Tracie Powell


‘Today’ show’s executive producer takes responsibility for Ann Curry’s departure

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It’s been three months since Ann Curry was forced to leave NBC’s “Today” show, but the network is still dealing with the fallout.

The show’s executive producer, Jim Bell, appears to be on a mission to repair damage done to the show and its current host, Matt Lauer, after Curry’s messy departure. In recent days, Bell has granted interviews with The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter, and Curry has been the main topic of conversation.

In the interviews, Bell continues to defend the decision to replace Curry with Savannah Guthrie, and he repeatedly denies rumors that Lauer had made firing Curry a condition of his contract renewal.

“It was definitely not Matt’s call,” Bell told the Times’ Bill Carter. “He is the host and does not have management responsibility. It was not his call. That was my call.”

The interviews may be in response to reports that the “Today” show has constituently lost viewers since Curry’s departure. Radar Online also reported over the weekend that Lauer’s popularity has taken a hit, and The New York Daily News reported Monday that Lauer may soon have to take a pay cut to his $25 million salary due to the ratings drop. Read more

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Survey: Local news stations ignoring ‘toxic mix of money, politics & media’ leading up to election

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A Free Press report released this week says that “perhaps the most important story of the 2012 presidential election is the toxic mix of money, politics and media that is shaping so much of the discourse in the months before the general election. Yet that’s not a story you’ll find on the local news.”

In the report, called “Left In the Dark,” Free Press and volunteers examined the political files of CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox News affiliates in Charlotte, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Tampa — all located in key swing states — and found that while many TV stations are covering local and national races, they are ignoring the ever-expanding role money and the media are playing in these contests.

It’s a longstanding problem that has only worsened in 2012. Wealthy donors,  corporations, lobbyists and politicians are aligning with powerful media companies against a public seeking to engage more fully in democracy. The scarcity of honest information about the misleading political ads invading our airwaves has knocked viewers and voters for a loss.

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Condé Nast appoints its first black editor-in-chief

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For the first time in its 103-year-history, Condé Nast has named a black editor to head one of its magazines.

Keija Minor is now editor-in-chief of Brides, the world’s largest weddings magazine. She succeeds Anne Fulenwider who left Brides earlier this month to become editor-in-chief of Marie Claire. Minor had been executive editor of Brides since November 2011, and was acting editor-in-chief after Fulenwider left. Before Brides, Minor was editor-in-chief of Uptown Magazine, a luxury title targeting African Americans. She was also editor-in-chief of Gotham. Read more


Frank Rich gets a shout-out at the Emmys as ProPublica character debuts on Treme

In the movies, the relationship between Hollywood and journalism is often portrayed as acrimonious. In reality the two couldn’t be cozier.

The real-life relationship between journalists and entertainers was on full-display Sunday night when Julia Louis-Dreyfus — who won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of a foul-mouthed, female vice president of the United States in HBO’s “Veep” — gave a shout-out to New York magazine’s writer at large (and former New York Times columnist) Frank Rich in her acceptance speech. That outpouring reveals the very close, and often profitable, relationship between the news and entertainment industries.

The relationship has been particularly fruitful for HBO and journalists, in part because of the connection between the network’s new CEO, Richard Plepler, and heavy hitters in Washington and New York media circles, according to a New York Times story published last week. Read more


New Comedy Central ads: ‘You can trust us’ for political coverage

“The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are back, after being on hiatus following coverage of both national political conventions. In the next few weeks, viewers can look forward to seeing more unadulterated political coverage of the presidential election, including fact-checking. The network will also increase its scrutiny of those who are supposed to be keeping the U.S. citizenry informed.

In other words, Comedy Central will be reporting on the “reporters.”

That’s nothing new. Poking fun at the foibles and hypocrisy of the news media has been a staple of both “The Daily Show” since host Jon Stewart took it over in 1999 and “The Colbert Report,” launched by Stephen Colbert in 2005. What’s new, said a spokesman via email, is an ad campaign that is questioning the trustworthiness of news sources and personalities.

The double purpose of ‘The Daily Show’

Two ads attacking CNN and the Fox News Channel are already up and running on the network. “You can trust us on election night, unlike some news networks,” one of the ads says. This claim comes at a time when 60 percent of Americans surveyed by Gallup say they don’t trust the media.

Viewers can expect to see six to eight more spots running on Comedy Central between now and election day, the spokesman said.

The ads will target news sources and personalities, according to a press release.

So what are we to make of all this? Comedy Central has always said it does comedy, not news. By highlighting that it is now the go-to source for political news and analysis, especially for younger viewers, is the network finally acknowledging that it is more than just a place for a good laugh?

