandoDaily and co-founded Explainer Music, created the “Fracking: The Music Video” for ProPublica. Since it was published in May 2011, the video has been viewed more than 335,000 times on YouTube. The video complements a ProPublica fracking investigation by explaining how fracking works.

“By creating a song around the word fracking we thought could make this complex topic easier to digest,” he said by phone. “All an explainer is, essentially, is a starting point to understanding a complex topic.” Read more


5 ways journalists can use social media to resurface old content

Journalists are finding that social media gives them ample opportunities to breathe new life into archived content. Recently, they’ve used social networking sites — while covering deaths, anniversaries, birthdays and ongoing stories — to resurface old content that their audiences may otherwise never see.

Here are some examples of how they’ve done it, along with five related tips.

Use Facebook’s Timeline to organize continuing coverage

The Wall Street Journal used Facebook to create a timeline of its coverage of the Facebook IPO. Instead of inundating its main Facebook page with IPO coverage, the Journal created a separate timeline that would become a social landing page for its coverage of the deal.

The timeline recounts Facebook’s journey since 2004, when it was launched from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room as, and includes links to related articles on

“We were looking for a unique way to tell the Facebook IPO story on social media,” said Brian Aguilar, a former Wall Street Journal social media editor and now assistant managing editor at Marketwatch. Aguilar and his colleagues closely monitored the timeline, particularly around Facebook’s May 18 IPO, and created a feed to automatically post new stories on the IPO from to the timeline.

“The moment really lent itself to being covered this way,” Aguilar said by phone. The paper knew the IPO was coming, knew it would be an ongoing story and knew readers were interested. These are three key components that Aguilar recommends journalists consider before undertaking an effort like this.

Use Twitter to renew attention to historic figures

Among its many Twitter feeds, WNYC operates two that tweet specifically from its extensive archives. One is meant to serve as the historical voice of the late New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. WNYC links to archived audio clips of the mayor’s weekly broadcasts during World War II. Though he died in 1947, the mayor now has close to 400 followers on Twitter.

The other links to audio from WNYC’s archives, including this 1949 piece on the problems of adolescence.

The feeds are meant to showcase the history buried within WNYC’s archives, said Haley Richardson, an assistant archivist at WNYC. “It’s like a treasure hunt. Every day, I listen to something or see something that hasn’t been heard or seen in decades,” she said by phone. “Our job is to piece it all together and make it relevant.”

Use Tumblr to share your photo archives with audiences

In 2012, The New York Times took its Lively Morgue feature to Tumblr. The feature, which began as part of the Times’ Lens blog, regularly highlights photographs from The Times’ archives. Each photograph includes a caption, date and name of the photographer who took it. Some of the captions link back to archived content.

“This is the story of what we have in the morgue,” said Darcy Eveleigh, a photo editor for the Times. She launched The Lively Morgue after getting her first look at the Times’ vast collection of photographs and negatives. “I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I started to pull out pictures that I thought were beautiful,”  Eveleigh said by phone. “They were just sitting there. Nobody was getting to see them, and I wanted to share what I found with people.”

The Times has millions of prints, contact sheets and negatives in its photo archives — enough that Times reporter David Dunlap estimated it would take nearly 2,000 years to post them all online even at a clip of 10 per weekday. Jeff Roth, the so-called keeper of the Times’ morgue, told me the process of finding and digitizing the most interesting archive photos takes time, money and a keen eye.

Use Pinterest, Facebook to tell the story of your news organization’s history

WNYC features milestones in its own history to its Facebook timeline. The posts recall occasions such as the station’s fifth anniversary in 1929, and the launch of in 1998. These posts typically generate noticeable bumps in Web traffic, WNYC’s Richardson said.

The Wall Street Journal maintains a Pinterest board of front pages dating back to its first edition in 1889. Here are some additional ways that the Journal and other sites – including the Orlando Sentinel and The New York Times — are using Pinterest to resurface old content.

Create social media features that resurface old photographs

Vanity Fair has taken advantage of Throwback Thursdays by posting old photos on Facebook with links to related photo galleries. A recent Throwback Thursday Facebook post featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Angelina Jolie with her son Maddox. The post, which included a caption that linked to a gallery of Vanity Fair photos of Oscar-winning moms, generated more than 3,000 likes and hundreds of shares.

“The intent is to stir up nostalgia in our followers and fans and enhance their feeling of connection to the magazine,” Vanity Fair Social Media Manager John Lockett said via email. Lockett said he started Throwback Thursday on Twitter earlier this year, then moved the feature to Facebook and Google+ because the social networks are more visual.

He’s since started a #VFvintage hashtag on Instagram and a #VFvintage Tumblr for Vanity Fair photos from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

“It reminds our readers why they love the magazine,” he said.

How has your news organization used social media to resurface old content?

