Al Tompkins provides best practices & story ideas that you can localize & enterprise.

Kyle Larson (32) goes airborne and into the catch fence during a multi-car crash involving Justin Allgaier (31), Brian Scott (2) and others during the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Larson's crash sent car parts and other debris flying into the stands injuring spectators. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

YouTube restores Daytona crash video after NASCAR blocks it out of ‘respect’

Kyle Larson (32) goes airborne and into the catch fence during a multi-car crash involving Justin Allgaier (31), Brian Scott (2) and others during the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Larson’s crash sent car parts and other debris flying into the stands injuring spectators. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

On the eve of the biggest race of the NASCAR year, The Daytona 500, a horrific crash sent 14 fans, including a child, to the hospital after debris — a tire and car engine — went flying into the crowd during the DRIVE4COPD 300 Nationwide Series race Saturday afternoon. NASCAR quickly blocked an online video of the crash and went nearly silent on social media.

NASCAR officials held a brief news conference Saturday night confirming the Daytona 500 would go on, but said almost nothing to its 3.2 million Facebook followers. This is all that has been posted to NASCAR’s Facebook page as of 8:30 Sunday morning:


The social silence is a head-scratcher considering the accolades NASCAR has been getting for encouraging more social media interaction. That same message is all that NASCAR had shared with its 913,000 Twitter followers three hours after the crash:

But NASCAR’s control of information does not stop there.… Read more

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Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012

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Where The Journal News went wrong in publishing names, addresses of gun owners

In the days since The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News published and mapped the names and addresses of local citizens who hold gun permits, outraged critics have published the names and addresses of journalists at the paper. New York State Senator Greg Ball has also responded by announcing plans to propose legislation that would make the permits private, no longer subject to open records laws. I suspected that legislative backlash might follow, and it would be a worse mistake than publishing the data.

The problem is not that the Gannett-owned Journal News was too aggressive. The problem is that the paper was not aggressive enough in its reporting to justify invading the privacy of people who legally own handguns in two counties it serves.

When I asked reporter Randi Weiner, who wrote a story about the criticism, how the news organization reached its decision to publish the information, she sent Poynter a statement from Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson:

Frequently, the work of journalists is not popular. One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.

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Friday, Dec. 14, 2012

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What journalists should know about school shootings and guns

In the coming days, journalists will have to provide clear-eyed context to help the nation come to terms with the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Without question this incident will once again spark heated debates over gun-control and school safety. Let’s step back to see what we need to know to cover those stories.

Schools are safe.  After days like this, it can be hard to remember that schools are usually the safest place for a child. School violence has been in a steep decline since 1990.

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice points out: “A 2010 report on school safety found that during the school year 2008/2009 there were 38 school-associated violent deaths — in a population of about 55.6 million students in grades prekindergarten through 12.”

The same report said, “This report also noted that 83% of public schools reported no serious violent crime; 13% of public schools reported at least one violent incident to the police. The rate of serious violent crime at school was 4 (per 1,000 students) compared to a rate of 8 away from school.”

NPR reported, “School violence in the U.S. reached a peak in 1993, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.… Read more

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Wednesday, Nov. 07, 2012

Backgrounds become foreground in election night images

Elections provide journalists great lessons about the power of visual journalism, especially election nights.

When Mitt Romney delivered his concession speech, he was standing on a stage, alone, with flags and a big red, white and blue screen behind him. He accepted the loss alone. His running mate, Paul Ryan, is spared the damage of being photographed at a low moment. Romney spoke lovingly of his wife, but out there by himself, his statement — “She would have been a wonderful first lady” — took on a genuine pain that might have felt forced if she were standing there with him.

Image captured from CBS News coverage

Contrast that with Obama’s victory speech, when cheering throngs surrounded him and his family. In 2008, on election night, Obama stood outside in the Chicago cold with his family. Standing outside sent an “outsider” message that a decked out convention hall with high tech visuals cannot. It also sent a “connected” message: I am one of you. Especially in his first campaign, that feeling was vital to Obama’s victory. He was connecting with the disenfranchised. It is harder for an incumbent to pull off.

Election night 2012, Obama stood behind the seal of President of the United States.… Read more

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Monday, Nov. 05, 2012

The 8 commandments of tweeting on Election Day

It is going to be especially tempting to share and retweet information in the heat of Election Day. My colleague Mallary Tenore wrote about the six social media mistakes journalists are most likely to make and how to avoid them. I’m going to boil my advice down to a few guidelines.

Be careful.

As the day goes on, there will be reports of fraud, frustrations, polling problems and dirty deeds. This is an election.

Be aggressive.

Without a doubt, there will be leaked exited polls and rumors of leaked exit polls.

Be skeptical.

How do you know what you know? What’s your hurry?

Be certain.

There will be projections and data released while voters are standing in line and polls are still open.

Be fair.

It will be tempting to think that you are just passing along what somebody else wrote.

Be responsible.

It is normal to get caught up in the excitement of Election Night and want to tweet your emotions and opinions about the candidates and campaigns.

Be credible.

Your reputation and your news organization’s reputation is at stake.

Be accountable.

Attribute everything. Assume nothing.

Good luck.… Read more

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Friday, Nov. 02, 2012

Cassandra Thompson votes at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, in Cleveland. Early voting began Tuesday in Ohio's March 6 presidential primary. Early in-person voting is set to continue until March 2, the Friday before the election. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

What journalists need to know & explain about the Electoral College

Three times in United States history, the person who became president did not receive the most votes — 1824, 1876, 2000.

