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Liberia West Africa Ebola

How journalists covering the Ebola outbreak try to stay safe

That tweet came from CNN international correspondent David McKenzie, who’s currently reporting on the Ebola outbreak from Sierra Leone. On Monday, McKenzie filed this story about how he and other journalists at CNN are staying safe while covering a story with worldwide health implications.

“This is more about just having some basic things, like chlorine and water and all of this, to protect yourself, but also just to calm yourself down in what can be a very emotional and scary reporting trip,” he said in the video.

I’ve started a Twitter list of journalists covering the Ebola outbreak from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and nearby countries. Who am I missing? Please email or tweet suggestions to me at khare@poynter.org or @kristenhare. Here’s what I heard from other news organizations:

Associated Press — West Africa correspondent Krista Larson is covering the story for the AP, “drawing on our network of reliable stringers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Krista is based in Dakar, Senegal and has a wide knowledge of West Africa and long-standing working relationships with the stringers and her stories reflect that depth,” Andrew Meldrum, AP’s assistant Africa editor, told Poynter in an email.

Those stringers include Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Liberia, Clarence Macaulay in Sierra Leone and Sarah DiLorenzo in Senegal.

“Because of the dangerous nature of Ebola, Krista Larson has instructed all AP stringers not to put themselves in any danger,” Meldrum said. “This has been challenging for AP’s photographers and videographers. Often we have had to rely on images taken by groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, which have staff photographers at treatment centers. It is a challenging story – but one on which the AP’s Africa team and others around the globe have relished working together to report on a complex, serious story.”

A close up of newspaper front pages focusing on the Ebola outbreak, including a newspaper, left, reading 'Burn all bodies' in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, July 31, 2014. The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities. (AP Photo/Jonathan Paye-Layleh)

A close up of newspaper front pages focusing on the Ebola outbreak, including a newspaper, left, reading ‘Burn all bodies’ in the city of Monrovia, Liberia, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Jonathan Paye-Layleh)

Los Angeles TimesRobyn Dixon is covering the outbreak from South Africa.

“In general, we try to take every possible precaution we can when covering dangerous situations,” Nancy Sullivan, vice president of communications with the Times, told Poynter in an email. “Each situation has its own specific nuances and, as such, we don’t have a formal one-size-fits-all policy in place regarding protection or pulling back.”

The New York Times — Adam Nossiter reported at the end of July from Guinea. Samuel Aranda is a freelance journalist. He’s covering the outbreak for the Times. Ben C. Solomon is a video journalist for the Times based in Kenya. He’s currently reporting from West Africa.

NPR– NPR’s Jason Beaubien was in Sierra Leone in mid-July, and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is heading to Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Monday.

“Before Jason’s assignment, we consulted with the CDC and MSF,” NPR spokesperson Emerson Brown told Poynter in an email, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Doctors Without Borders. “We also had a number of conversations involving Jason, his editor, senior news executives and our international security manager. We agreed on a series of protocols to best allow Jason to do his reporting while minimizing the risk of contracting Ebola.”

Per Brown, those protocols include:

– Do not enter isolation units; avoid shaking hands; avoid funerals; avoid eating bush meat; avoid any obvious gatherings/demonstrations; use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

– While he was on the ground, he was in regular contact by phone, text and email with managers in DC about prospective daily movements.

Brown said Quist-Arcton will follow the same protocol and that since leaving Sierra Leone, Beaubien is monitoring his health.

Wall Street Journal: Drew Hinshaw is covering the outbreak from Ghana.

Vice — Vice doesn’t currently have anyone covering the outbreak, but it did send Kaj Larsen to Liberia for a story that ran on June 26 called “Bushmeat in the Time of Ebola.”

Al Jazeera: Ahmed Idris is reporting on the outbreak for Al Jazeera from Nigeria. Tommy Trenchard is writing for Al Jazeera and other news outlets from Sierra Leone. Clair MacDougall is covering the story from Monrovia, Liberia.

BBC: Stanley Kwenda is covering the outbreak for BBC Africa.

AFP: Carl De Souza is covering the outbreak for AFP. Read more

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Time.com’s bounce rate down 15 percentage points since adopting continuous scroll

Three major news website redesigns this year look very different but have an important feature in common: articles that seamlessly transition to new content, without requiring readers to click or tap headlines and then wait for new pages to load.