Editor’s note: This article stemmed from research the author conducted as part of a master’s degree capstone project at Northwestern University. Read more


3 writers share tips on how to turn beats into books

Lots of journalists dream of writing books. For many who do, inspiration flows from the beats they cover day in and day out. I talked with three journalists who have written books to find out how they did it and what they learned in the process. Here are some of their tips.

Look for an intrinsic story line & characters in your beat

Kirsten Grind‘s job covering Washington Mutual for a local business journal prepared her for the lucky break that came when a top area book agent heard her on NPR. “When she emailed me, I had zero intention of writing a book,” Grind said in a phone interview.

Kirsten Grind

Grind had been covering Washington Mutual for nearly two years at the Puget Sound Business Journal when that call came. The bank became the largest American financial institution ever to collapse about six months after Grind started working the beat. She tracked the intimate details of Washington Mutual’s fall, eventually penning a series of narrative investigative pieces that landed her on Seattle’s NPR affiliate.

“I thought those stories were very challenging, but I had no idea,” she said. “I had to go so much deeper in the book.” Grind’s book “The Lost Bank: The Story of Washington Mutual -The Biggest Bank Failure in American History,” was released June 12.

Grind said the expertise she developed covering the story at the local level helped her not only land the book deal, but also write the book itself. Many of the records she used in her book stemmed from open records requests she filed while working for the Business Journal. Her relationships with many of the characters who fill the pages of her book also started while she was at the Business Journal.

“I literally spent years trying to get people to talk to me,” she said.

Grind said she courted the ex-wife of Washington Mutual’s then-CEO Kerry Killinger for two years before she agreed to tell her story on the record. “I just kept calling her and then I sort of invited myself to her house and never quoted her on the record for two years.” Seeing Grind’s stories in the Business Journal — and watching her keep her word — eventually convinced Linda Killinger to tell her story on the record by the time Grind began researching her book.

At one point, Linda Killinger was sued by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which alleged she and her former husband tried to defraud WaMu creditors by transferring ownership of at least two of their properties just before the bank’s failure.

“She had a very personal, moving story,” Grind said. “The relationship I had developed with her made her comfortable enough to share it for the book. If I hadn’t been local, that would have never happened.”

Of course, as Grind learned, there are some major differences in reporting a book versus a series of investigative articles.

“In book interviews you have to spend so much more time with a person,” Grind said. She said she’d usually start by scheduling a general interview with someone and follow up with three or four more in-depth interviews in which she would ferret out details such as what a character was wearing or thinking.

“In order to make a narrative flow, you have to have details that you would never have during a newspaper story,” she said.

Grind suggests that budding authors read a lot of fiction. Think of the arc of those stories, the rise and fall of that arc, the characters developed and think about what you’re covering. If you see an intrinsic storyline like that in your beat, you could have book potential.”

Save the information that doesn’t make it into news stories

Like so many journalists, Kevin Davis started his reporting career on the police beat. When he was at the South Florida Sun Sentinel covering crime and punishment, he would spend his shifts “making the rounds” and chatting up secretaries, one of whom gave him the tip that would lead to the publication of his first book.

Kevin Davis

Investigators were making a series of unusual trips to Las Vegas and Colorado in relation to an old murder case, the secretary told Davis. “I just started digging around like any reporter would at that point,” he said over coffee in Chicago. What he found was a “heartbreaking story of a horrible injustice” that piqued the curiosity of programs including “20/20,” “Inside Edition and “The Phil Donahue Show.”

Davis’ first book, “The Wrong Man,” told the story of John Purvis, a mental patient who was wrongly convicted after being coerced into confessing to the rape and murder of a Fort Lauderdale woman. Purvis’ mother dedicated her life to proving her son’s innocence. Purvis’ innocence was eventually proven but not until after he had spent years of life behind bars.

“It really was the perfect storm of opportunity. As a result of my reporting, I had a book practically in my hands,” Davis said. His dad, a novelist, connected him with an agent and “The Wrong Man” began to emerge.

It’s a story Davis may not have been able to tell had he not developed a close relationship with the Purvis family while reporting the story for the Sun Sentinel. “I had a head start on any outsider, and I think that’s part of why they wanted to do the book with me,” he said. “It was a matter of them being more comfortable working with somebody they knew.”

Davis said working at the paper gave him access to people and information anyone else interested in pursuing the book wouldn’t have had. “You have to invest time into the people you’re writing about to be able to tell a truly rich story, and being at the paper, I was able to do that,” he said.

Like any reporter, Davis often collected far more information than ever made it into the pages of the Sun Sentinel. But he was able to use some of that information to help build the narrative in his book. “When you work a beat, that’s when you get all your rich material,” he said. “Newspapers can be great places to find book ideas.”

Davis says that when your work starts attracting the interest of people outside of your publication’s normal audience, consider the potential for a book.