Polls have consistently shown a large majority of Americans want the system changed. The National Popular Vote bill would change the way we elect presidents; it has passed in nine state legislatures.

So why do we have this system and how does it work? Permit me to go back a couple of hundred years. Stay with me, this won’t take long.

How the System Works

The main framework of the Electoral College comes from Article II Section 1 of the Constitution and was revised by the 12th Amendment in 1804.

When you vote for the President in the United States, you are not actually voting for your favorite candidate. You are voting for a slate of electors. There are 538 electors, typically people who are active in state and local politics. Oddly, even for a federal election, each state can have different rules about how to elect the electors. Usually they are elected at a state political convention. It would be a rare voter who could name more than one or two electors, even though the electors are the core of the voting process.… Read more

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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012

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NBC News President: ‘It’s just lazy’ to use journalists in campaign ads

Journalists have been unable to stop candidates from using copyrighted news clips in campaign ads, but maybe “Sesame Street” can. Ever since Mitt Romney said during last week’s debate that he would cut federal funding to PBS even though “I love Big Bird” — a sentiment he repeated Tuesday night — the Obama campaign has been attacking.

The program wants no part of the political campaign, saying:

“Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns. We have approved no campaign ads, and, as is our general practice, have requested that both campaigns remove Sesame Street characters and trademarks from their campaign materials.”

Using Big Bird in an ad may present different legal issues than using a network anchor, said Alison Steele, a lawyer who represents The Poynter Institute and the Tampa Bay Times. Unlike a journalist, the character “is the intellectual property of a not-for-profit, IRS qualified 501(c)(3) and as such there are legal issues with its being involved, or the appearance of its involvement, in partisan political campaign activity,” Steele said by email.

The Obama campaign said it is considering Sesame Workshop’s request to remove Big Bird from the ad.… Read more

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Tuesday, Oct. 02, 2012

IMAGE--Jennifer-Livingston

Local TV anchor criticized for her weight: ‘I don’t take a lot of crap from people’

Wisconsin TV news anchor Jennifer Livingston has gained thousands of supporters this week by publicly taking on one critic who called her fat. Her story has since been broadcast on NBC’s “Nightly News” and she has appeared on the “Today” show, “Good Morning America,” and “CBS This Morning.”

Last week, the WKBT-TV morning newscast anchor received an email from Kenneth Krause, a La Crosse man who says he is an occasional viewer. Krause criticized Livingston for being overweight, saying she was not a good role model for her three daughters and for others who watch.

Livingston, who told me by phone Tuesday night, “I don’t take a lot of crap from people,” said she emailed back and forth with Krause a few times. “I said, ‘Whoa buddy, this is far beyond what is OK to write to somebody in an email, even somebody who is in the public like me.’ ” But, Livingston said, Krause would not back down. “He kept saying I was a poor role model.”

Jennifer Livingston has anchored the morning news for more than a decade.

Livingston is well known to her viewers. She shared her struggles with infertility, and when she got pregnant she shared her experience in a public “baby blog.”

WKBT News Director Anne Paape told me, “Her viewing public really knows her on many levels, not just as a TV news person.” So it seemed logical to take this conversation public.… Read more

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Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012

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Will TV’s long love affair with car chases come to a screeching halt as Fox broadcasts suicide live?

After Fox inadvertently aired live video of a man in Phoenix shooting himself Friday following a car chase, Executive Vice President for News Michael Clemente tried to explain how it happened. He called it a “severe human error.”  True enough. The network put the live feed on a five-second delay, but even that precaution depends on humans hitting a button to “dump” out of the broadcast.

Clemente also said in a statement provided to Poynter, “We took every precaution to avoid any such live incident.” That is clearly not so. One precaution the network could have tried: Not to air the chase at all. Or Fox could have recorded the footage and waited until the chase ended to air portions of it.

But Fox, CNN and many viewers love car chases. BuzzFeed, Gawker and Mediaite all published the video online. Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan explained the dilemma:

This is the ethical problem: a car chase contains a high potential for mayhem, without any inherent news value otherwise. It is simply mayhem porn. And it will always be impossible to predict when something awful and wretched and bloody will happen in one of these situations. And therefore, by running these things on live TV, a news network is running the risk that something like this will happen.

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Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012

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What journalists need to know about Coptic Christians

This morning I got a call from the Poynter.org editors, who asked: “Could you write a piece explaining Coptic Christianity?” The request comes as law enforcement identifies Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, being widely described as a “California Coptic Christian,” as the person behind a film that may have touched off some of the violence in Egypt, Libya and through the Middle East. (Note how tentative I am about who is responsible for the film and about how directly linked the movie is to the violence. We just do not know yet.)

First: There is nothing new about religious insensitivity fueling the fires in the Middle East. But do not miss this point: There is nothing about Coptic Christianity that leads believers to produce a hateful movie disrespecting the Muslim religion.

The basics

The Coptic Christians are another name for Egyptian Christians. Coptic comes from the Greek word for the ancient capital city of Egypt, Memphis. Along with the Egyptian Christian faith came a distinctive new kind of artwork that became known as Coptic art.

Christians have many connections to Egypt. The most familiar connection: The New Testament teaches that Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to protect the child from being killed by a jealous King Herod.… Read more

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