This “continuous scroll” strategy for news sites’ article pages is gaining momentum. It’s been adopted by Time.com, NBCNews.com and LATimes.com, reflecting the fact that direct homepage traffic is waning (see the New York Times innovation report), and traffic from social media (particularly Facebook) just keeps growing.

So as readers increasingly enter sites from “side doors” or article pages, media organizations are trying to figure out how to get them to stick around. Pew recently found that visitors from Facebook are far less engaged than direct visitors. Here’s how sites that relaunched in the first half of 2014 are addressing that problem by making use of the continuous scroll (aka infinite scroll) feature in their article pages:

Time.com

Since its March redesign, Time.com’s bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who leave the site after viewing only one page — has declined by 15 percentage points, according to managing editor Edward Felsenthal. The percentage of desktop visitors going to another piece of content jumped 21 percentage points between February and May.

Felsenthal attributed that to the continuous scroll, which provides a clickless path for readers to reach another story. He said the left rail, which serves as a “traveling homepage” of links to the top stories of the moment, also helped.

The fact that Time.com queues up top stories, not related stories, is crucial to the site’s strategy for serving social visitors, Felsenthal said: “In many ways the major objective of our redesign was to showcase for those users the full Time offering.”

That seems to acknowledge that much of what attracts social media readers to the site initially might not be the content deemed most editorially important. So now, readers going to the site for a story that may not be what you’d expect from Time.com…

… will scroll into Time’s more substantive top stories once they get to the bottom of the article. (For what it’s worth, Felsenthal told Digiday, “We don’t want to do really clickbait-y Facebook posts, because it’s just not what the brand’s about. But we do want to tease.”)

World news typically doesn’t receive as much social engagement as softer content does, but Time’s redesign means more visitors will at least be exposed to hard news. Post-redesign, Felsenthal said, “The mix of our top 10 articles is more reflective of where we want to be.”

NBC News

The redesigned NBC News takes a different approach from Time. Article pages transition into related stories, not top stories. And some stories are compiled into “storylines,” so if you’re interested in “hot cars and kids,” you can read a stack of more than 30 stories.

Mobile page views in June were up 30 percent over the previous 12-month average, according to an NBC News spokesperson. On average, NBC News readers on desktop and mobile are seeing nearly 20 percent more pages per visit than before the site’s February redesign.

Los Angeles Times

The LA Times redesign is less seamless than the other two in terms of transitioning quickly to the next piece of content. There’s a choose-your-own-adventure quality to the layout; non-blog stories transition into a section page instead of another article page based on which section you choose:

latscroll

That gives readers more control over where the site takes them next, but requiring readers to choose what they see next adds some friction that the other sites lack.

A spokesperson for the LA Times said it was too early to share specifics about how the newspaper’s new site is performing. She summed up the goals of the May redesign:

• Eradicating print-centric and antiquated web concepts, such as “the fold,” “the jump,” “endless clicking” and “the dead end” with endless scrolling and multi-directional navigation
• Seamlessly pathing readers from one piece of content to the next, with section fronts and article pages anchored by a row of thumbnails that automatically transport readers to related coverage or other sections

Quartz, Fortune, and Cosmopolitan

The homepage-less Quartz is a clear influence here, particularly for Time. Whatever page you arrive on via social media occupies the top spot in the story stack, with top news — not related stories — below. Editorial news judgment plays a big role in the reader’s experience.

Quartz senior editor Zach Seward said it’s nice to see others emulate one of his site’s signature features: “It must mean we’re onto something.” He also said he doesn’t like the term “infinite scroll”:

The intent is to help users who get to the end of a story but want to keep reading. Some sites have dead ends, others create paralysis of choice. We choose to quietly suggest just one more story, which users can easily scroll into or just ignore. It’s all about that one moment rather some kind of infinite experience.

Seward recently told Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton that Quartz estimates “readers view about 50 percent more stories per visit than they would without the option to scroll.” And, Seward said, “When people choose to read another story on Quartz, about 80 percent do so by scrolling, as opposed to clicking on a headline.”

Time Inc.’s Money and Fortune have also adopted the Quartz-inspired Time.com template for their redesigns. And at the “sexy new Cosmopolitan.com”, a long stack of related stories is presented to readers at the bottom of article pages.

The article page is the new homepage, so what goes on underneath articles seems to be the paramount concern when redesigning a media site in 2014. Some, like Time and Quartz, choose to “quietly suggest” a particular story. Others, like the LA Times and Cosmo, are using the space below stories to offer lots of choices for readers. But all of them have redesigned with an eye toward that second click or page view.


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Former LAT Editor Russ Stanton joins PR firm

Los Angeles Times | LA Observed

Russ Stanton is joining the communications firm G.F. Bunting + Co., Abby Sewell reports in the Los Angeles Times. Stanton most recently oversaw the newsroom at KPCC, which he left in June. He was editor of the Los Angeles Times for four years. Read more

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L.A. Times corrects report of author’s porn habits, man’s “endowment”

The Los Angeles Times offered a book review correction that’s jam packed with porn and penis references:

“Big Little Man”: A review in the June 29 Arts & Books section of the book “Big Little Man” said that author Alex Tizon is in his 60s. He is 54. Also, the review described Tizon as an avid consumer of porn, but the book says the viewing was for research. It also described Tizon’s friend’s embarrassment about the size of his endowment, whereas the book states that “he liked being average.” 

Hat tip to Romenesko for spotting this. Read more

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A photo taken on board a helicopter shows a US State Department helicopter flying over the Iraqi capital Baghdad carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday, June 23, 2014. Kerry pledged "intense" support for Iraq against the "existential threat" of a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

After shuttering bureaus, news organizations revisit Iraq

A photo taken on board a helicopter shows a US State Department helicopter flying over the Iraqi capital Baghdad carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday, June 23, 2014. Kerry pledged "intense" support for Iraq against the "existential threat" of a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool)

When New York Times reporter Tim Arango arrived in Iraq in 2010, the eight-bedroom bureau was so crowded that he had to sleep on the couch.

But about two years later, he frequently found himself wandering the halls alone. Occasionally, journalists would come in and share the house, making Arango, by then the Times’ Baghdad bureau chief, feel “kind of like a bed and breakfast owner.”

When American troops left Iraq in 2011, many reporters went with them, he said. Some went back stateside, and some soon found themselves covering the Arab Spring uprising throughout the Middle East.

“I think there was a period where the reading public and the media moved on,” Arango said. He’s currently reporting from northern Iraq.

Now, with an insurgency threatening the Iraqi government and 300 United States advisors committed to halting their advance, the country has seen a sudden infusion of reporters from American news organizations, many that closed their bureaus shortly before or after the war ended.

Television networks, including CBS, Fox and CNN, have beefed up their coverage of the region, sending correspondents into Iraq or covering the situation from their Middle East offices, representatives from those networks told Poynter.

Newspapers are also bolstering their coverage. The Los Angeles Times, which closed its bureau in 2011, is reporting on the insurgency with a stringer in northern Iraq and a reporter from Baghdad, said Mark Porubcansky, the foreign editor of the L.A. Times.

The New York Times, which rotates correspondents in and out of Iraq, has dispatched four correspondents, including Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Tyler Hicks, to the country to cover the conflict, said Danielle Rhoades Ha, director of communications with The New York Times.

The Washington Post, which shuttered its bureau in 2012, now has three reporters in the country — two in Baghdad and one in Erbil, a city in northern Iraq, said Doug Jehl, the paper’s foreign editor.

The Associated Press has long had a bureau in Iraq and continued to maintain it since the war ended, said Paul Colford, the AP’s director of media relations.

Although most American news organizations closed their Iraq bureaus several years ago, many, such as McClatchy, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have consistently been providing excellent coverage of Iraq, said Jackie Spinner, a journalism professor at Columbia College and former Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post.

However, the sudden influx of news organizations that do not have consistent connections to the region have exposed one problem: finding reliable Iraqi “fixers,” journalists, translators and drivers who help reporters navigate the conflict safely and effectively.

“A western correspondent cannot just drop into Iraq right now and tell the story without a really good Iraqi fixer,” Spinner said.

Although most news organizations are relying on relationships with local journalists to cover the conflict, there is disagreement as to whether a bureau is an essential ingredient to covering Iraq.

CNN, which closed its bureau in 2012, maintained contact with a network of local stringers and relied on them to help cover the insurgency when it flared up in recent weeks, said Bridget Leininger, a representative from CNN.

“It is a debate that is going on all the time as the technology gets better and better — why have a big bureau if I can shoot video from my phone and publish it?” she wrote in an email. “Some of this equipment is small enough that you can fit it in a backpack, and set up a live global transmission from anywhere in the world. That makes it easier for travel and getting to challenging locations, with a more nimble team.”

But Spinner cautions that bureaus can foster long-term connections with a region, the type necessary to provide context when covering complex situations.