Take advantage of opportunities that can help you grow as a writer

Christy Karras was a features reporter at The Salt Lake Tribune when she discovered an ad seeking someone to update a Utah travel guide on the newsroom bulletin board.

Christy Karras

The original author had passed away, and Karras, a Utah native, couldn’t resist the urge to reply. She sent in a few clips and soon hit the road to write what has become the first in a string of books about the region.

Karras, by virtue of her day job, had become the perfect person to take on the challenge of updating “Scenic Driving Utah.” “I was really a features generalist,” she said in a phone interview. “I knew about landscapes, the national parks and amenities partly from having looked at it through a journalistic lens already.” In the years since, her background as daily newspaper and Ap reporter has continued to benefit her.

Having this background shows sources that you’re a professional and show publishers that you already have a following, she explained.

Karras’ days in the newsroom also provided the perfect practice for writing a nonfiction book, she said. Read more


How journalists can develop business, entrepreneurial skills in the newsroom

Believe it or not, there are ways to make money in journalism. One of them is by crossing from the editorial to the business side of the industry.

While some journalists have launched their own news sites, others have found lucrative business-related opportunities within the newsroom.

Familiarizing yourself with the business side of journalism

When Evan Smith was editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly, he made it a point to learn about circulation, advertising, marketing and other business aspects of the publication. “I found it made me better at my job,” he said by phone. “It gave me a more well-rounded picture of the magazine as an entity.”

That came in handy when he co-founded The Texas Tribune and became both its editor-in-chief and CEO. “I wasn’t just another journalist who thought he could run a business,” he said. “I actually had some experience with the guts of the news business.”

Smith suggests that editors make a point of understanding what motivates colleagues in advertising and circulation, and take an active role in figuring out how to get their content in front of as many people as possible. “It does not make you less of a journalist to be more savvy about the business,” he said.

Smith says journalists interested in the business side of news should look to the Web, noting that it’s “the 21st century springboard to greatness.”

Longtime recruiter Joe Grimm, who now teaches at Michigan State University, often chats with journalists who have developed entrepreneurial skills to launch their own sites. “Journalists have opportunities every day to learn about the business operations of their companies,” he said via email. “It is smart to do this kind of reporting, even if one is not planning a move to the business side.”

Joining task forces within the newsroom

Rebecca Baldwin took advantage of business-related opportunities while working for the Tribune company. She started her journalism career as a copy editor at Florida’s now-defunct Palm Bay Post and eventually moved to the Chicago Tribune, where she edited the Arts & Entertainment and Style sections. She then began her climb to the top of the leadership ladder at Tribune Media Services’ TV news and listings site

While at the Tribune, Baldwin joined a newsroom task force aimed at revamping the legendary publication.

“That opened my eyes to what the other parts of the newspaper did,” she said over coffee in Chicago. The experience introduced her to the marketing, advertising and financial sides of the news business. It also guided her toward positions in product development and eventually to her current position as general manager and vice president of It also helped her shift her professional focus from content creation to product strategy.

Baldwin said joining the Tribune’s task force helped her make her career interests and potential clearer to the people who eventually hired her out of the newsroom. “The fact that I have the editorial background has made me the perfect solution to a lot of problems,” she said. “Being able to get inside an editorial person’s head has paid off for me time and time again.”

Moving from the newsroom to the boardroom has given her more job stability than many of her colleagues at the Tribune have enjoyed in recent years. It also has improved her work/life balance and her bottom line. “My salary and hours are much better than they were in editorial,” she said.

And it helped her get a Tribune-paid five-figure MBA from a top business school, a valuable perk she concedes is far more rare these days.

Taking advantage of opportunities in product development

Earlier this month, Forbes Media Chief Product Officer Lewis DVorkin wrote: “I often say I used to be a journalist.” He now describes himself as “a product guy.”

DVorkin’s first job was as a copy editor for the then combined AP-Dow Jones News Service. Now instead of editing copy, he focuses on shaping the Forbes consumer experiences. It’s a job with a paycheck sure to trump any newsroom copy editor’s, and one that offers DVorkin — who launched and sold the site True/Slat to Forbes — the luxury of straddling the business and editorial sides of the news.

To better understand the intersection of the business and editorial sides, Baldwin suggests journalists interested in the business side of the news look for opportunities in product development.

When she was director of product development for Tribune Interactive, part of her job was to help the Los Angeles Times figure out how to use an events database that had been created for a new online entertainment product, Metromix, to power the paper’s print listings.

“We were dealing with some pretty senior editors at the Times who were very concerned about every aspect of how the listings would appear,” Baldwin said. “Having been in that position at the Chicago Tribune, I knew exactly what their concerns were and was able to make them understand that we were committed to the quality they desired.”

