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wichita-eagle

A daily story about a car theft that reminds us why journalism matters

The past few weeks have not been much of an upper for those tracking the health of the news business. More layoffs. New (and increasingly meager) buyouts. And the downsizing strategy that promises to grow ever more popular back at Corporate:

All staffers must reapply for their jobs.

Only the delusional suggest this is a cycle from which we will emerge. Increasingly, editors know this is their reality:

I have fewer people this year than last, and I’ll have fewer still next year.

I remember feeling like this about 15 years ago when my newsroom in Philadelphia was in the midst of its latest “right-sizing.” Looking for a way to recharge my batteries, I asked 12 of my colleagues to join me for lunch and bring stories that reminded them why they did journalism. It was great. We laughed, we cried, and we left the room a bit more aware that what we did mattered.

The same thing happened to me this week. I read a story about Cleet McGhee.

Cleet’s story is the work of Dion Lefler, who covers government and politics for the Wichita Eagle. He sent me the story after I asked reporters to send me work that demonstrates a story done in a day can be memorable.

I will remember Cleet’s story. It reminds me that journalism can make good things happen.

Take a read: “Woman, man steal Lincoln Town Car that is dialysis patient’s lifeline.”

Lefler explained he was tipped to the story by Cleet’s former boss, a local Tea Party activist whom Lefler has known for years. He interviewed Cleet at his motel, photographed him and saw the security video that recorded the car theft. He also talked with police before writing the story. Done in a day.

Then good things started happening.

“The next day,” Lefler said, “I had about 12-15 messages from folks offering to drive him to his appointments. Cleet told me a woman came to his room, gave him $40 in grocery certificates, $20 cash, hugged him and left without even telling him her name.”

And there’s more. Here is Lefler’s first follow-up story: “Dialysis patient gets a lift after thieves steal his beloved Lincoln Town Car.”

I keep thinking about the moment Cleet hears that someone is giving him a car. Put yourself there:

“You’re kidding, me, man.”

But after being assured the offer was real, he said: “It will get me to my dialysis. God bless you.”

But the story doesn’t end there. Here’s Lefler’s second follow-up story: “Dialysis patient presented with replacement car from radio station, car dealership.”

Cleet’s words bear repeating:

“Somebody’s doing something for me and I’m doing something for somebody else and what goes around comes around.”

Journalists covered a lot of important stories this week. The bombing attacks on ISIS. The domestic violence crisis in sports. The spread of Ebola.

But back in June, Dion Lefler covered an important story, too: the theft of Cleet McGhee’s car.

That, I am again reminded, is why journalism matters. That’s why, when they’re reviewing the applications of all those journalists who are reapplying for their jobs, I wish Cleet McGhee had a vote.

Nice work, Dion Lefler. Thanks. Read more

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Friday, Sep. 26, 2014

keithjenkins_56

Keith Jenkins answers questions about his meteoric ascension at National Geographic

In just about one year’s time National Geographic’s Keith Jenkins has gone from director of photography to executive editor for digital content to general manager, National Geographic Digital.

Jenkins will be charged with restructuring, reimagining and elevating the venerable organization in the digital space.

In a recent telephone interview with Poynter’s Kenny Irby, Keith shared plans and hopes for the future of NatGeo digital.

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Keith Jenkins, to General Manager, National Geographic Digital and Kenny Irby, Senior Faculty, Visual Journalism and Diversity and Director of Community Relations, The Poynter Institute, June 2014. (Photo by Karen Irby)

Poynter.org: Tell me about the new role and your goal?

Jenkins: Well we are restructuring around our digital agenda for the organization and my role specifically is to make that happen and to set some priorities for (NatGeo) around digital media, but also more importantly transitioning parts of the organization from traditional print and or TV based programming to things that work online and over the internet and on mobile.

Poynter.org:  This is your third assignment in a about a year, what was your previous role at NatGeo?

Jenkins: I was executive editor, a role that I took in May, where I was really helping to restructuring the news operation and web operation here from an editorial content point of view.

Jenkins joined the company from NPR as the Director of Digital Photography a year ago.

How were you able to get so many promotions so quickly in the ranks at NatGeo? Any tips for moving up?

Jenkins:  No magic formula; I think it’s really just a result of NatGeo attempting to find its digital footing and my being in a position to help because of my experience.

Poynter.org:  How is this different from your photojournalism role and what’s the new challenge?

Jenkins: The main challenge is really being in charge of everything. (Laughter) So, really having to focus on both technology as well as content and really thinking about budget and how we make money.  It’s much more holistic in some ways, I get to look at the big picture and move all of the pieces around. And it is one step more removed from actually creating visual content.

Poynter.org: So what is your short-term, 30-day priority list?

Jenkins: Really getting the new, reconstituted digital business unit organized and staffed correctly. We need to hire a creative director, I am bringing in someone to help run digital content then to set priorities for the next six months to a year — and working on a new website for National Geographic.

Poynter.org: Moving forward, what is the role of photojournalism when you already have this tremendous history of great work?