Comedy Central declined to be interviewed for this story, but what the business side of the TV network does to try to raise ad rates or attract advertising doesn’t necessarily reveal the editorial intent or mindset of Stewart and his writers, said Tom Rosenstiel, Founder and Director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In 2007, Stewart landed on a list of journalists Americans most admired. Among people under 30, he ranked top on the list that included NBC’s Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw as well as Dan Rather and Anderson Cooper. After that happened, Pew studied the show for a year and released a report in 2008 that found The Daily Show closely resembles the news agenda of cable news programs and talk radio.

“Comedy Central isn’t trying to do the news, but they are trying to comment on the news,” Rosenstiel told Poynter in a telephone interview. Some of what they do is journalistic, but their main goal is entertainment, he added.

The shows use tape archives that show how news-makers are using the same talking points over and over to reveal the repetition as political spin or to show how people have changed their stories or have contradicted themselves. “That’s a journalistic act,” said Rosenstiel. “They’re using archives as a documentary tool. They do a very good job of that. In many ways they sometimes do a better job of that than anybody else on television.”

In a 2009 interview with Poynter, “Daily Show” writer Elliott Kalan said, “I feel like there are lot of critics of the government but there are very few critics of the media who have an audience and are credible and keep a watch on things … That’s a role that we provide that we take very seriously.”

Who is watching

In addition to the often scathing coverage of politicians and the news media it already provides on the network’s two highest-rated shows, Comedy Central adjusted the broadcast schedules for both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” to accommodate the two national political conventions. The decision paid off. According to Nielsen, both shows spiked in viewership and the network announced that it had bested CNN, the Fox News Channel and MSNBC in head-to-head competition during the Republican National Convention last month, a fact Comedy Central touted in a press release calling attention to its “ratings victory” over the cable news channels and their post-convention coverage.

Nielsen data shows that “The Daily Show” usually averages about 1.5 million viewers per night, but on the second night of the Republican confab in Tampa, Fla., 1.8 million people tuned in live to watch Stewart’s post-convention analysis. Viewership reached as high as 1.7 million live viewers on the first night of the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. Unlike “The Daily Show,” which sent an entire crew including Stewart to cover the conventions, “The Colbert Report” remained in New York. It usually averages 1.1. million viewers who watch live, but viewership spiked as high as 1.4 million on the final day of the GOP convention and 1.3 million on the last day of the Democratic convention.

Comedy Central announced that it was the “choice among the crucial youth vote” who tuned into its “award-winning political coverage” of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” “in greater numbers than Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN in the head-to-head battle during the Republican National Convention.” The network was the top-rated and most viewed among adults 18-34, men 18-34 and the coveted advertiser demographic of adults 18-49.

Last year, “The Daily Show” topped all cable and broadcast nightly talk shows among adults 18 to 49. Both it and “The Colbert Report” are especially popular among men 18-34. And while audiences for all three cable news channels are aging and stagnating, Comedy Central’s shows are actually growing viewership. In 2011, “The Daily Show” audience rose by seven percent, while “The Colbert Report” grew by two percent, according to data released by the network, based on Nielsen research (here and here).

The fact that Comedy Central’s post-political convention ratings were higher during the RNC meeting than during the DNC confab may suggest that Democratic viewers chose to watch more serious coverage of their own convention a week later, Rosenstiel suggested, or it could be an indicator of where the hosts of the two shows fall on the ideological political spectrum: Stewart is viewed by many as a liberal; Colbert parodies a conservative news host, but is also seen as liberal. Something that doesn’t escape the Fox News Channel.

The debate

Shortly after Comedy Central ran its ad targeting his network, Bill O’Reilly of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” challenged Stewart to a live debate. Stewart accepted. The two have appeared on each other’s shows in the past, but this is the first time they will meet for what Stewart described as an “old-fashioned duel of the wits.”

The debate will take place Oct. 6 in Washington, D.C. As with the actual presidential and vice presidential debates, Stewart and O’Reilly will spar at a college, The George Washington University, suggesting that there will be an educational element to the event in addition to humor. But money will change hands.

While the contests between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be free for people to attend, the rumble between Stewart and O’Reilly will cost $100 a ticket to see in person, or $4.95 to watch live online. Half the proceeds will go to charity, the hosts said.

The 90-minute debate will be moderated by E. D. Hill, a former Fox News anchor who recently reported on the RNC for The Blaze, a conservative news and opinion website. In addition to contending with each other, Stewart and O’Reilly will also take questions from the audience. Read more


Mug-shot websites move beyond journalism to mainstream profiteers

After failing to find a news job in North Carolina, former crime reporter Greg Rickabaugh launched The Jail Report, a weekly newspaper with companion websites, including and The publications feature crime news, analysis and features on repeat offenders and local law enforcement’s most wanted criminals. But the staple of the publications are pictures of people who have been arrested — publicly available mug-shots.

Rickabaugh’s business is booming. Since 2009, he’s grown to employ four full-time workers, a dozen part-timers and two of his brothers quit their full-time jobs to help him manage the company. Rickabaugh boasts that he’s earning more money publishing mug-shots than he ever did as a reporter, and he’s expanded the operation into South Carolina and California. But thanks to the proliferation of other mug-shot websites, Rickabaugh’s business model is under attack. In Georgia, where his flagship publication is located, one lawmaker is pursuing legislation to ban mug-shot websites outright.

These days, mugshot websites are popping up all over the place, started by people with no journalism background and no journalism intent. These entrepreneurs are tapping into new media tools and techniques to access public records from sheriff’s office websites. They import the photos and other information into websites then charge people hundreds or even thousands of dollars to have the content removed.

“Their entire intent is to put somebody’s mug-shot online where, when someone searches for their name, it comes up. So when you go to the website, not only do they show you the arrest information and the picture, they’ll also tell you ‘here is how to get it removed,’” Rickabaugh told Poynter in a telephone interview, differentiating his website from the other mug shot sites because he also provides crime news stories, analysis, features, and public service information.

“Some people have mug-shots on three or four different websites, so they have to pay multiple times to get their information removed. There’s one guy who was making half a million dollars a year doing this. It’s almost extortion really.”

The history of publishing mug shots

Public access to arrest records dates all the way back to the Revolutionary War. British colonials used to arrest people in secret, and the public would never know who was arrested or why. Rebel colonists changed that, but never could have imagined what’s now being done with these records in the digital age.

In 2009, Matt Waite helped develop one of the first mug-shot websites for Poynter’s Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times. Both Waite and the Times were criticized because the sleek interface seemed to provide more entertainment than journalistic value. “We told the truth about what we’d be doing,” Waite said, adding that journalists told critics about the steps they’d take against becoming an archive for people’s past mistakes.

Now a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Waite said he fears the impact these other websites are having on the news industry and open government.

“As a journalist I am deeply disturbed by them because they are using public records against people. And really it’s a matter of time before legislatures figure out that their constituents are being held up by these sites. It’s very clearly a money making thing, where they say, ‘You can pay us to have your name removed’ from these things,” Waite told Poynter by telephone.

“I don’t think that’s in the spirit of the public records law, I think it’s actively harmful to the idea of open records and open government, and I’m afraid of what the consequences are going to be.”

When creating its mug-shot feature, journalists at the Tampa Bay Times took into consideration the length of time the photos would be made available on the paper’s highly-trafficked website. Because the paper couldn’t know whether people arrested would be found guilty or not guilty of their charges, all mugs were deleted after 60 days, about the same amount of time it takes a misdemeanor case to be adjudicated, Waite said. The paper also blocked Google from indexing the records, so if you searched for a person’s name, the paper’s mug-shot web page would not appear.

“We did those things because we are journalists and we thought responsibly about what we were doing,” said Waite.

But, that’s not how today’s version of mug-shot websites work.

The new mug-shot websites

There’s no need for old school journalism methods in order to get mug shots these days, such as filing public information requests or visiting the county jail to pick up photographs. Rickabaugh and others in the mug-shot business use software to quickly and continuously scrape content from publicly available sheriff office websites. Initially, The Tampa Bay Times also scraped content from the county sheriff’s website, but law enforcement officials asked the paper to stop doing that, Waite recalled. The sheriff’s office later provided the paper with an application programming interface to access the content more efficiently, he said.

The content is then published on privately owned websites, in printed newspapers, and made available through web searches.

Ads appear on the mug-shot web pages of the Tampa Bay Times, where Waite continues to consult. The paper earns revenue from the pictures, Waite said, but he does not know how much since he’s been gone from the company for a year. Regardless, journalists have been making money off of crime news forever. “Making money off of mug-shots isn’t really the point, it’s how you go about making money off of them,” Waite said.

Making money by exploiting state public records laws and Google’s search algorithms to publicly shame people is a growth industry, writes David Kravets for Wired. Even when the host websites don’t directly charge to remove the content, so-called reputation management websites fill the gap.

Kravets profiled, which constantly crawls 37 of the state’s counties to get years-old arrest data as well as information on new busts. Started by a former felon whose mug-shot isn’t included on the site, absorbs arrest records at a rate of 1,500 a day and hosts about 4 million mug-shots, according to Kravets.

