Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Archive for the ‘Managing’ Category

Plagiarism is plagiarism is plagiarism

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The chilling, maddening, twisted account of NYT Business reporter Zachery Kouwe and his resignation over plagiarizing Wall Street Journal and Reuters material is also, sadly, a rich training opportunity. Kouwe was initially called on material he took from a WSJ story on Bernie Madoff and posted on the NYT DealBook blog. Times editors apparently found more examples from the WSJ, Reuters, and other sources.

Consider Kouwe’s explanation, quoted here from the New York Observer, of how it happened:

“I was as surprised as anyone that this was occurring,” said Mr. Kouwe, referring to the revelation that he had plagiarized. “I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff. As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, ‘Man what an idiot. What I was thinking?’”

Mr. Kouwe says he has never fabricated a story, nor has he knowingly plagiarized. “Basically, there was a minor news story and I thought we needed to have a presence for it on the blog,” he said, referring to DealBook. “In the essence of speed, I’ll look at various wire services and throw it into our back-end publishing system, which is WordPress, and then I’ll go and report it out and make sure all the facts are correct. It’s not like an investigative piece. It’s usually something that comes off a press release, an earnings report, it’s court documents.”

“I’ll go back and rewrite everything,” he continued. “I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there. I think that’s what probably happened.”

Apparently Kouwe has no idea of what he did in terms of process, and maybe even what constitutes plagiarism in the rip-and-clip-and-link-a-thon of digital publishing.

After reading Kouwe’s bizarre explanation, what are your staffers or students doing when it comes to “…the essence of speed,” or throwing things into a publishing template, or going back to re-report a story broken by another publication. And what are the workflows associated with blogs and other quick-to-print portions of your web site — if any?

Perhaps it is time to revisit what constitutes plagiarism, in all its forms, especially in the digital context. And perhaps it’s time to evaluate emerging workflows, accuracy measures, editorial oversight (even after the fact) for digital content. And then clearly convey the standards and best practices needed to ensure credibility in a training setting where examples, discussion, and simulated exercises are tossed out for writers, editors, copy editors, and online producers.

Proactive training can protect the essence of your good name.


Written by mroberts8

February 17, 2010 at 11:32 pm

Outside speakers & training

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When travel and tuition money for outside training opportunities disappears, newsroom managers may turn to guest speakers as a local alternative.

Making the best use of a guest speaker takes some effort. Not making that effort can result in poor training that wastes time, accomplishes nothing, and gives training and the topic a bad name.

Here are ways to make the most of training provided by a guest speaker. And most also hold true when tapping staff members to provide training, be it for writing, editing, video and multimedia, software skills, management, beat background, or any other topic.

  1. Learning objectives: No one has time for long-winded presentations on broad topics and generalities. Consider what you want people to learn and be able to do when the session is over. Instead of bringing a local college professor in to talk about “good writing,” identify a couple specific skills related to good writing and build the session around those skills. Many guest speakers are not good at this kind of concrete skill focus. Some talented performers even have trouble breaking down what they do into a clear process. So it falls to the newsroom manager arranging the session to drive that discussion. This is a crucial first step.
  2. Time: Most newsroom training tends to fall into the 60-90 minute category. So when having the discussion in #1, keep the time fame in mind. If you have the luxury of several hours or even a day, still break that time down into 60-90 minute modules and build a strong sequence. Attention to time will help in framing clear learning objectives.
  3. Civilians & Journalists: Journalists like to ask questions. Training or education in most other settings is far more passive and lecture-oriented. Prepared a guest speaker who is not from the newsroom culture. Let them know there will be questions and that people will freely challenge assumptions or statements. That way, when it happens, the speaker will not take it personally or panic.
  4. Exercises: Having a chance to do what is being taught is an essential part of effective adult learning. An exercise provides a structured opportunity to practice new skills and receive immediate feedback from the speaker or other participants. Often this is where the real learning takes place. When working with an outside speaker, help that person develop an exercise that reflects real-work situations in the newsroom.
  5. Participate: Top managers should not only attend the sessions they’ve helped plan, but also participate. Join in the exercise. Offer feedback. Open and close the sessions by mentioning how this new skill will help people and the organization. This sends an invaluable signal of importance about the topic and job expectations after the training.

More: How to Build a Training Module

Written by mroberts8

February 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Realistic multimedia training

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Ellen Weiss, VP for News at National Public Radio, recently described lessons learned the past two years as NPR ramped up a more ambitious radio + online model.