Jenkins: Well, that is its history and legacy, and it is a huge part of its future. One of the things that we are really going to try and do is to elevate that visual storytelling even more than it currently is. We have done an “OK” job getting that material out to people, but there is way more that we can and should be doing. A part of trying to refine what we are offering across digital platforms is going to be about how do we do that better. Audiovisual storytelling is about video as well. Keeping that quality visual storytelling at the forefront of what we do no matter where we are distributing it or how.

Poynter.org: How will you and National Geographic define multimedia moving forward?

Jenkins:  It means a lot of different things to different people. It can mean different types of media, it can also mean the different types of presentation style, for each organization it is a little different. For us we are wrestling with how does it translate for us, where so much of what is done here has been photography based and now how we integrate multi media, design into presenting photography, how do we integrate video when we present photography… those types of question are the ones that we are asking and how does this stuff work on mobile.

Poynter.org  What does the future hold for young photojournalists and what advice to you have to give?

Jenkins:  Be versatile! There will always be a place for stellar photographers and photography, but the more that you can bring the gap between photography and video and audio and storytelling, the more likely you will be able to make a career because all of those individual things are changing.  The concept of only presenting a photograph is morphing.

Poynter.org  What can we expect or look forward to under your leadership?

Jenkins:  Give us some time and we will hopefully surprise you.

Jenkins joined National Geographic after working at NPR, where he was the supervising senior producer for multimedia. Prior to joining NPR, Jenkins spent 13 years at The Washington Post, where he was a staff photographer, photography editor of Washingtonpost.com, photography editor of The Washington Post Magazine and deputy assistant managing editor of photography. Jenkins was AOL’s first director of photography. He began his photography career working for the graphic designer Dietmar R. Winkler, and spent five years as a staff photographer forThe Boston Globe. Jenkins is an award-winning photographer and has a law degree from Boston University. Read more

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Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2014

J.D. Salinger

For Banned Books Week: An X-ray reading from Catcher in the Rye

File photo of J.D. Salinger appears next to copies of his classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye" as well as his volume of short stories called "Nine Stories."  (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

File photo of J.D. Salinger appears next to copies of his classic novel “The Catcher in the Rye” as well as his volume of short stories called “Nine Stories.” (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

Earlier this year the editors of American Scholar published a dozen examples of “best sentences,” passages from classic literature worth saving and savoring. I was inspired by these and offered my own interpretation of what made them memorable. Now I’ve caught the bug and there appears to be no cure. With the blessing of Robert Wilson, editor of AS, I have chosen a number of sinewy or shapely sentences for X-ray reading, trying to understand what a writer can learn from each. (We’ll be publishing these exemplars occasion, highlighting the writing strategies that created them.)

Since this is also Banned Books Week, I begin with the first sentence of one of the most celebrated banned books of all time: The Catcher in the Rye, published by Little, Brown, which also, I’m proud to add, happens to be my publisher. (Also thinking of moving to Vermont to become a recluse.)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (63 words)
– J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Following in the footsteps of Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn, J.D. Salinger sacrifices his own language and mature insights (sort of) to turn narration of his novel over to a prep school student, Holden Caulfield, who came to represent the alienation of the post-World War II generation.

This is a carefully constructed text, of course, but it doesn’t sound that way. That’s the magic of it. It sounds like someone talking. How do you do that? You use the second person (“you”), contractions (“you’ll,” “don’t”), slang (“lousy”), intensifiers (“really”), verbal punctuation (“and all”), and mild profanity (“crap”). The cumulative effect is informal and conversational.

Of all his literary gifts, Salinger had a great ear for the spoken word and captures the idioms of his time in phrases like “how my parents were occupied” and “if you want to know the truth.” A double-edged razor hides in both phrases. The first one could mean (“what my parents did for a living,”) but “occupied” carries with it some negative connotations, as in the word “pre-occupied,” that is, distracted.

The second phrase “if you want to know the truth” is used mostly as filler in conversation, and yet the key word “truth” comes at the end, inviting the question of whether Holden is a reliable narrator about his own life story.

My favorite phrase here is “and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” This feels like a mature literary allusion rather than the ramblings of an alienated teenager. Note the alliteration, the repetition of hard “c” sounds: Copperfield, kind, crap. Perhaps Holden sees himself as a Dickensian character like David Copperfield who experiences an endless series of traumatic events in his young life. Or, perhaps, the reclusive author is sending a secret signal: Just as David Copperfield is considered Dickens’s most autobiographical novel, Catcher contains, we now know, many parallels to the young life of J.D. Salinger.

I must note that Catcher remains on many lists of banned books. However mild the word “crap” appears to us, it signals to the reader the rougher words to come, including some f-bombs that excited students, but traumatized some parents and School Board members.

By the end of the novel, Holden reveals that he is in therapy and repeats a key phrase from the beginning: “If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it, ” that is everything that he has told us. There is a kind of group therapy feel to the language from the beginning, as if he’s answered a question from a shrink about his childhood and parents: “If you really want to hear about it….”