“Visitors to [the] site can comment on the photos, or browse them by tags like ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Hotties,’ ‘Trannies,’ ‘Tatted up’ and ‘WTF,’ Kravets reports. “Most of the photos are of adults, but children as young as 11 are also on display if they’re accused of adult crimes.”

The primary problem is arrests are not convictions. People are often arrested but charges are later dropped or they are exonerated. While sheriff’s offices typically (the practice varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction) delete mug-shots of people who aren’t convicted, that’s not necessarily true of mug-shot websites.These sites are often run by profiteers who take advantage of public sites, the same sites news organizations rely on to help inform the public.

The arrest of a young college student who ultimately did not face charges, but whose scholarship was being threatened because her mug-shot found its way online, is what convinced Georgia legislator Roger Bruce to push for a new law that will ban the websites.

“We don’t want to infringe on the rights of the legitimate media to report what the news is, and we don’t want to infringe on anybody’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech. But you also want to protect people from being extorted,” said Bruce in a telephone interview.

Bruce said he will likely introduce the legislation in the Georgia General Assembly in January.

New law could affect all mug-shot websites

Rickabaugh’s Augusta, Georgia-based weekly mug-shot newspaper that he started in 2009 is in about 90 percent of the city’s convenience stores where people pay $1 per issue of the paper. Most of his revenue, he said, comes from single copy sales and advertising. He declined to reveal specific revenue numbers, but said he does not actively sell ad space. “They seek us out,” he said of advertisers that include several bail bonds companies.

Rickabaugh said if people can demonstrate they have been exonerated he will remove their mug-shots from his website, for free. The former cops reporter said he’s already personally removed about 10 mug-shots in the past four months. Rickabaugh said he understands that predatory websites are giving people like him who run news-oriented mug-shot websites a bad rep, but he fears Rep. Bruce’s legislation might go too far and could restrict media access to public information.

Even if mug-shot websites do not charge people directly to remove embarrassing information, there are allies in the form of so-called ‘reputation management’ firms. Wired’s Kravets writes that a Utah high-tech employee paid $399 to to erase his mug-shot (for a 2007 DUI arrest) from and Google search results. But, as Rickabaugh said earlier – and Bruce echoed – multiple sites may have the information. Not only can this exacerbate removal costs, people may never know how many sites have the information or whether the photos will pop up again on another site.

There is no legal recourse and no legal means to prevent the exploitation of public records in this way in the digital age, said Clifford S. Fishman, a law professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Before the Internet, there were practical restraints on publicizing police allegations, including mug-shots, that were limited to word of mouth or local newspapers and TV stations. Even after the Internet, there were restraints, Fishman said, in that publicizing embarrassing photos was limited to “famous people looking their worst after getting arrested.” That’s all changed now that just about anybody can publish just about anything to a wide audience.

Beyond invading privacy and damaging reputations in ways that cannot be undone even if the charges on which a person is arrested are later proven baseless, Fishman said in a telephone interview that publishing arrest records is not necessarily in the public interest, and that news organizations shouldn’t have general access to mug-shots any more than private bloggers or more predatory websites. “At least not until there’s been a conviction,” he said.

Waite empathizes with legislators and Fishman, but said removing public access to mug-shots is taking a step backward.

“The idea of regulating this so that only legitimate news sites have access raises questions about who’s a legitimate news site and about who decides who’s a legitimate news site,” he said. “Are we taking a step toward government licensure of news organizations and of journalists? That too carries consequences, consequences that news organizations have traditionally been very uncomfortable with.”

The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press, but the proliferation of mug-shot websites is testing that provision.

“Frankly I wish people weren’t using public records to embarrass and make money off of people,” Waite said. “This is a very, very tricky situation.” Read more

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New Yahoo News editor-in-chief: ‘I’m always looking for a great story’

Last month, Hillary Frey became editor-in-chief of Yahoo News.

In a telephone interview, Frey told Poynter her primary goal is to showcase original content produced by Yahoo’s team of reporters, editors and videographers, as well as forge a clear brand identity for Yahoo News.

Frey, who came to Yahoo last November as managing editor, said her first order of business is shepherding and showcasing Yahoo’s upcoming originally-produced election coverage.

Yahoo already has a reporter on the road with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and for the first time ever, a White House correspondent too. The news organization also provided extensive primary election coverage, including reports on the debates that it produced in conjunction with its partner, ABC News.

Frey said Yahoo is pushing out more original content than it ever has.

Frey declined to talk about her new boss, newly minted CEO Marissa Mayer, but she told BuzzFeed in an earlier interview that the two had not yet met, and that she was “proud to work for a place that put not just a woman but a pregnant woman in the top spot.” (Frey had her first child recently.)

In a conversation with Poynter, presented below in edited form, Frey discussed her career path, how she finds new talent, balancing work and motherhood, as well as her vision for Yahoo News.

Poynter: How does a young journalist climb the ladder to where she can get paid well and do significant work?

Hillary Frey: My first job I worked for a literary agent because I was interested in culture, books and the arts. That is what got me to New York, but I realized working in the book publishing industry wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be; I wanted to be writing more. The first magazine job I took I worked on the business side, in advertising at Lingua Franca, which was this amazing magazine that covered academic life. It’s not around any more. But it put me in a position that, when it was time to hire an editorial assistant, I got the job.

It’s not exactly the path that I would recommend, starting on the business side, but for young people starting in journalism and getting their feet wet, I think it’s really good to know as much as you can about how the entire place operates. Certainly, learning about production and the business side are assets even if your aspiration is to be a reporter. My basic advice to anybody who wants to be writing is to get out on the street, learn how to report, don’t be shy, and hone those reporting skills. And then work on the writing because really, really good reporting is so exciting, and there’s not enough of it. Once you nail those skills, you’ll find your way.

A lot of people are starting their own sites or their own small publications. In this environment knowing all these different aspects of the operation can only give you more control over your destiny.

You started out in book publishing, which led to a job running the books section of, which in turn led to jobs at The Nation, The New York Observer, Politico, Adweek and now Yahoo. How are the companies you’ve worked for different as news organizations? How does that inform your work now?

Frey: Working at the Observer, I started under Peter Kaplan, that was the first time I really worked in a newsroom with reporters and editors with a beat structure. I took that experience and then launched a culture section when the paper went from broadsheet to tabloid. In the time I was there, I moved over to the media desk, and I was media editor, where I had four great reporters working directly with me on their stories and on their Web pieces. I loved being in that clear structure where the reporters reported to me and I reported to the higher-up editors, the executive editor and the editor-in-chief. It created a really clear chain of command.

I like a beat structure and working in that kind of environment. I think it gives reporters a clear idea of who to go to, who to lean on for advice, for direction and editing input. All of that creates a really important tie between the editor and the reporter.

Hillary Frey became Yahoo! News editor-in-chief last month.

The beat structure at Yahoo is clear, but as we look to developing more content in different areas, we’ll be growing the organization here and there. We’ll be going along with that sort of structure having people really clearly report to specific people.

One of the things that’s really fun for me being at Yahoo, with all the partners that we have and work with — whether it’s working with, The Daily Caller, all of these various organizations out there — I’m getting to do a breadth of reading and sort of engaging on all different topics that I haven’t been able to do for quite a while.

Unlike with Adweek, where we were really focused on the business of media and technology, here we’re looking generally and broadly at news every day. I’m getting to go back, read a lot more widely and look at these partners and all the great content that they have to offer. Before, I’d gotten sort of specialized and now I’m getting to do more of a bigger picture look at news than I’d been able to do previously.

Where do you look for talent?

Frey: When I have a role to fill, I just blast out to anybody I know or people I know or co-workers will know of someone. Also, we just read a lot out there online and in print and everywhere else. Bylines will stand out to you and you think, that person is doing amazing work, maybe we’ll have the opportunity to bring them into the fold. We lean on our network of co-workers and past co-workers and you wind up with great ideas of people in far-flung areas who can do different things.

What kinds of skills do the people who get hired by Yahoo News possess?

Frey: I’m always looking for a great story. Whether it’s a writer or an editor, what you want to see in their work is just being able to tell a great story, whether it’s through an essay, through reporting, or through a profile. I always admire anybody who can break news or make a little news even if it’s in the context of a feature.

In addition to writers, Yahoo has brought in an amazing video team. We recently had our team travel to Virginia to interview Mormons about a possible Romney presidency. We look for people are able to think about different kinds of shows that we can do with Yahoo studios, or how we can bring in a video team to do specialized pieces for us during the election. We’re always looking for really exciting, different, new ideas in terms of working with contributors and freelancers who are out in the world.

You’ve said you didn’t expect to have a new promotion and a new baby at the same time, how are you balancing the two?