“It’s expensive to do foreign news coverage, and news organizations are trying to figure out how to provide that coverage in the environment we’re operating in,” she said. “I don’t think the solution is to have journalists parachute in and out of the story.”

Above: A photo taken on board a helicopter shows a US State Department helicopter flying over the Iraqi capital Baghdad carrying US Secretary of State John Kerry Monday, June 23, 2014. Kerry pledged “intense” support for Iraq against the “existential threat” of a major militant offensive pushing toward Baghdad from the north and west. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool) Read more

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L.A. Times: Don’t use words like ‘biggest’ or ‘most’ without proof

The Los Angeles Times updated its newsroom ethics policy, and while some of its provisions reflect its geographic location — “The entertainment industry is a central area of our coverage, and staff members must take special care not to create the appearance of conflicts should they seek work in that industry” — they’re worth reading for anyone at any newsroom.

The guidelines also venture into the realm of word choice:

Superlatives such as “biggest,” “worst” and “most” should be employed only when the writer has proof. It is the responsibility of assigning editors and copy editors to challenge all questionable claims. The burden of proof rests with the writer; it is not the desk’s responsibility to prove the writer wrong.

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Social media roundup: Gawker, USA Today, LA Times open up with tips and insights

Automated tweets get less engagement than handcrafted ones, WhatsApp is making inroads at a USA Today sports site, and sometimes all you can do when a years-old piece takes off on Facebook is shrug.

It’s been a good week for gleaning insights from media outlets, which seem increasingly willing to share which social strategies are working for them. Here’s a rundown of recent social media news you might have missed:

Human tweets RSS tweets

Los Angeles Times social media editor Stacey Leasca shared some tips on Twitter’s media blog this week.

Among her insights was the fact that moving from RSS tweets improved engagement. It’s no surprise that a human touch makes a difference, but it’s interesting to see how much the change seems to have increased the rate at which the newspaper’s accounts are gaining new followers:

A perfect example of this is, again, @LANow. We moved @LANow off of an automated feed in the summer of 2013. The account was then staffed by editors and reporters working in the section. They are our real local experts and the Twitter account quickly became richer with information and much more personal for Angelenos. @LANow quickly went from averaging about 1,500 fans a week to more than 2,500 fans a week.

Few big news outlets use automated tweets

Late last week, Nieman Lab’s Joseph Lichterman gathered a few paragraphs from seven major news outlets about how they manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Only one, The New York Times, indicated much reliance on automation. Here’s Daniel Victor, social media staff editor:

By most measures — including clicks, retweets, favorites, and responses — handwritten tweets outperform autotweets. But there are some not-insignificant areas where autotweets win: speed, reliability, and lesser time invested by staff. We aim to have a balance of the two that gives us the benefits of both; it allows us to be both timely and engaging, while still being able to spend time on additional newsroom priorities.

I’ve noticed Times tweets generally seem very by-the-book, to the extent that the occasional tweet with a human flair seems jarring (the tell is that they’re written down-style instead of up-style, as Times headlines are). The Wall Street Journal, perhaps its chief competitor, has embraced pictures and charts on Twitter, and is much more conversational at times. The Journal also liberally retweets its reporters. It’s fascinating to see how much the two newspapers — still somewhat staid in print and on their websites — diverge when it comes to social media.

Ryan Osborn, NBCUniversal News Group vice president of innovation and strategic integration, echoed most of the other outlets’ reasons for choosing not to automate social media posts: “While scaling a strategy 24/7 has taken time, we’ve found that engagement is greater when the accounts are manually curated.”

What’s up with WhatsApp?

After Facebook’s acquisition of the messenger platform in February, I wrote that WhatsApp could become a useful tool for “dark social” content sharing — in other words, an alternative to email for sharing links privately rather than publicly. BuzzFeed had already started experimenting with a WhatsApp button in stories on the mobile Web.

Now, Digiday’s Ricardo Bilton reports that USA Today’s viral, mobile-friendly sports site, FTW, saw 18 percent of its mobile sharing activity come from WhatsApp in its first week of using the WhatsApp share button. That’s more than Twitter:

Sites with sizable youth audiences and content built to be shared should take heed.

The mystery of evergreen Facebook stories

Finally, Gawker editor-in-chief Max Read explored a question today about his site’s traffic: “Why Is Gawker’s Top Story a Four-Year-Old Post About Vajazzling?” Of the post’s near-million page views this week, 96 percent came from Facebook, Read shows in charts and tables. And the traffic pattern for this type of second-life virality differs from what Gawker sees for its daily posts:

Regular, diversified traffic on a decent hit is a quick burst immediately after publication, tapering off throughout the day, a smaller peak for the next day, another valley and on until it flatlines. It hits its peaks around midday and early afternoon, when office workers are at the computers.