In summary, it takes skill to create prose that sounds like someone speaking directly to the reader. We have a name for that effect: voice. It’s hard enough to achieve when the narrator is the author. It’s even more challenging when the author turns over that task to a teenage boy who likes to wear a red hunting cap. Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 23, 2014

budweiser-225

Storytelling lessons from Budweiser puppy commercial

Budweiser strikes again.

Once again, with the help of a puppy, the beer maker created another viral commercial. Earlier this year, it aired a Super Bowl commercial titled “Puppy Love” that I deconstructed for Poynter.org readers.

The new ad, “Friends are Waiting” comes with this cutline:

Next time you go out, be sure to make a plan to get home safely. Your friends are counting on you. Enjoy Budweiser responsibly. #FriendsAreWaiting

Watch the ad then let’s pull it apart to see what video storytelling lessons we can adapt to news writing:

The story uses a story frame I call:
Once Upon a Time — Suddenly — Fortunately — As it turns out

The playful pup falls in love with the man and the man adores the dog.
There are some interesting tensions along the way. The dog runs away with the leash, he chews on a shoe and at nine seconds in, even when the man is sick, the dog is there on the sofa comforting him. In just nine seconds, the story builds the relationship.

At 10 seconds we get the first hint this is a beer commercial. A beer bottle is sitting on the table next to a generic peanut butter jar. The bottle foreshadows something in the story.

At 15 seconds we get a second foreshadowing when the man walks down a pier and there is a towel on a chair, a towel with a Budweiser logo on it. Then again at 19 seconds everybody is gathered around the campfire drinking beer — all Budweisers.

At 20 seconds you see the people walking out of the house with a six-pack. Notice the panting sound of the dog. It is the first time you hear the dog in the whole spot. It is a sound of anxiety. It is a tension.
Then the commercial adds an action-reaction sequence. The people walk about, the dog is depressed.

He watches, then he waits, watches, waits.

The spot makes artistic use of lighting as the dog sniffs an old toy lying in a patch of light. The light of a passing car alerts him, but it is a false alarm, it is another tension builder.

At 33 seconds the night is gone, it is daylight outside the windows. At 35 seconds, once again, the dog makes a sound, a whimper.

The video goes to a white font over black background. The lyrics are replaced by soft guitar. It appears the story is over.

At 44 seconds the lyrics come back, the keys unlock the door, the dog comes back to full alert and at 47 seconds the dog makes his third sound as the master explains what happened and apologizes.

Notice that once the explosion of action occurs, the story ends quickly. That’s the best way to tell emotional stories. Don’t drag it out.

Think of this story frame as:

  • Tension
  • Context
  • Explosion of Action

The context of the story is that when you leave home to party, somebody is counting on you to be responsible and come home safety. The dog is a great choice for this ad because we all want the dog to be happy. A cat wouldn’t care.

We can learn some much about news writing from watching, listening to and reading great stories of all kinds. Short stories like commercials are especially useful models to study because they are short, like most news stories. This spot never wastes my time, builds emotions and connections quickly, makes a clear solid point and leads to a resolution. We don’t know the dog’s name or the man’s name because we didn’t need to. The production is subtle and never competes with the message. The natural sound punctuates the story. Seemingly small things like lighting are not small.

The commercial also drills down on what I call story motivators. I think there are eight key motivators for storytellers to attach to their stories:

  1. Money
  2. Family
  3. Health
  4. Safety
  5. Community
  6. Moral Outrage
  7. Curiosity
  8. Social Trending

I bet that some will see a moral outrage in this commercial that goes something like, “How could he be out drinking while his poor dog has to wait to go outside and relieve himself?” But the more sure-fire motivators for this story are family and safety. REMEMBER: The more motivators you can use, the wider your audience will be. Read more

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Monday, Sep. 22, 2014

A call for really good daily stories

Daily news concept.Earlier this month I offered some ideas for how journalists can produce better daily stories.

The need is obvious. Thanks to the production demands confronting understaffed newsrooms, reporters and editors are increasingly favoring stories that can be done in a day (or less.)

But that doesn’t mean those stories need to be thin, predictable or boring. They don’t have to be kiss-offs.

Daily stories can be good stories. Sometimes, they can be great stories.

I’d like you to send me a daily story that you’re proud of.

Send me a daily story that you took beyond the routine. Maybe you elevated a straightforward assignment with a great interview, a vivid scene or strong character development. Maybe you offered your audience thoughtful analysis of an important issue. Maybe you told you story from an unusual point of view. Maybe you effectively used multimedia.

The only requirement is that you reported, wrote and produced the story in one day.

In addition to a link to the story, send me a paragraph explaining how you approached the story. Did you take a risk? Try something new? Mimic a device you saw elsewhere?

How did you do it?

Send links to your stories to bward@poynter.org. I’ll share them in the coming days. Let’s help each other do better daily stories. Read more

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Wednesday, Sep. 10, 2014

Janay Rice

Diverse voices are missing from the debate over showing the Rice video

Once TMZ posted its video of “the punch” — the blow Ray Rice dealt his then fiancée and now wife, Janay Palmer Rice, knocking her unconscious and igniting controversy about how the NFL deals with domestic violence — editors throughout the country faced a single question of journalism ethics: Do we post the video?

Poynter’s resident writing coach, Roy Peter Clark, argues that such violent videos need to be made public because they create “the public outrage and outcry that pierces the shield of even such impenetrable institutions of the NFL.”

Janay Palmer Rice in May.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Janay Palmer Rice in May. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

His reasoning points to a growing chasm of compassion, dignity and empathy in U.S. media that has grown from our fault lines of race, class and gender.

What Clark implies is that it’s OK to use a person’s private experience — in this case, one that Janay Rice did not consent to or have knowledge of — if it serves a greater good. I take issue with his failure to mention how media routinely ignore the voices of women of color, especially those who are victims of intimate partner violence — until it happens that one of those women is a public figure.

“The sad part is … We do need the narratives,” said Kimberly Ellis, an independent social media scholar and the author of a forthcoming book called “The Bombastic Brilliance of Black Twitter.” “For the sake of preventing additional instances of domestic violence, it’s the black woman’s body that is put on the altar for sacrifice.”

Having diverse voices in the conversation around this video is necessary to contextualize media management decisions on whether to re-post it. As sociologist Patricia Hill Collins writes about the forces of race, class and gender that minimize the experiences of black women, “the same situation can look quite different depending on the consciousness one brings to interpret it.”

Using the video without consent violates our ethical obligation to treat Janay Rice and other survivors of intimate partner violence as people rather than vehicles for social change. Their stories — especially the ones from women of color who have been historically overlooked or shamed into silence — need to be told. But how to do so is a complicated question, and one that requires diverse voices as part of formulating an answer.

I’m troubled by Clark’s rationale, and the argument by Poynter’s resident ethicist Kelly McBride makes in his piece, because neither acknowledges any context of the black experience in arguing that this video should be made public.

For people of color in the United States, whether victims of police brutality or intimate partner violence, the moral outrage that greets the release of “gotcha” surveillance videos and photographs peters out often before we are afforded legal redress.

The names of women like Marlene Pinnock, who was repeatedly punched by a California Highway Patrol officer during an arrest, and Jada, the 17-year-old Texas student whose naked, drugged body became the Internet meme #JadaPose come to mind.

Remember them? Their images became public. There was outcry. They’re still waiting for justice.

It’s been 31 days since an unarmed black teen was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. And to date, despite local, national and international outrage and outcry, no one has been indicted. No one has been arrested. The Ferguson Police Department has yet to announce a change in its policy on use of force.

Some good the video, pictures, ongoing media coverage and prolonged moral outrage surrounding Mike Brown’s death have done. Why should we expect that video of a woman being punched by her partner will effect greater social change?

Objectifying Janay Rice and recasting her experiences to serve the interests of elite white men who make the decision to publish and repost the video, to paraphrase Collins, means subordinating a black woman’s humanity in the name of journalism.

It is a misguided and unethical practice.

In the media ethics class I taught as a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I emphasized ethical news values that accompany our traditional values of timeliness, prominence, and conflict.

Those values include empathy and dignity. Students learn to question whether their actions will send the victim into further trauma, and if they, as media workers, are acting with compassion. The video footage of Janay Rice being posted to news websites and shown via broadcast is a violation of her most intimately held territory — her body.

“You know what bothered me most? Her lying there on the floor, exposed,” said Rebeccah Lutz, managing editor of the Tallahassee Democrat, a survivor of intimate partner abuse (and in the interest of full disclosure, my best friend).
“The violent act itself was difficult enough to watch, but seeing her exposed and vulnerable, not even able to cover herself, crushed me. She was powerless in that moment, and now the world has seen it.”

Janay Rice was robbed her of her humanity once when Ray Rice hit her. She was victimized a second time when the NFL delayed in taking decisive action. The assault continues each time the tape of her fiancé hitting her is presented as news.

Meredith D. Clark is an assistant professor of digital and print news in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas. She’s worked as a copy editor, reporter, columnist and community news editor at newspapers including the Raleigh News & Observer and the Tallahassee Democrat. Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 09, 2014

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer

How the media can and does help domestic abuse victims

The Executive Director of CASA, the St. Petersburg, Florida domestic violence center told me “not a single word” of Janay Rice’s Instagram post surprised her.

janay-rice-statement

After 30 years of working with domestic violence victims, Linda Osmundson says the Ray Rice case is typical of the 6,000 cases a year that flow through the victim support system, including a small shelter she oversees in Pinellas County. The big difference is most abuse cases don’t make the news. Most abuse happens behind closed doors, not in front of casino elevator cameras.

“Victims stand by their man,” Osmundson said. They will stand by him and stand by him and stand by him until they can’t stand by any longer. Why? Because they love him. They have children together, a house together, a life together. Battered women leave five to seven times before they finally leave for good. The batterer does not batter all the time. The charming guy comes back and charms her. The victim loves the charming guy.”

And so, like Janay Rice, they stay with the man who hit them. “Most of the victims have never been involved with police. They know the system will not defend their lives. We don’t prosecute most domestic violence cases in this county. They go back to the abusers. They are on their own. Restraining orders don’t stop fists and bullets. Many are terrified, what if they don’t win the case.”

Osmundson says shelters like CASA don’t see a big increase in calls for help after high profile cases anymore. Sadly, they have become so common, she says, the public doesn’t react to the news as it once did. “In the OJ Simpson years we saw an increase in calls. That was the first time it was out in the public among high visibility people. It is much less of a surprise now, we don’t see the same reaction now. OJ was a ‘goldmine’ to us because people said ‘Oh, that happens to other people?”‘

Osmundson offers this advice to journalists:

  • Focus on the abuser. Social media and even some talk radio focused on the woman for staying with a man who hit her. The victim should not be re-victimized. It sends a strong signal to other women that this public judgement is what awaits you if you report your abuser. “Women don’t report abuse for a lot of reasons. Maybe the batterer got to her and said if you tell I will hurt you and your family,” Osmundson said.
  • Alcohol and drug use is involved a significant number of cases that come through CASA. But, Osmundson said, don’t allow alcohol to become an excuse. In fact, she said, sober abusers may be even more dangerous.  “Alcohol makes me not be able to abuse “clearly.” Abuse is planned, thought through. It is important to remember they have two problems, one is abuse, the other is alcohol,” she said.
  • Abuse is a world view, it is not a disease. Your view is reinforced by family, friends, advertising, videos and music. It is reinforced culturally all the time when, for example, athletes beat their wives and continue on with their career. “If you get to guys when they are young there is some hope they can turn around. Take an older guy who has done this all along, I don’t have a lot of hope for him,” Osmundson told me.

Resources for Journalists

The stories Linda Osmundson told me based on her decades of experience are backed up by stacks of studies.

The CDC says in a newly released national survey(using 2011 data) :

On average, 20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States. Over the course of a year, that equals more than 10 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story—nearly 2 million women are raped in a year and over 7 million women and men are victims of stalking in a year.

You can see state-by-state breakdowns of domestic violence from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control survey here. Note: the report urges you NOT to try to use the data to compare states because the report relies on different levels of responses from different locations.)

The Department of Justice reports:

Overall, African Americans were victimized by intimate partners a(t) significantly higher rates than persons of any other race between 1993 and 1998. Black females experienced intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 22 times the rate of women of other races.
– Callie Marie Rennison and Sarah Welchans, U.S. Department of Justice, Intimate Partner Violence (2000)

In a study of African-American sexual assault survivors, only 17% reported the assault to police. (Africana Voices Against Violence, Tufts University, Statistics, 2002)

One story that journalists could explore is whether your community has enough support for abuse victims. Help centers told the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s 2013 national survey that they had lost workers including shelter staff and legal assistants. The NNEDV’s census including shelters and centers that house abuse victims found:

Domestic violence programs do not always know what happens when a survivor courageously calls a stranger to ask for a bed or other help and the services aren’t available; however;

  • 60 percent of programs report that victims return to the abuser,
  • 27 percent report that victims become homeless
  • 11 percent report that victims end up living in their cars.

The survey also found this statistic that journalists could explore:

Across the United States 1,696 staff positions were eliminated in the past year. Most of these positions were direct service providers, such as shelter staff or legal advocates. This means there were fewer advocates to answer calls for help or provide needed services.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence lists these stunning statistics. I am linking to the studies on which some of this data is based. Much of it is from the Department of Justice, and some of the data is 15 years old:

  • One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

  • An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

  • Almost one-third of female homicide victims that are reported in police records are killed by an intimate partner.

  • In 70-80 percent of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder.

  • Less than 20 percent of victims reporting an injury from intimate partner violence sought medical treatment following the injury.

The American Bar Association pulled together data for lawyers who deal with these kinds of cases. One of the more interesting facts the ABA lists this statistic from the American Journal of Public Health:

Access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse, according to a recent study, suggesting that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners.

Linda Osmundson offered two other key thoughts to journalists covering the Ray Rice story.  “This is not the first time a well-known athlete has done this. The exciting thing to me is that somebody is taking action this time. Other athletic organizations should take action too, it would make a difference.” She added, journalists should remember that victims are reading, listening and watching this coverage. If the case is taken seriously, they might find the courage to come forward. “For abusers, it is always power and control. Most of times, guys plan the abuse. That fist is connected to his arm. It is always his choice.”

Update:
In the day and a half since TMZ released the knockout punch video, Twitter users posted 96,000 entries with the hashtags #whyistay and #whyIleft.
While it is not possible to verify the stories behind the posts, the entries are heartbreaking. I put some of the posts in this Storify collection. Read more

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Monday, Sep. 08, 2014

Fast Food Restaurant

Three ways to serve up better dailies

Back when I was doing my communications gig for Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, I received a phone call one morning from a reporter who was playing catch-up on a new state insurance regulation.

“I’ll be happy to explain it to you,” I said, “but be patient. It’s a little involved.”

About two minutes into my explanation, the reporter interrupted me.

“That’s okay,” he said. “That’s way too complicated. I’ll get something else for tomorrow.”

Another story falls victim to media bias.