Frey: I have a really great husband who is really helpful, and our families have been really helpful since I’ve been back at work. My day starts early with the baby and I get to spend time with her before I come into the office. But it’s great here because it’s bi-coastal. A lot of the people I work with are in Santa Monica and, for better or for worse, I’m not with them day-to-day, face-to-face. We know how to work virtually very well. There’s a lot you can do with a baby and a Blackberry if that’s the way you sort of need to get things done. I think the balance, it’s definitely like testing it out and I’m learning a lot, but so far it’s been great.

We’re taking [the baby] to the Republican Convention for sure because my husband [Mark Lotto, a senior editor at GQ] also has to go for work.

What is Yahoo’s plan for convention coverage?

Frey: Yahoo will announce exciting plans that we will reveal in just a few weeks. I will say that we’ll have a huge presence at the conventions. I can tell you that we’re sending the majority of the news editorial staff.

What are the current needs of the company in terms of the news division?

One thing that we’re focusing on right now is figuring out how to better surface our original reporting and our Yahoo talent clearly on Yahoo and Yahoo News. That’s a major priority for everybody because we’re the world’s biggest news organization (in terms of audience), we want people who come to visit us to realize that a lot of what they’re reading, engaging with and are excited about is being homegrown here at Yahoo. That’s probably the main priority that I’m thinking about and that a lot of people here are thinking about.

What are your major goals for the coming 12 months?

Frey: I’ll be looking more closely at the user experience and, as we work to push our original content out to the world, also paying attention to things like video and text and how they play best together.

We have a great opportunity with the election this year. We’ve already done so much in the spring and winter of last year. We exhaustively covered the primary and the debates, and had some pretty exciting moments doing debates with ABC, which is our main news partner. What I’m really focused on right now is just ensuring that our election experience going through the fall is really exciting, different and making sure that the people on my team have all the support and backing that we need to get it done.

Correction: This post originally stated that Hillary Frey was the first ever editor-in-chief of Yahoo News; she was not. Read more


Gawker essay experiment brings weekend audience, attention to new writers

Before last weekend many people had never heard of Kiese Laymon — until his essay, “How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance,” appeared on Gawker’s home page and went viral in a matter of hours.

One hundred-thousand unique page views, 3,000 Facebook “likes,” and as many tweets later, Gawker may have just repositioned itself as more than a juicy gossip site.

Laymon’s essay describes growing up black in America or being “born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi,” which could easily apply to black girls and just about anywhere in the U.S. really. In a telephone interview Laymon told Poynter he’s been writing the essay in different forms for the past 12 years, but that it took on a bit more urgency after Florida neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, proclaimed last month that it was God’s plan for him to kill unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Laymon posted a version of the essay — an excerpt from his forthcoming book, “On Parole: An Autobiographical Antidote to Post-Blackness” – on his personal blog where a former student, Gawker Managing Editor Emma Carmichael, saw it. She contacted Laymon about republishing the essay, and though he often turns down similar requests, Laymon told Carmichael yes.

“I trust Emma. She talked with me about where Gawker is going, and I trust the vision,” said the 36-year-old Vassar College professor. While he didn’t immediately consider his essay serious journalism, Laymon talked about his writing style, storytelling and how to engage audiences.

“When I write I’m trying to write because there’s something I don’t understand, something I don’t know, something I can feel but can’t really wrap the words around. So I’m writing to discover that thing,” he said. “But because it’s not just solitary, because I’m showing it to somebody at the end, I’m also aware that I have to perform that discovery and let their sensibilities guide me along that discoverable road. I write to discover and then at the end, I must perform that discovery.”

His ultimate goal: To speak to people through his writing with the purpose of inviting them to speak back.

Check out the comments section of his blogGawker and Twitter to see what others have been saying about the essay. Laymon said readers have even found his email to send messages about how the piece has affected them.

A.J. Daulerio, who became Gawker’s editor in January, told Poynter in a telephone interview that he knew as soon as he read Laymon’s piece “it was too good to pass up.” He added that the site usually doesn’t get as much weekend traffic as Laymon’s essay generated since the Saturday it was published, and called it “remarkable.”

“Good is good, regardless as to whether it’s supposed to fit in with what the site is supposed to be or not,” said Daulerio when asked whether such serious personal essays fit with Gawker’s reputation as a gossipy website.

Carmichael, the managing editor who reads Laymon’s blog regularly, said his piece is the third long-form essay Gawker has published on a weekend. The first one published, by newly hired West Coast Editor Cord Jefferson, discusses why he left New York for Los Angeles; the second is Ali Waller’s rather light-hearted exploration of one woman’s foray into lesbianism; and now Laymon’s essay, which has been by far the most attention-grabbing.