Facebook traffic, on the other hand, is a steady rise that doesn’t peak until around 10 p.m. eastern time (and drops off immediately). Weirder still, it gets bigger: Wednesday night, the post was receiving around 7,000 hits an hour at its peak; Thursday, it was hitting 8,000.

Tweets are ephemeral, disappearing from timelines almost as quickly as they appear. But Facebook posts often hang around, and some brands, like Mental Floss, have observed longer shelf lives for posts since the latest News Feed shakeup.

As far as determining what “patient zero” launched Gawker’s four-year-old viral sensation goes, Read wrote that all he could was shrug: ¯\(°_o)/¯


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Public usually has right to know names of officers who used deadly force, court rules

Los Angeles Times

“Vague safety concerns” don’t trump the public’s right to know the names of officers involved in shootings, the Supreme Court of California ruled Thursday. The justices were responding to a case that arose from the Los Angeles Times’ efforts to learn the names of officers in Long Beach, California, who shot Douglas Zerby, a 35-year-old man holding a garden hose nozzle, 12 times.

The Long Beach Police Officers Association argued that releasing the names “would endanger officers and their families because home addresses and telephone numbers can be obtained on the Internet,” Maura Dolan reports in the L.A. Times.

The ruling says that “if it is essential to protect an officer‘s anonymity for safety reasons or for reasons peculiar to the officer’s duties” — if the officer is undercover, perhaps — “then the public interest in disclosure of the officer‘s name may need to give way.” But that didn’t apply in the Zerby case, the court said. Read more

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New L.A. Times site: precooked tweets and a new flavor of infinite scroll

The Los Angeles Times introduced its new responsive website this morning, tackling major industry trends like responsive ad units, mobile-first design and “treating article pages as entry points as valuable as the homepage,” according to a press release. Here are three quick takeaways:

Precooked tweets: Just click and enjoy

They’re called “sharelines,” and an L.A. Times spokesperson told Poynter the ready-to-share tidbits won’t just be the responsibility of social media editors. Reporters will contribute them, too.

It’s a cool idea. Not only do these pre-written lines at the top of each story facilitate sharing, but they also serve as handy bullet points like those in the NYT Now app. You don’t have to tweet them to get something out of them.

As Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton writes, it’ll be interesting for the L.A. Times to track what makes some of these blurbs more attractive to readers than others.

So far, they’re not written quite like the stilted newspaper headlines shared when you use the Twitter button. But they’re also not written so casually that you could fool your followers into thinking you wrote the thing yourself. They’re still written in newspaper speak, but now you essentially have a choice of a few decks to tweet instead of just a main headline. Read more

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Henry Waxman asks Tribune CEO to reconsider newspaper spinoff

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman has sent a letter to Tribune Co. CEO Peter Liguori saying interviews with experts “raised serious concerns about the future of the Los Angeles Times” should the company go ahead with its plan to spin off its newspaper division.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds is among the experts Waxman consulted.

Waxman is concerned about Tribune Co.’s plans to saddle the newspapers with debt and keep their real estate, but he also says the company’s plan to consolidate some newsgathering functions “raises concerns about the ability of the papers to continue putting resources into local coverage.” The plans, he says, “will place the long-term viability of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune papers at risk.”

In a statement to Poynter, Los Angeles Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein said that, “From our ongoing discussions, Congressman Waxman should by now be fully aware that the structure of the spin-off of Tribune Publishing is based on sound financial principles and a deep commitment to providing Tribune’s newspapers with a strong, long-term future.” He continues:

The assertions of the academics consulted by the Congressman provide no new insight and in many cases are simply wrong. As publisher of the Los Angeles Times for the last six years and soon-to-be Chairman of the Board of Tribune Publishing, I am extremely confident that the plan put forth by Tribune Company is sound, reasonable and will help protect and build a strong future for the Los Angeles Times and Tribune’s other newspapers for years to come.

Waxman has raised concerns about the plan before. He plans to retire this year.

Here’s the letter:

Letter to Tribune Co. CEO from Henry Waxman by Andrew Beaujon

Related: Buzz off, Waxman — Congress can’t tell a newspaper how to do business (Reuters) Read more

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