No, not the liberal political bias that journalists so often are accused of having. This was another, perhaps more disturbing bias. It’s called:Production Bias.

Simply defined, Production Bias holds that if a story can’t be done in a day, we won’t do it.

I first heard the concept of Production Bias in 2001 when I was working with Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, authors of The Elements of Journalism, and they were developing a newsroom curriculum based on the book. Production Bias was among a number of terms identified to help journalists understand that the first step in mitigating a bias is to acknowledge its existence.

I joined them in a number of newsrooms where we asked the staff if Production Bias existed. Without fail, the journalists said yes.

And let’s be honest: it’s more prevalent today than when I got that impatient reporter’s call more than a decade ago. In fact, in some newsrooms it’s mutated: If the story can’t be done in two hours, we won’t do it.

Am I exaggerating? Sure. But spend a few hours scanning the web sites of news organizations around the country, and tell me how many meaty profiles, in-depth analyses and just plain surprising stories you find.

Clearly, a whole lot of good stories are not being done.

Could this have anything to do with our disappearing audiences?

We’re all familiar with the changes that have contributed to the spread of Production Bias. Less staff to do more work. The 24/7 news cycle. Publishing on multiple platforms. The demands of multimedia.

But the biggest reason, I’d suggest, dates back to a notion that held forth long before we were tweeting or blogging or gathering multimedia.

Our newsrooms are preoccupied with filling.

Fill the show. Fill the book. We can’t do that story because we need everyone to help us fill.

One newspaper editor told me that several years ago, he flat-out told his staff to stop worrying about filling the book. “I want everyone, every day, to write for the front page,” he said. “If we do that, we’ll have plenty of good stories left over to fill the book.”

I asked him how it’s going. Slowly, he said. A few more good stories are getting done each day. “Everyone says they want to take risks, but they don’t,” the editor said. “They find a great deal of safety from filling the book.”

Filling is a hard habit to break.

But we’ve got to get started. How about this modest goal: if our news reports are going to be dominated by one-day stories, let’s make them better. Even memorable.

How?

Here are three ideas, inspired by a handful of print and broadcast stories that were reported, written and produced in one day.

The first story was reported in 2009 by Boyd Huppert at KARE in Minneapolis. Watch and then we’ll talk.

Idea Number 1. Frame the story tightly. Think about where this story was reported and during what time frame. One Checkers, one shift. I can think of many similar, but less powerful, stories done by reporters who visited multiple businesses over several days. Stories, no matter how quickly they are reported, benefit from a well-defined, tight frame.

David Barstow, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at the New York Times, says that the tighter the frame you put on your exploration of an issue or event, the deeper you can go. His tick-tock on nine crucial minutes aboard the burning Deepwater Horizon is a classic example of tight framing. (And no, it was not done in one day.)

But Huppert’s Checkers story shows that it’s just as important to place a tight frame around your daily story. The frame helps the writer decide what pieces of reporting to put in and what to leave out. It helps you identify your lead and your ending. And it can help you choose your story structure.

So when you embark on a story, don’t just think about the issue or event you’re covering. Spend some extra time thinking about how you’ll tell that story—how you’ll frame it. And remember: the sooner you identify the frame, the sooner you can zero in on the reporting you need to do.

Here’s another daily story that teaches a great lesson. It’s by Lane DeGregory of the Tampa Bay Times. Have a read.

Idea Number 2. Do some planning. Often we know in advance—sometimes weeks in advance—that that we will be doing a daily story on some event or issue. Thinking about the story ahead of time (and how we might tell it) affords us the chance to identify reporting opportunities, set up some interviews. DeGregory had covered Officer Yaslowitz’s funeral, and knew that at some point, she wanted to follow up with the policeman’s widow. Once she decided to tell the story through the frame of Mrs. Yaslowitz’s first day back at kindergarten, she could make the calls necessary to give her access.

When our daily stories involve breaking news, we’re left to scramble to find sources and arrange interviews. But many of our best one-day stories don’t involve breaking news—they involve the community’s ongoing life. If we can identify more of those stories, and plan in advance how we’ll do them, we’ll have more time during our one-day window to devote to reporting and writing.

Now here’s a story by Diane Tennant of the Virginia-Pilot that was done in a day and takes some creative risks. Have a look.

Idea Number 3. Ask yourself, “What’s this story’s purpose?”

Some stories are meant to expose wrongdoing. Others aim to inform. Some help members of a community better understand each other.

And some just plain entertain.

Along the way, Tennant’s story also demonstrated to readers of the Virginian-Pilot the role that social media is playing in their community. But at its heart is a cute story that caused one reader to say in an email: “Thank you, what a pleasant surprise to read such a tender story in the paper this morning!”

One of my former editors used to say that every day’s news report should include a surprise—a story that readers and viewers would find nowhere else, and which would remind them why they valued us. Tennant’s story was a surprise.

I asked her about her story’s purpose, and she said she had not thought much about that.

“When I saw Binky’s picture on Facebook, I called my family’s attention to it, and then it kind of struck me that if Binky’s story amused me and my family, and had amused the restaurant’s followers on FB, then it would probably resonate with The Pilot’s readers, too.”

Her answer made me think she knew exactly what she wanted her story to accomplish. She wanted it to amuse me. It did.

Oh, and just to make sure no one thinks the Virginian-Pilot has eschewed serious journalism, “Binky’s Big Adventure” ran in a paper whose front page featured the “Defiant Governor” vowing to expand Medicaid over the legislature’s objections; and an enterprise story on how the history of accidents involving military drones raises questions about the possibility of increased drone traffic.

Bonus time. Back to Lane DeGregory for a story that puts this all together. Take a read.

Did this story make use of all three ideas?

Tight frame: The focus was on one woman, returning to confession on one night, at one church.

Advance planning: DeGregory obtained advance permission for a reporter and photographer to attend the service and approach attendees. (She avoided wasting half her evening wandering from church to church in search of someone she could interview—and photograph.)

Purpose: The story explored a question as old as the human race—what propels a person to seek forgiveness from God?

DeGregory explains her process:

“I had seen an ad on TV about the Catholic Church opening its doors for people to come ‘home.’ My husband is a recovering Catholic, as he calls it, and I was interested in who might return, and why they left, and what they hoped to get out of it. I called a couple different churches, mostly ones where I knew people who attended so I could drop names, and got that one to agree to let me in. We weren’t allowed to go into the confessional, which was a bummer, especially for the photographer. But we came early, not knowing who—if anyone—we would find, and the line stretched around the church. We approached probably 20 people who didn’t want to talk before finding this one sweet woman who was hesitant, but willing.

“I left about 8 p.m., I think, and wrote it by 10 p.m. for the next day.”

Lane said she was attracted to this story by plain old curiosity.

“I was brought up being made to go to Methodist church, where we didn’t confess. And I’ve never gotten why anyone would want to spill their sins. But I just thought something powerful must be happening to draw someone back to the church after all these years, not to go to a Sunday service but to confess something. I knew there would be drama and mystery and God and sorrow and regret there. And a quiet, reverent scene.”

For me, these three ideas add up to a sound strategy for writing better daily stories. Start by choosing stories with the potential to be memorable. Yes, cover breaking news—but stop chasing it to the exclusion of stories that readers and viewers might, just might, consume in their entirety—and remember.

There is much about the disruption of the media landscape that individual editors and reporters cannot control. What you can control are the stories you choose to do.

Let’s not squander that opportunity.

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Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2014

Taking an Instagram Photo with an iPhone

Tips for broadcast journalists: When sharing breaking news on social, speed trumps beauty

Today’s multimedia journalists have to do it all on their own – report, write, edit, drive, set up live shots, and post to social media and the Web. Usually, that’s just considered a long list of stuff to do by deadline. But in breaking news coverage, the journalist has some tough choices to make.

The biggest challenge is getting the great video for the story that’s going to air on TV and being the first one to inform news consumers via social media. Here are some strategies to help serve both masters.

Let’s break down these tips into three categories:

  1. What to shoot
  2. Workflow
  3. How to distribute via social media

What to shoot

Shoot the most obvious thing news consumers will recognize right now. After all, we’re talking about breaking news and the situation may change by the time the newscast airs. This isn’t about beauty, it’s about social media speed – beat the competition and get back to using your broadcast camera for the newscast.

Because we’re talking about TV, video is a must. We want to give our followers a taste of the great stuff they’ll only see on TV later. Still photos are obviously another way to bring your followers in. Shoot one of each.

This video and photo are from a breaking news fire in the San Francisco Bay Area in June. The video gives social media followers a sense of what’s happening and confirms the reporter’s on the scene gathering information. The still photo is complementary.

Video of fire:

Photo of helicopter water drop:

breakingnewsimage

Work flow

This is where multimedia journalists have a tough decision to make. Which is the priority: social media or the newscast? I’d recommend shooting the social media stuff first. Dedicate a few minutes to it – five minutes max – and then go back to your camera.

Don’t beat yourself up over what you couldn’t get out through social media. Remember, this is more about informing news consumers now and beating the competition, not having the prettiest shot. You want your followers to know you’re there. If you’re first, they’ll catch up with you again on the newscast or on the web when you’ve got your complete video story assembled.

In the end this is about making choices. You can’t be in two places at once operating two cameras at once and doing two jobs at once. Keep this in mind: the best pictures are for your broadcast story, the first pictures are for social media.

If there’s a scenario where you’re waiting and don’t want to miss it – say a building collapse – set up the broadcast camera, lock down the tripod, and then start rolling. With the camera rolling, get out your phone to shoot your social media video and photo. Then go back to the camera.

How to distribute breaking news video via social media:

— Use your phone to gather your social media video. Skip the tablets; even an iPad mini is too big to fit in your pocket. You want to be as mobile as possible, and being able to stuff your social media newsgathering and distribution tool into your pocket is the epitome of mobility.

— Upload your videos via YouTube. Cellphones have simple, already-established workflows that make the process quicker.