Carmichael said Gawker editors had not yet formally announced plans about the essays because they wanted to first see how well they worked before making it a permanent feature. She told Poynter in a telephone interview that Laymon’s piece was originally scheduled to run the previous weekend, but editors thought better of it after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Carmichael acknowledged that she didn’t expect the essays to “pop” the way they have because people don’t usually read on the weekend, but she’s excited that there’s an interest in this type of long-form narrative journalism. She’s also happy that Gawker can provide this type of material to a larger demographic than might find it on a personal blog.

“Gawker is a place where there is an immense amount of freedom to try new things and see how they work out,” said Carmichael, who graduated from Vassar in 2010. “And A.J. is really good at letting us try a lot of different forms of writing to see what sticks.” So far, she said, the essay experiment “has worked out quite well.”

Gawker hopes to run an essay every Saturday morning, Carmichael said by email. “We’ll likely put out a call for submissions soon.” Read more


Factors to consider when choosing a journalism association

Knight-Ridder Newspapers hired me straight out of college. Paying my membership fees to professional journalism associations and covering costs to annual conventions was a perk in the company’s recruiting package. But Knight-Ridder is no longer with us, and it’s been years since a company offered to pay my professional membership dues, let alone pay my way to a journalism convention.

Recently, a young journalist approached me to ask how to choose the right journalism association. As a struggling, recent college graduate, she said that she couldn’t afford to belong to them all.

Neither can I. Especially not now that I — like many other veteran journalists in this retracting industry — have to invest my own hard-earned dollars.

Up until the past year I belonged to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and its local chapter affiliate, the Online News Association, and the National Association of Black Journalists and its local chapter affiliate. Unfortunately, I had to let three memberships lapse; I remain active with ONA and the national chapter of NABJ.

Why joining an association is “a combination of head and heart”

Joining a journalism association isn’t easy. After all, there are so many to choose from. The Council of National Journalism Organizations lists 65 associations and affiliated groups — everything from the Association of Food Journalists, to a group for college media advisers, to several associations for journalists of color. (FYI: You don’t have to be of a certain race or ethnicity to join any of the organizations for journalists of color.)

Professional associations allow journalists to make connections, and get story ideas, training, mentoring, job leads and more.

I joined NABJ — an advocacy organization for black journalists and the largest organization for journalists of color — when I was a journalism student at the University of Georgia working to address the record number of black students who were being denied admission into the college’s journalism school. I’ve been a part of the organization ever since because it feeds my soul, and its members (many of whom I consider friends), help remind me why we do what we do.

A couple of years ago I joined the Online News Association after one of my NABJ friends gave me tickets to attend the organization’s conference workshops in Washington, D.C. I knew then, as I know now, that ONA was at the forefront of the future of journalism and that I needed to be part of it.

Joining a professional organization is a combination of head and heart, said Jill Geisler, senior faculty member with The Poynter Institute who specializes in newsroom management and leadership. “First you decide with your heart what group really relates to where your passion is,” said Geisler, who is also the author of “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know.” That includes organizations for traditionally underrepresented individuals in newsrooms and in communication, such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, NABJ, NAJA, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, she said.

But joining a professional association is also a strategic business decision. The Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS) is perhaps less known than more traditional organizations, but is highly powerful, Geisler said in a phone interview. Female journalists are likely drawn to the organization by their hearts and desire to support other women in journalism, Geisler said, but the organization’s strengths are networking and sharing of job opportunities.

“They network to beat the band. When one person hears about a job opportunity, they will post it on an internal list serve and tell everybody else about it. They have meet-ups that are informally hosted around the country. They are just incredibly supportive,” Geisler said. “That’s important because so many journalists are in transition; JAWS supports a lot of people who are in non-traditional journalism organizations as well as people who are in traditional organizations.”

The perks, challenges associated with conferences

My affiliation with journalism associations has helped me stay current on industry trends. It has also enabled me to collaborate and commiserate with others who share similar experiences and can understand the unique challenges present in the workplace and in the changing media landscape.

If I have one complaint about journalism associations, however, it’s poor planning. Nowhere is this more evident than with scheduling annual conventions.

First, there are too many. Second, because there are so many, they often overlap with one another. ONA’s 2012 convention will be in San Francisco, the Associated Press Media Editors annual conference will be held in Nashville, and a convention jointly sponsored by SPJ and the Radio Television Digital News Association is scheduled in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. All will take place around the same time in late September. Even if participants could afford to attend all three events, they couldn’t because they can’t bi-locate.

It’s a problem, acknowledged Benet Wilson, the program chair for this year’s NABJ Convention, which took place last month in New Orleans. “There does need to be more collaboration to better serve journalists,” said Wilson, who thinks associations can do a better job spreading out conferences throughout the year.