High on her list:

Be realistic about how much multimedia you can handle and train for. Writing is multimedia when you are a broadcast organization.  NPR brought its training back to reality — away from video and to things people could take back to their jobs: how to take a good picture, what’s the mix of writing, blog writing, writing for the web vs. writing for print.

A key concept in developing effective workplace training is “…things people can take back to their jobs.” This should be a consideration in formulating a training plan (Weiss’ point here), in training design, and in the critical reinforcement that must follow training. Why?

Training plan: Start with a sense of where you want to end up. What kind of things do you want people to do, as opposed to know. Break it down by department or job description. A good plan should encompass what skills need to be taught and who needs to learn them for immediate use back on the job.

Training design: A common mistake is to cram too much into a single training session. With a focus on the job, craft each session by completing this sentence: By the end of this session, participants will be able to _____ (do what?) Keep in mind each session should not only demonstrate the skill, but give participants a change to practice and receive feedback. So even something as apparently simple as “…how to take a good picture..,” from Weiss’s comment above, may take several one-hour sessions to convey the step-by-step skills required back on the job.

Back on the job: In many industries, training effectiveness is measured in how much new skills transfer back to the job. A great training session is not enough. Managers need to plan on coaching and reinforcement to bring new skills into regular use. This can include shadowing, formal feedback, metrics on output, consistent praise for success. Training plants the seed for new skills, but on-the-job reinforcement nourishes and cements their use.

More on this topic: Training on the edge of change. How to build a training module.

Written by mroberts8

January 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Covering communities, nurturing democracy

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Amy Gahan is writing an interesting series of weekly blog posts over at News Leadership 3.0 on how to put the ideas contained in a new report from the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in Democracy into action.

The report is titled, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, and is the work of 17 media, policy and community leaders whose purpose “…is to assess the information needs of communities, and recommend measures to help Americans better meet those needs.

In the introduction, they write:

The Knight Commission sees new thinking about news and information as a necessary step to sustaining democracy in the digital age. It thus follows in the footsteps of the 1940s Hutchins Commission and the Kerner and Carnegie Commissions of the 1960s.

But in the digital age the stakes are even higher. Technological, economic and behavioral changes are dramatically altering how Americans communicate. Communications systems no longer run along the lines of local communities, and the gap in access to digital tools and skills is wide and troubling.

The Commission seeks to start a national discussion – leading to real action. Its aims are to maximize the availability and flow of credible local information; to enhance access and capacity to use the new tools of knowledge and exchange; and to encourage people to engage with information and each other within their geographic communities.

Amy’s weekly posts so far:

Community info building blocks: What do you already have?

Teamwork: Collaborating to build a community dashboard

Civic topic pages: Boost local traffic, democracy

Government 2.0: What’s in it for local news?

Making key government documents easier to find, understand

Tips for seeking local news funding from community foundations

Volunteering widget: Basic gateway to civic engagement

Future of Media Project: FCC wants your views by March 8

Written by mroberts8

December 31, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Leadership lessons

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One of the least taught yet most important newsroom skills is leadership. And in tough times the demands on leadership — at all levels of newsroom management — are overwhelming.

As Sandy Rowe ends her 16-year-run as editor of The Oregonian, one of her many former colleagues, Michelle McLellan of the Knight Digital Media Center, shares six leadership lessons learned from Rowe,  and others who have passed through Rowe’s orbit underscore how well she lived each one.

Here’s the list of lessons:

  1. Listen, and listen well.
  2. Let others lead.
  3. Make the tough calls.
  4. Stand up for readers.
  5. Know your talents and how to use them.
  6. Own the vision.

The six share pieces of  the “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” at the heart of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s book, The Leadership Challenge.

  1. Model the way.
  2. Inspire a shared vision.
  3. Challenge the process.
  4. Enable others to act.
  5. Encourage the heart.

All these skills and practices  culminate in that last one of encouraging the heart. Kouzes-Posner describe the fifth practice this way: “Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make.” Recognition can be public praise or rewards. But day to day “recognition” is about  listening, walking the talk, letting others lead, and all the rest. And if there was every time hearts need encouragement in journalism, that time is now.

Written by mroberts8

December 17, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Beat mapping for the new year

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Heading into a new year is a time of reflection, tossing out of old files, and new goals.