— Here are 10 steps to reporting breaking news via social media

1. Shoot your video.

2. Choose send.

breakingvid1

3. Choose the YouTube option.

breakingvid2

4. Write a simple description for the YouTube video description box that you can copy and paste into a social media post later when the video is published.

breakingvid3

5. Choose SD. It’s faster, which is what we’re shooting for here.

breakingvid4

6. Choose “Public” and then Publish (top right).

breakingvid6

7. Wait for a few seconds and chose “View on YouTube.”

breakingvid5

8. Once on YouTube, choose share.

breakingvid7

9. Choose Twitter or Facebook to post there, or email to send the link back to your Web Team at the station.

breakingvid8

Simon Perez is assistant professor of broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School Of Public Communications.

Related training: How and When to Shoot Video with a Smartphone Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 02, 2014

Katharine Weymouth

Katharine Weymouth’s resignation completes the close of the Graham era at the Washington Post

Katharine Weymouth (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Katharine Weymouth (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

In a word, unsurprising. Katharine Weymouth’s announced resignation today as Washington Post publisher simply completes the ownership change initiated a year and a month ago when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the paper.

Neither Bezos nor Weymouth were commenting (even to the Post) about the circumstances and timing of the change, though the New York Times reported it was initiated by Bezos. My guess would have been that she had agreed to stay on for a transitional year as part of the sale, but perhaps she was trying out for a longer tenure with the new owner.

It is hard to call Weymouth’s six-plus years as publisher a success, but I wouldn’t say she failed in the job either.  She took control at the worst possible time in 2008 as the deep recession accelerated the precipitous decline of print advertising, especially at metro papers. She oversaw rapid-fire experiments with new revenue sources and a series of strategies for digital growth.  None of her initiatives turned the enterprise around — but then, who in a similar situation did?

This has been the era of “Riptide” (as a Harvard study project by three former media executives was titled).  A strong legacy brand may have been as much a liability as an asset in competition with digital disruptors. Staying afloat was an accomplishment.

Weymouth’s legacy will be twofold.  In December 2012, she took a clear-eyed look at her tenure and at the Post’s prospects and persuaded her uncle, CEO Donald Graham, that it was time for a new owner, a new vision and new capital to support a transition that will take years more.

Around that same time, she hired Martin Baron away from the Boston Globe as editor.  Knowing Baron well, I am not unbiased, but he is certainly one of the best editors of his generation, if not the best.

I heard of Weymouth (without knowing much of anything about her) more than a decade ago.  Someone told me that none of Graham’s four children was interested in succeeding him in the family business, but a niece was and was moving through business jobs at the paper in preparation.

Graham had done a similar apprenticeship (as have various Sulzbergers at the New York Times).  But a tour of departments with increasing responsibilities doesn’t exactly get an heir apparent ready the way it once did.

My own limited impressions of Weymouth were formed in several visits to Poynter in St. Petersburg (where her father is an accomplished architect) and several appearances at the annual conference of the Newspaper Association of  America, where she seemed to enjoy asking the questions as a moderator more than answering them.

A sharp intelligence was evident, but she was not much on the vision thing in public forums and revealed little about what she saw as the Post’s biggest business challenges or how she planned to deal with them.  Easy for me to say, but I am not sure, in retrospect, what the benefits of greater candor would have been.

Most accounts of Weymouth’s time (including the Post’s own this morning) will rate as her greatest blunder a plan to put advertisers together with Post editors and reporters in “salons.” at her home. I think that’s a bad rap.

A mashup of an events strategy with her grandmother’s legacy as a dinner party hostess, the effort launched with bad optics and was withdrawn.  But the Post quickly got back in the events business (where sponsorships are an easy sell compared to conventional advertising). Weymouth’s version doesn’t strike me as all that different from Atlantic Media owner David Bradley’s widely praised development of a-list events as an important revenue stream.

Amanda Bennett, a seasoned top editor as well as Don Graham’s wife, was ready with an effusive tribute to Weymouth, posted as a comment minutes after Poynter Online’s news story about the change.  Bennett’s focus is on Weymouth’s “courage” in fighting the good fight, then knowing when to take the painful step of ending family control.

The morning line on Weymouth’s successor, Frederick Ryan, seems to include musings about whether his early career as a Reagan aide augurs a Post move to the right editorially.  I doubt it. Bezos is no ideologue and, especially on foreign affairs, Fred Hiatt’s editorial page is fairly conservative already.

To my mind, the more relevant factoid is that Ryan comes from Albritton Communications,  a longtime Post competitor.  Way back in the day Washington Star provided decades of second-paper competition to the Post before it was sold by Albritton and subsequently shuttered in 1981.

Fred Ryan, Jr., (Photo by John Shinkle/POLITICO

Fred Ryan, Jr., (Photo by John Shinkle/POLITICO

More recently, without a legacy newspaper culture to work through, Albritton successfully launched Politico (of which Ryan was the founding president and chief executive) in 2007 — the very model of a smooth pivot to digital at a time when the Post was still stopping and starting, trying to find its way as a print + digital business.

Related:
Katharine Weymouth at Poynter in 2010: ‘You just keep plugging away’ Read more

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