This year I could only afford to attend one conference; I plan to be in San Francisco in the fall. It hurts to miss out on some of the unique programming and camaraderie that NABJ conventions always provide, but in terms of career advancement, attending ONA’s conference makes more sense for me.

Wilson, though, is one of the lucky ones. The former online managing editor for McGraw Hill’s Aviation Week is now director of media relations for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Both employers covered the cost of her professional association dues and convention registrations. She has faced logistical challenges, however.

Wilson recalled being among a group of journalists last year who had to leave the ONA conference in Boston early in order to fly directly to New Orleans for the Excellence in Journalism conference hosted by RTDNA and SPJ. “Most people can’t just turn-around like that,” said Wilson, who is also a freelance journalist and chairwoman of NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force.

Combining conventions the way SPJ and RTNDA is doing speaks to the fact that many participants are no longer being underwritten by their employers. Joining forces also benefits the organizations.

The combination hasn’t necessarily resulted in significant savings for RTNDA and SPJ, said SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel. But it has meant more bargaining power when the associations negotiate with convention hotels and other vendors — savings that are ultimately passed on to members. It also allows the associations to combine resources.

RTNDA and SPJ came together more so out of philosophical reasons than financial, Skeel said.

“There’s a lot of redundancy in the type of programming associations provide to their members. So it only made sense that, if we were teaching both sets of members the same thing, we combine our efforts,” he said by phone. “We got together and said, ‘let’s not ask journalists to choose.’”

Julie Asher, president of the SPJ-DC Pro Chapter who attended last year’s joint conference, said more variety and richer programming is an added benefit to the joint conference. “It also brought people together that you wouldn’t normally meet,” she said by phone.

Collaborations don’t always work out, however. Case in point is NABJ’s recent separation from UNITY due to revenue and governance issues. NABJ decided last month that it would not return to the alliance.

Even when it comes to the way members work together in individual associations, harmony isn’t always easy. Dissent seems to be standard operating procedure lately within the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, where the current election process has been marred by questionable practices and embarrassing disputes. (Richard Prince, writing for the Maynard Institute, has been following NAHJ’s election issues closely if you want to read more about it.)

Making your decision

Whether it’s joining the Association of Health Care Journalists or the National Press Photographers Association, you really have to determine for yourself what professional organization is best for you. Here are a few broad guidelines to follow:

  • Check out the mission statement for each group.
  • Ask leaders about their vision for the association; ask members what kind of skills or career opportunities they have received as a result of their membership.
  • Compare membership dues for each organization and do a cost/benefit analysis. Is it worth it?
  • Check out the organization’s website and organizational chart. Find out what some of the leaders do and where they work. (If no website exists or if the website isn’t updated, take this as a sign that you’ll want to think harder about joining.)
  • Every organization has its own unique culture. Check it out to see if you fit in. If possible, attend a convention before investing in a membership. Convention rates are usually higher for non-members, but normally you can purchase a day-rate that might be less than the cost of a membership and full conference registration.
  • If you can’t afford to attend a convention, most chapter affiliates host mixers, receptions or workshops throughout the year that non-members can attend. (If chapter affiliates don’t do this, then you might want to take this into consideration when making a decision about whether to join.)
  • Follow your passion, as Poynter’s Geisler suggests. And, if possible, find an organization that can satisfy both your heart and your head.
Read more

UT official who reviewed Post story didn’t allow that when she was a reporter

Tara Doolittle, one of the University of Texas press officers who recently reviewed a Washington Post story prior to publication, is a former reporter for The Austin American-Statesman. So did she ever allow sources to do what she did?

“The answer has always been no, whether I was the reporter or the editor,” Doolittle said, noting that she spent 10 years as an editor.

Doolittle, who became director of media outreach for UT in November, was a reporter when I worked at the Statesman.

Gary Susswein, director of media relations at UT, went through de Vise’s article “with a heavy red pen,” according to the Texas Observer. He, too, worked at the Statesman, serving for some time as metro editor. (He’s on vacation this week.)

Doolittle said Post reporter Daniel de Vise told UT media representatives that sharing his story drafts was part of his normal process, and his editors knew about it. The Post has since tightened its policy on allowing sources to review stories, saying editors will grant permission to do so “extremely rarely.”

Aside from saying de Vise’s offer was unusual, Doolittle declined to comment on another reporter’s methods. Given the opportunity to review a story again, she’d take it. “I’m not a reporter anymore.”

RelatedWashington Post reporter sent drafts to sources (Texas Observer) | What are the arguments for, against sending stories to sources before publication? (Poynter) Read more


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