How To’s

Quick tips for building journalism skills, from reporting to using Twitter. Suggest or submit a How To.

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The decisions behind the New York Magazine’s Cosby cover

When New York Magazine began planning its stunning cover of 35 women who accuse Bill Cosby of assault 30 women had come forward. Now, six months later the number is 46.

The magazine had to navigate a range of ethical, journalistic and design challenges. For instance, is it fair to publicly accuse a person when he/she has not been charged? How would the magazine portray the women in still photographs? Even subtle decisions such as lighting, makeup and framing can affect reader impressions.

Lauren Starke, New York Magazine director of public relations, answered a range of questions I posed via email:

How and Why did you choose to have women wearing black and sitting in the chair with their hands on their laps for the cover photo? Read more

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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Enough with the Hitler comparisons, already

In this file picture a man holds a poster with a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a swastika. The leader of a German anti-euro party called  for Germany to leave the common currency, telling an inaugural convention that the euro forces German taxpayers to rescue bankrupt southern European countries whose people denounce them as Nazis for their efforts.  (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis,File)

A man holds a poster with a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a swastika. Merkel opposition said that the euro forces German taxpayers to rescue bankrupt southern European countries whose people denounce them as Nazis for their efforts. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis,File)

Presidential campaigns tend to fuel the dark art of the false comparison.

I covered this tendency in 2011, citing incidents in which presidential candidates, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama were compared to Hitler.  That spectrum should be enough to reveal the emptiness of the comparison.  If politicians as different as Reagan and Obama can attract the Hitler zinger, it means that the content of the comparison is less important than the propaganda effect of comparing your antagonist to one of the world’s most notorious villains. Read more

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Friday, July 24, 2015

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6 tips for covering people with disabilities

Andrea Dalzell, 2015 Ms. Wheelchair New York, participates in the inaugural Disability Pride Parade, Sunday, July 12 in New York.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Andrea Dalzell, 2015 Ms. Wheelchair New York, participates in the inaugural Disability Pride Parade, Sunday, July 12 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Like many reporters who end up covering disability issues, it’s not my beat. But I’ve made my share of mistakes­­ and seen enough of the mistakes other journalists make to be able to come up with this list of some basic mistakes to avoid, and links to other sources if you want to dig in deeper.

Talk to people with disabilities.This seems simple and almost absurd to mention. But I’ve seen plenty of stories include quotes from social service providers, academics and politicians and leave out people with disabilities. A mantra in the disability community is “nothing about us, without us.” Keep that in mind when reporting. Read more

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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9 ways to make your feedback more effective

It's not just about giving feedback, it's how you give the feedback. (Flickr photo by Greg Anderson Photography)

It’s not just about giving feedback, it’s how you give the feedback. (Flickr photo by Greg Anderson Photography)

Newsroom managers who come to Poynter often return home with a new determination: To give their staffs more feedback.

That’s a good thing, because feedback happens to be what their staffs need most from them. Positive or negative, feedback is the fuel that we all need to improve our work.

But as with so many worthy resolutions, the secret to success lies in the execution.

A colleague recently told me a story about delivering feedback to someone who turned out not to be receptive. The meeting did not go well. That got me thinking about how many factors can influence the way our feedback is heard and responded to — and how many of those factors we can control. Read more

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Friday, July 17, 2015

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Managers, here are 5 expectations your boss has for you (and doesn’t always talk about)

Flickr photo by thinkpanama

Flickr photo by thinkpanama

On the day you accepted your manager’s job, you and your boss almost certainly had a talk. The subject: What the boss expects from you.

No matter how good that initial talk was, however, it might have failed to provide you with the road map you need to succeed. And that’s true for two reasons:

  • Too many bosses fail to update their expectations on a regular basis.
  • And second, the boss often fails to mention—or adequately stress—some expectations that are very important.

The failure-to-update problem is critical. (Here’s my recent column on just how critical.) The business is changing fast, and your job is changing with it. If you are to succeed, you need a clear understanding from your boss about what your role entails, and that understanding needs to be updated with every change in your responsibility. Read more

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

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Perspective: Keep the faith and believe in newspapers

This essay is adapted from a speech by Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash to the Metro Production Conference, a consortium representing 76 newspapers and their suppliers from five countries. The essay originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and is being republished with permission. 