Baldwin also suggests journalists become as intimately acquainted with their products as possible. Skills such being able to understand audience analytics and analyze a cash flow statement can be particularly handy.

“As news organizations come up with new stuff,” she said, “understanding your product better than anyone else can be a real benefit.” Read more

Suspect in custody

How journalists can protect themselves & the news they’ve gathered if arrested on the job

A growing number of journalists across the U.S. are getting arrested while on the job. And it’s not just an Occupy Wall Street issue.

Veteran photojournalist Clint Fillinger was arrested in September for standing beyond police barricades while filming a house fire in Milwaukee. The charges were eventually dropped.

“As the number of people who are out on the street with cell phones that record audio and video grows, so does the number of arrests of people recording and taking photographs of police,” Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a recent phone interview. “It could be just coincidence, but I doubt it.”

Dalglish believes police are becoming increasing “prickly” as more citizen journalists try to document their actions. Police are also paying less attention to journalists’ First Amendment rights and arresting more reporters working for traditional organizations, she said.

Journal Sentinel photojournalist Kristyna Wentz-Graff, a three-time Wisconsin “Photographer of the Year” winner, was arrested last fall while covering a protest in Milwaukee. A photo shows her being handcuffed despite having visibly displayed media credentials. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said video of the arrest makes it clear she was a reporter doing her job.

“An officer turned towards me, cuffs in hand, and before I knew it, I had become part of the story,” Wentz-Graff said via email.

Arrests of journalists in the U.S. last year grew enough to push the country down 27 spots to no. 47 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

Reports so far this year suggest journalist arrests aren’t slowing down. Just this week, Carlos Miller, who runs the blog “Photography is Not a Crime,” was arrested while covering Occupy protests in Miami.

Developing a plan for dealing with arrests

Dalglish recommends journalists start by planning ahead. Journalists working on behalf of specific newsrooms should have editors standing by when they’re covering situations that could put them at risk. “Talk about the protocol for handling an arrest beforehand,” she said.

Dalglish suggests journalists carry identification and wear their press badges while working. She also suggests carrying cash, an editor’s contact information and the number to the Reporters Committee 24-hour legal hotline. “Somebody needs to know if you’ve been arrested so they can get a lawyer down to you,” she said.

The committee is setting up additional hotlines to deal with calls related to this year’s political conventions and G-8 summit in Chicago.

Gavin Aronsen, an editorial fellow with Mother Jones in San Francisco, said in a phone call that he’s been able to avoid arrest by displaying his press credentials and following officers’ instructions in the past. But, as he pointed out in a recent Mother Jones story, that doesn’t always work out.

Wentz-Graff urges reporters under arrest to stay calm and keep reporting. “Outraged, shocked and annoyed — that’s how I felt when the officer placed the cuff on my wrist. But fighting an officer is a losing battle,” she said. “Escalating the situation will only give them more reasons to justify your arrest.”

Should you get as far as the county lockup, Dalglish recommends asking for the supervisor on duty or a public information officer and explaining your role as a working journalist. “Keep in mind the officer who could potentially be on your side of the situation,” she said.

Dalglish cautions journalists against breaking the law in the course of their reporting. “If you violate the law, you will be treated the same as the law violators,” she said. “That means even if you’re press, you don’t get to cross a police barricade unless you have special permission from somebody to do that.”

How freelancers can handle arrests

Freelancers may face more challenges when dealing with police. “If I get arrested, I have no editor who is going to proactively call on my behalf,” said Susie Cagle, a northern California freelance comics journalist. “It’s just me.”

Cagle has been arrested twice since November while covering Occupy Oakland. “If you don’t have a giant professional looking camera, it’s like they see you as fair game to go to jail,” she said by phone. Cagle has found that it helps to obtain official city press credentials and make sure public information officers know who she is and that she’s a working journalist.

Dalglish suggests independent journalists who are threatened with arrest ask for a supervisor and show links to articles they’ve published. “This might help move the process along a little faster,” she said.

Protecting the news you’ve gathered

Several journalists who have recently been arrested or otherwise detained reported having their photographs and video erased.

Casey Monroe, a video journalist for ABC 24 News in Memphis, Tenn., says police erased photographs and video he took of officers issuing a parking ticket. “I identified myself as a journalist, and I was on a public sidewalk,” Monroe said by phone.

Dalglish pointed out that “One of the reasons the cops flip out at a crime scene is because they think you have pictures of their undercover officers.” Still, she said, the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 prohibits law enforcement from seizing or erasing materials obtained by journalists for the purpose of communicating with the public.

That may not always be enough to keep a memory card from getting cleared, but it’s a reminder that every journalist has a right to do his or her job — and advocate for themselves when under arrest.

Click here for a related News University course on newsgathering law & liability.

Correction: Lucy Dalglish’s last name was misspelled in a previous version of this story. Read more

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