Why the phone can be better than email

At the dawn of 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution. I vowed to try to rely less on email and actually use the good old-fashioned phone to reach out to public relations people on my various beats. Even if I didn’t have anything on the agenda, I planned to dial someone’s number just to see what was going on.

You know, how’s the family? What’s the latest at your place?

Of course, New Year’s resolutions never stick. So along with my vow to read more and eat less, I haven’t come close to calling PR folks as much as I had hoped.

I make that admission to show that I am just as guilty as anyone in being part of a horrible trend in media: Journalists and PR people have forgotten how to use the phone. Read more


Why I always play music during writing workshops

Roy Peter Clark plays the accordion

The most fun I have as a teacher is when I can incorporate music into writing instruction. (Photo by Armondo Solares)

I was 46 years old, and my life and time were filled by three pursuits: teaching writing, coaching girls soccer and playing in a rock band. My imagination was born, or reborn, that year in 1994.

I saw them as discrete activities. For each I wore a separate uniform, spoke a distinctive dialect and derived a different reward. It felt like a rich and satisfying life, and it was.

I would soon learn there was something more.

I was at work on the book “Coaching Writers” with Don Fry. That word “coaching” made me wonder whether there was something I was learning from coaching my daughters’ soccer teams that I could apply to the coaching of writers. Read more

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Being miserable at work isn’t working: 7 reasons to have a little fun


Newsrooms don’t have to be depressing places, we promise. (Photo by Eric Gay/AP)

Newsrooms have a long reputation for being unhappy, antagonistic workplaces. The massive downsizings since the mid-2000s and uncertainty about the future of the industry haven’t helped much.

Journalists in the United States are “less satisfied with their work,” and “much more likely to say that journalism is headed in the wrong direction than in the right one,” according to a 2014 study from Indiana University.

Look, we know journalism is hard. Many of us aren’t paid well. We work longer hours than our timesheets reveal, often at a moment’s notice and on topics that should qualify us for grief counseling. What are we left with if we can’t pull a little fun out of it? Read more


The magic of ‘experiment land’ in legacy newsrooms

Masuma Ahuja and Sarah Marshall had never met before. Once the ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media kicked off on April 12, though, they soon discovered they had plenty in common.

Ahuja and Marshall, two of the 25 women in the inaugural Leadership Academy class, are both tasked with helping their legacy media organizations experiment with new technologies, platforms and forms of storytelling.

That can be a tough proposition in any newsroom, and places as revered at The Washington Post, where Ahuja is a national digital editor, and The Wall Street Journal, where Marshall oversees social media for Europe, Middle East and Africa, pose their unique challenges.

The duo is up to the task. Midway through the leadership week, they sat together for a short conversation about what it takes to push newsrooms to experiment. Read more


5 ways newsrooms can make the most of Instagram


A selection of photos from Poynter’s Instagram feed (@poynter_institute)

What’s the point of Instagram if it doesn’t drive traffic?

This is one of the most common questions I hear from journalists tasked with growing their newsroom’s social media presence. It’s also a question I recently faced as I made the case for Poynter’s newly launched Instagram account.

It’s a fair point: when you’re strapped for resources, how do you determine whether a social network like Instagram is worth your time? And, if you do decide to create an account, how do you prove that it’s successful?

Just this week, The New York Times announced the launch of the paper’s primary account on Instagram, @NYTimes. The feed, as described in a Times’ press release, is designed to reach new audiences and boost brand awareness. Read more

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Inside EndRun, The Marshall Project’s lean content management system

EndRun's administrator homepage. (Credit: Ivar Vong)

EndRun’s administrator homepage. (Credit: Ivar Vong)

Ivar Vong is all about avoiding frustrating and tedious tasks. And since he started as director of technology at The Marshall Project in June, he’s been focused on saving his co-workers a lot of time in little ways.

“I’m very interested in workflow,” Vong said. “Building tools that are efficient, especially for things that we do a lot, say publishing a post — that’s really important to try to get as good as possible.”

When he was brought aboard, Vong began talking with managing editor Gabriel Dance about what kind of website they wanted to build. He and Dance wanted The Marshall Project to be flexible, to grow to meet the changing trends and demands of the news business. And that meant building something new. Read more


‘Serial’s’ twist on traditional crime reporting

serial-adnanNot many journalists would dare compare a convict’s big brown eyes to those of a dairy cow: “Could someone who looks like that really strangle his girlfriend? Idiotic, I know.”

Yet that’s exactly what Sarah Koenig, the reporter for the public radio podcast “Serial,” did while talking about one of her series’ main subjects. Her style mixes traditional reporting with think-out-loud observations and thoughts, which is why it’s both compelling and uncomfortable for journalists to listen to.

“We try to minimize the reporter’s voice,” said Justin George, a crime reporter from the Baltimore Sun. “She’s literally telling readers how she feels. Not what she’s seeing but how she feels, and that’s probably why she is grabbing readers.”

“Serial” is about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore County, Maryland, and the arrest and conviction of her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was sentenced to life in prison. Read more

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Today at the South Florida Sun Sentinel, a switch to digital thinking

Starting today, staff at the South Florida Sun Sentinel will have to think differently about how they report, write and present the news — and differently means digitally.

As of Tuesday, everyone but a designated team will focus solely on reporting and producing news online. A separate print production desk will then choose from what has been produced each day to create the next day’s printed newspaper.

“Realistically, it’s a change for a lot of journalists who are traditional newspaper journalists, who’ve made tremendous strides at being more multimedia journalists than they ever were, but still love the daily newspaper and love the cycle,” said David Schutz, design director, in a phone interview.

That cycle is changing now, he said, and “I think it’s a big mental change for a lot of people, especially more senior journalists, including me.”

It’s also a natural progression from a change made three years ago, when the Sentinel gave the print section editors responsibility of their sections online and merged the digital team with the newsroom. Read more

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Storify adds a way to collaborate on breaking news

Storify now has a way for journalists to collaborate on breaking news, Livefyre announced Tuesday. Storify Enterprise, which was previously Storify VIP, lets several people “simultaneously add text or content in real-time, see who else is working on the story at any moment and access the editing history to clearly identify what changes were made by whom,” according to a post on Livefyre by Samantha Hauser.

“Covering stories has always been a collaborative process, and that’s even more true when you’re sifting through huge volumes of social media for a breaking story or brand campaign. While part of the team seeks out great photos and quotes, others craft the story and give context,” explained Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify and vice president of editorial at Livefyre.

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Omidyar’s First Look Media looking to find its focus, target an audience

Pierre Omidyar has issues. Several problems, actually.

The billionaire technologist, philanthropist, and publisher is stitching together a strategy for his weeks-old First Look Media group, and he’s grappling with some essential questions:

  • What’s the focus?
  • Will First Look be one big brand, or a confederacy of brands?
  • Will it serve a mass audience, or a niche audience?
  • Will it be “problem-pointers,” or problem solvers?
  • Can its journalism innovation match its technology innovation?

First Look Media launched in February with The Intercept, featuring Glenn Greenwald, who, while working for The Guardian last year, was the first to report on the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance program. Greenwald practices what he calls “adversary journalism.”

The hiring of Greenwald has framed the public’s view of First Look. Read more

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