Today being a Sunday, I offer my own confession of faith.

I believe in newspapers.

And by newspapers, I mean particularly those physical objects produced in huge quantity through some nearly magical process in the middle of the night and delivered before daybreak to millions of American homes and businesses where they are eagerly received.

I take nothing away from our websites, or our new apps for smartphones, or our electronic newsletters, or the videos we produce, or from the social media that connects people far and wide with the good work we are doing.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

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What journalist’s skill do the best bosses employ? They talk with people.

Great leaders make the time to talk with their staff. (Flickr photo by John Santerre)

Great leaders make the time to talk with their staff. (Flickr photo by John Santerre)

When I look back at the columns I’ve written over the past 10 years, a consistent theme emerges:

Bosses need to talk with people.

That would seem pretty obvious, especially for newsroom managers. After all, journalists know their success depends on how well they talk with people.

And when I ask journalists–managers and their staffs alike–about the bosses they most admire, they use descriptors like “great listener,” “accessible” and “collaborator.”

But clearly, many managers have not carried that skill set into their supervisory jobs.

Listen to their staffs:

“She never leaves her office.”

“I wish someone would give me some feedback.”

“No one ever sees him; he’s always in meetings.”

I was on a track to be just that kind of leader—maybe without knowing it. Read more

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Thursday, July 09, 2015

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The Best Newspaper Narratives Volume 2 – solid choices, leaves you wanting more.

getschow_bann_cover_vol_2 George Getschow is to storytelling in newspapers what Carli Lloyd is to scoring in soccer:  dogged and indefatigable.  For more than a decade now, Getschow has served as leader of a tribe of journalists and authors devoted to the nonfiction narrative.  Members of the tribe come together each July at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference outside of Dallas for congenial conversations about the craft, to rub elbows and bend elbows with some of the best in the business.

One product of this effort is a book (this year’s is Volume Two) published by the University of North Texas Press titled The Best Newspaper Narratives, an anthology edited by Getschow, containing the work of winners of a contest sponsored by Mayborn.  I have a special interest in this work:  1) I served as a judge of the contest for the first two years; 2) I have made a presentation at Mayborn and been greeted as a member of the tribe; and 3) I was the first editor of a Poynter publication that lasted almost 30 years titled Best Newspaper Writing, which collected the winners of ASNE’s distinguished writing competition. Read more

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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Enough dieting: Try this midyear resolution to improve your leadership

It's time for a check up on your New Year's resolutions. (Flickr photo by Jeff Golden)

It’s time for a check up on your New Year’s resolutions. (Flickr photo by Jeff Golden)

Hard to believe, but this week marks the beginning of the second half of 2015. Six months have passed since many of us resolved to improve ourselves in some way—eat smarter, exercise regularly, spend more time with the family, stop reading email 24/7.

How are you doing with all that?

Yeah, me too. Well, our intentions were good.

So let’s try again. And while it might not be traditional to add resolutions at the halfway mark, let me suggest one that could help you be a better manager, almost overnight.

Make fewer assumptions.

It’s ironic, I know, but journalists (whose work seeks to challenge assumptions with facts) are no different from other professionals when it comes to making assumptions about all manner of things. Read more

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

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When deciding to run an open-casket photo, picture editors matter

As news organizations debated their lead image options yesterday during the first of a two-day public viewing for slain Senator and pastor Clementa C. Pinckney, a key voice was silent in many newsrooms: The picture editor.

Given the magnitude of this story and the historical significance, many publications and news sites presented the open casket public viewing prominently.

This is one of the powerful images of the funeral that several newspapers chose to feature prominently. (Getty Images)

This is one of the powerful images of the funeral that several newspapers chose to feature prominently. (Getty Images)

Sadly, many news organizations have eliminated or consolidated the role of picture editors and worse yet, lots of online companies never think to integrate the role of visual advocates.

In this era of fierce competition for web traffic and single copy sales — visuals are key.

The sensitive and impactful decisions involving visual presentation have never been more demanding for media companies. Read more

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