Beat work is the foundation of sustained, high-quality journalism. So this is also a time for reporters and editors to reconsider the scope and focus of a beat and recalibrate.

“Beat Mapping” is a process I developed years ago to help in the creation of new beats. Over the years I’ve used it more as an ongoing process to refresh and refocus existing beats. And in recent years, it has been a tool for regrouping in the face of staff and budget cuts to make hard choices about coverage.

The process is a series of conversations between reporter and editor resulting in a shared sense of direction, priorities, and concrete objectives.

1) Map the beat: As with story mapping (a variation on the critical thinking skill called webbing), brainstorm all the possible dimensions of a beat. In cases where cutbacks force combining beats, this may involved two or more large topic areas. With all the possibilties laid out, decide what will be the focus and priority areas for beat coverage in the coming year, or even six months if the landscape changes rapidly in your shop.

2) List players and issues: List all the people, institutions or organizations, events and activities, and issues or trends cncompassed by those coverage targets selected in the first conversation. This list will likely contain famliar names and (hopefully) new names for ongoing source development and coverage. The last item — issues or trends — often become the main lines of coverage that generate momentum off breaking news and lead to a body of work.

3) Define outcomes: Break the beat down into outcomes. One list of outcomes should detail desired outcomes, usually in terms of content. How many and what type of stories will be produced, for a example, on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. This too is about priorities. Is the beat dominated by short daily stories, or what kinds of short and long-term enterprise need to be factored in. A second list, as needed, details internal expectations on routines and communication required in the job. This might include a weekly or monthly planning calendar, weekly story discussions, regular source building not tied to a specific story. This is the piece that articulates expectations for the work, and for both the reporter and editor.

4) Source development: Borrowing concepts from the Pew Center’s Tapping Civic Life templates, list the sources that are in hand or need to be developed to achieve the content plan laid out in #3. Start at the top with the obvious officials, then move deeper into the beat. Quasi-officials (people inside an organization); Expert-On the Record (people outside the world of the beat who can provide expertise, context and direction); Expert-Off the Record (people likely closely involved or formerly involved who will provide context and background); Real people (stakeholder who live beat, who are impacted, who have something to lose or gain).

Coming out of these conversations and looking ahead to 2010, a reporter and editor should have a clear sense of purpose, of how to manage precious resources (primarily time), and be in a position to produce a body of work that is intentional rather than driven by random breaking news events.

Written by mroberts8

December 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm

SEO for reporters and editors

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Search engine optimization (SEO) — the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines — for newsroom folks is about building “site authority” (an ongoing profile of reliable quality) and optimizing content as its posted. For reporters and editors that involves the use of keywords related to the content, keywords people will likely use to search for an article.

Few readers “read” a web site like a newspaper, starting on the homepage and paging back to what they want to read. They search, and most (about 70%) search on Google. So the goal is to have stories appear on the first page of a Google search.

The use of keywords in headlines is probably not a new concept in most newsrooms, as its always been part of good print headline writing as well. After attending some recent training in SEO, I came away with a much better understanding of the power of keywords in stories.

There has long been a sense in news writing that repetition is bad. So typical news stories tend to use a variety of terms about the same thing. Here in Phoenix, we might write about the Phoenix real estate market, or the metropolitan Phoenix home market, or the Valley housing market (off the area’s nickname, Valley of the Sun) — all in the same story. This kind of thing happens in news, sports, business and feature writing all the time.

SEO results are better when there is one consistent term that anchors the headline and appears in the opening paragraphs of the story. And a term that contains words a reader is most likely to use in a search. Hearing this in the SEO program, I realized we needed to discuss keywords central to our primary beats and develop an awareness and discipline in using them in the opening sections of a story (about the first 250 words). And we also need to step away from that conventional approach of not repeating terms.

I’ve always felt repetition is a good thing in long or complex stories when readers need all the help they can get to keep central themes and players straight. And now there seems to be a good reason to apply the same care at the start of a story to help more people find it on the web.

As a training or workflow development exercise, an explanation of how keywords affect searches, followed by a discussion and choices on core keywords, could be a quick, simple way for newsroom staff to play a part in an overall SEO strategy.

And check out Google’s free Keyword Tool that allows you to type in a word or phrase and see what other words are most likely to be used in such a search. Web page managers use it to help design the headings and other labels on a web page. Reporters and editors might find it helps with the brainstorming about the best keyword phrases on their respective beats.

Written by mroberts8

December 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm