Don’t Be a Fool: Annual Spoof Warning

There is no off season for spoofs. Remember the great video interview with Bono? It was really a Bono impersonator. The episode was an echo of a 2009  adventure when a film team exposed the low standards of a lot of reporting about celebrities.

If the stories seemed far-fetched, it was because they were part of a series of fabrications about celebrities — made up and fed to tabloid newspapers by a documentary team that wanted to prove that journalists don’t check facts.

The Not-Bono interview with Jason Matterra was this year.

Spoofs don’t just happen with small newsrooms and celebrities. Last year, the very large Associated Press tripped up and fell for a spoof involving GE and taxes. Spoofs can happen any time, but they usually spike right around now.

As March 2012 draws to a close, it’s worth repeating this warning, a warning I send around the newsroom every year at this time:

The silly season is upon us. Many publications will be running corrections on April 3 for items they fail to see as pranks on April 1. Don’t let that happen to you – or to your readers.

One editor reminded me about a 1998 prank announcement that fooled the FT:

Guinness brewery issued a press release announcing that it had reached an agreement with the Old Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England to be the official beer sponsor of the Observatory’s millennium celebration.

According to this agreement, Greenwich Mean Time would be renamed Guinness Mean Time until the end of 1999. In addition, the famous observatory would refer to seconds as “pint drips.”

The Financial Times, not realizing that the release was a joke, broke the news in an article in which it discussed how some companies were exploiting the millennium excitement in order to promote their own brand names.

There are sure to be more examples this year. Have you seen any? Comment below.

Each year, the UK starts the day early, and in style. Some top 2010 and 2011 spoofs, from a friend’s list:

*Ferrets to deliver broadband to rural areas, Telegraph

*AA to use rocketman to rescue stranded motorists, Daily Mail

*Google launches translate for animals, Google

Funny to read. Not so funny when they are re-told as real news.

That was two years ago. Every year brings a new type of spoof, and 2012 will be no different. In 2011, it was that hot, newsy Twitter feed. Too good to be true? Think twice, or three times.

A selective guide to fake Twitter feeds:

BPRahm EmanuelBronx Zoo cobraDarth Vader.

Journalists sometimes are on the other side of this, playing their own spoofs on the public. Adam Penenberg reminded me that the history of journalistic spoofs extends back at least to Mark Twain’s account of a petrified man in  1862.

Whether a colleague, activist or prankster, someone has a plan to spoof you, and to do it soon. Enjoy a good laugh, but please do your audience a favor. Don’t publish the material as fact. The reputation you protect may be your own.

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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Social networking, User-generated content, Web/Tech

My News: Joining a Great Team at CNN.com

I am excited to be joining CNN.com. Meredith Artley, the managing editor of CNN.com, just sent this note to the staff:

Everyone, please join me in welcoming Carl Lavin to the team as our Lead Homepage Editor. He will guide the talented group that sculpts one of the most powerful pages on the web.

Check out Carl’s background – he was most recently the national managing editor for Main Street Connect, a network of local sites, where he was point for quality, innovation and editorial guidelines for more than 50 news sites in three states. But wait – there’s more – he was the managing editor of Forbes.com where he drove mad traffic, shaped their social media strategy, and led a team that wrote headlines and stories with voice out the wazoo. Before that he was the deputy managing editor for news at the Philly Inquirer. And he spent some time at The New York Times in a variety of leadership posts, including Washington news editor during the Clinton impeachment and 9/11, graphics editor and deputy metro editor.

He has a reputation for being an inspiring leader who people love to work for and with, an audience-focused editor and an excellent communicator with sterling and swift news judgment.

Carl and his wife, Lauren, are in the process of moving from his home in Montclair, NJ to Atlanta. He starts at the end of the month.

Many thanks to Meredith and everyone else at CNN who helped make this happen. There is already a post on cheesesteak to help a former Philly guy feel at home in Atlanta. Other tips? Add a comment here.

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Happy Mario Day to the Cattabianis, Father and Son: Calendar Tips for Editors

Mario Cattabiani tracked the money flow in Pennsylvania state government like a master accountant. Rated as the most influential reporter in Harrisburg, Mario regularly lit up the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer when I was the deputy managing editor for news.

Every March 10, I would send Mario a note: Happy Mario Day! I knew he and his son, also named Mario, had a ritual of  celebrating March 10, or Mar.10, as their day.

In four days, math lovers will celebrate Pi Day. Following a similar formulation, April 16, or 4/16, is, of course, Foursquare Day.

Feb. 28 was Pancake Day. March 20 will be the first day of spring, which means free Italian Ice Day. A few days later brings us International Waffle Day, which drew syrupy coverage last year from Philadelphia to Palm Beach to Los Angeles.  (Don’t confuse this with National Waffle Day, the August occasion that honors the day the government issued a patent for the waffle iron.)

Holidays are big business (A point illustrated in a book edited by my sister Maud Lavin: The Business of Holidays.) Silly or serious, holidays are also a chance for news organizations to capture and amplify community conversation. Search trends from Google prove that readers are interested.

Anniversaries? Yes. Here are some 2011 samples from a group of community news sites I edited:

D-Day was June 6, and many town reporters produced local coverage: StamfordHarrisonLarchmontNew RochelleWhite Plains,  Chappaqua,  CrotonPleasantville,  and North Salem.

A more playful note was our Foursquare coverage: Meet the “Mayor” of Yorktown or see how Westport Honors Foursquare Day.

We devote plenty of energy to discussing journalism’s big challenges and even larger opportunities. It’s worth also taking a few minutes to set up your own calendar so you remember to post a prompt on Facebook, to ask a question on Twitter, or to put up a short piece on your own website.  It will take even less time to freshen a post on the same day next year and in the years after that. Readers will respond.

Mario, I hope you and your son have a great day today.

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Getting Started on Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest or Any Platform (the Nike Secret)

The shortest and probably most effective social media workshop I presented was for local reporters in Westchester County, N.Y.

Each reporter covered one or two towns, and each town had a local news site, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

It took three minutes:

1. Open laptops.

2. Go to your town Facebook page.

3. Type in a question (“what should we be covering in town?”) or make a comment (“meeting with editors today to talk about story ideas”).

4. Hit “enter.”

Just Do It. The lesson from the Nike ad applies to journalists who encounter new digital tools and new daily workflows.

The simple act of doing it helped each of us become more familiar with the tools we all hope to master to be better journalists. Each of us is new to something. A few months ago, I had never used Storify. Two weeks ago, I had never used Pinterest. The first time I live-blogged a speech, it was an experiment for me — a live blog of the 2010 State of the Union. While it was an important speech for the president, it was not a core assignment for Forbes.com, the business news site where I was managing editor. In a very important sense, it was my place to experiment and learn.

Every week I hear from journalists who want to improve their skills, who are  neophytes at something. It’s common to meet a reporter who expresses some variation of these two worries:  a) how do I learn this new tool and b) should I live tweet a boring meeting.

Yes, live tweet that boring meeting and use it to learn about Twitter. Live blog that routine lacrosse practice, and you’ll learn your way around the blogging software.

This stuff won’t show up on the homepage — it doesn’t diminish your name or the media brand. Make your mistakes when few people are paying attention. You’ll be more confident when you go to the murder trial. You’ll be ready for the school shooting or the deadly storm.

There is an even more basic way to start that doesn’t involve the dull meeting or routine sports practice. Start by asking a question that’s on your mind: What’s going on? What should I be reading? What’s happening tomorrow?

As you start on a new digital platform, there may be no audience and no response. Keep going. Ask everyday questions — what are you doing this weekend? did you see Venus last night? what’s your secret deer repellent recipe? It builds familiarity and steadily builds community. Then the community will be there when you need to say — who can join the shovel brigade at the Bar & Grill? Who can fill sandbags?

 

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Search, Aggregate, Link: 3 Steps to Better Coverage, Every Time

Speeding along in the dark wilderness of new media, new tools and constant change, it pays to drive with your high-beams on bright.

When you see more, you help your audience see more. You also avoid blind spots. For example, don’t just do this on the train fatality without also linking to this on the train fatality. Even when you are doing a brief, see if there are tweets about the topic. When you spend more time looking for color or tidbits on social media,  there will be many benefits. Just one: You will be more likely to notice as a big topic blows up and demands more coverage.

There are three steps any reporter can take on any story that will turn up those high beams. Here’s a quick list, then more on two case studies.

1. Search. Whatever you are writing about, others are writing about it, too. They may be other journalists, they may be posting on Facebook or other social media platforms. They may have posted on the site of a business, school or government agency. In addition, of course, there is your own archive — for your blog or your news organization.

2. Aggregate. Collect the best of the material you found. Index it to point out the best parts, and what those sections illuminate.

3. Link. Write your story and include links along the way. Add a “see also” box at the end. Provide concise navigation points, anchor phrases that link to other material on your site or other sites. A good rule of thumb is that each screen of text should include at least one link.

Example 1: The Amtrak story is already becoming one of the most discussed routine accident reports. It’s a 13-graf story, so routine there is no byline. One named sources is quoted. One law enforcement agency is named with a note that it provided no other information. The writer dug up some information from the clips. Straightforward, some context, solid sourcing. Done.

I’m pointing to it, and others are as well, for what it does not include. There were people on the train, creating and distributing their own content. One of those passengers, Steve Buttry, a journalist and social media expert, spent hours tweeting updates, collecting data on similar incidents, posting photos. He collected all of that on his own blog. From the first tweet about the train stopping at 12:36 a.m. to the tweet announcing it was moving again at 2:53, Buttry and a handful of followers helping with research provided plenty of color and solid information about the accident and the emergency response.

How could the anonymous reporter have found this? Some tools: Twitter search, an app called Ban.jo that Buttry has praised for geo-based social media searches, other specialized search tools including Social Mention and one of my favorites, Muck Rack, which collects tweets from journalists (the Muck Rack search box opens when you log in).

Could there be links even if there are no social media mentions or other sources about your topic? Yes, take the reference to the small-town police department: Havre de Grace. The anchor phrase “Havre de Grace police department” could link to the paper’s own search archive on the department. The address mentioned could have linked to a Google map showing the 400 block of Webb Lane in Havre de Grace. A map link does appear in a shaded box on the left side. Many readers don’t need all that. The reader who wants it will either be frustrated that you didn’t bother or delighted that you did. It’s your choice.

What about the rare instances when you are covering a horrible transit mess and Steve Buttry is not a passenger? What about a garden-variety feel-good story on a national TV show coming to your town?

If there are people involved, there will be material out there.

Example 2: In December, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” announced it would do a show in Knoxville. The News Sentinel had a staff reporter do a brief. It was so routine there was no byline, but it covered the basics. In about 10 minutes, I found a dozen tweets, including a photo, and created this Storify.

Could the Maryland reporter have found Steve’s tweets and linked to them? Could a Tennessee reporter have found the same tweets I found and added a link in the middle of the web version of that article? A lot of discussion about journalism is about extraordinary events. When we think through better ways to handle the ordinary tasks, and invest enough to make them a bit better, we raise the quality level every day.

It takes a few more minutes. That investment gives a reader more options. It shows your readers you are on the road shining your brights.

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Evidence Melts in Ice Sculpture Theft: How Media Groups Can Share Great Stories

Drudgereport linked to a CBS Boston report on a Salem Patch story. AOL and HuffingtonPost did not. (Click for a closer view.)

It’s a “Hey, Martha!” story, a story that will make one person at the breakfast table yell out, “Hey, Martha, look at this.” It could go national or global.

If  you work for a Gannett, a Scripps, a Patch, a Digital First Media newsroom or some other company with dozens or hundreds of websites, shouldn’t that be a simple matter of sharing with your colleagues?

How do you help your colleagues know about your great work, re-publish it themselves, or link to it?

Midday on Thursday, I noticed that AOL and HuffingtonPost were missing an opportunity to feature work by a Patch writer, a writer from a division of the same company.

The AOL homescreen has dozens of hedlines in rotation, but right now there is nothing pointing to the story of the melted evidence in the ice sculpture caper. There is “Star Tells How She Overcame Bullies” and “Brothers Inherit Collection Worth $2 million” — each pointing to posts from HuffingtonPost. (By the way, would a better hedline be “Estate Leaves Brothers $2 Million in Comic Books”?) The HuffingtonPost home page has a similar assortment. A quick search for “Salem” and “ice” turns up nothing about this Patch story on HuffPost.

One of the greatest connoisseurs of the “Hey, Martha” genre is Matt Drudge. Every day on Drudgereport.com he posts tightly written hedlines that link to  big breaking news and political developments, but also a hedline or two pointing to bizarre, funny or just compelling “Hey, Martha” news.  On two other sites, Fark.com and Reddit.com, readers submit similar posts. Fark editors pick articles to feature. The Reddit community votes for articles. In both cases, the homepages collect eye-grabbing links and can send tens of thousands of clicks to publishers. Fark and Reddit are not sites for readers who take offense readily or who take sarcasm or hyperbole as literal statements of truth. All three sites are good indicators of what stories are stirring conversation and drawing national audiences.

What interests me is the opportunity gap many publishers face, the gap between the national audience a publisher could collect for its own properties and the audience that it actually does collect.  For awhile on Thursday, Drudge linked to a CBS Boston report based on a Salem Patch article (see screenshots). Let’s not debate the merits of the melted evidence story. Assume that a Drudge link, even one that’s up for a short time, is enough verification that this news has national appeal.

Why doesn’t the company that owns Patch, AOL, recognize the value that Drudge sees? Why doesn’t HuffingtonPost, an AOL division that links to almost anything hot, recognize and link to its own company’s original work?

Why does this happen more often than not at other large media chains? Gannett doesn’t have a big portal like AOL, but it does have USAToday.com and the websites of another 80 newspapers.

A Lee paper, the Sioux City Journal, has a story about a chicken McNugget that looks like the portrait of George Washington that is on the quarter. (Yes, you can buy it on eBay.) Should the dozens of other Lee papers each put up a link to it? A quick review of the Lee-owned St. Louis Post-Dispatch site,  found nothing. A Gannett paper, the De Moines Register, does have the AP version of the McNugget story.  That’s the one featured on Fark this afternoon.

Does any of this matter? Is there something you and your company can do about it?

One proposal I’ve made in conversations starts with Twitter. A media company can decide that editors will use a special hashtag and tweet to notify partner sites about news that could be of compelling interest beyond one market. Editors who think they have something that can go big can tweet the hedline with a company hashtag (#LeeShr #GCIShr). Other editors could have Twitter search set to surface those hashtags and hedlines.

If you have video of Jeremy Lin winning the state basketball championship for his high school team or an article about a high school killing a student’s editorial that accuses administrators of a “pro-Christian” bias there should be a way to let the rest of your company — and the world — know about it.

What works in your shop? Add a comment or send me a note to carllavin@gmail.com.

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Pinterest for Journalists: For Notes, Community and Staff

A staff directory for your newsroom.

Want to publish a visually appealing directory of local churches, of your staff, of products made in your community? Want to do it very quickly? Pinterest makes that possible. Want ideas on how to use Pinterest to engage readers and create valuable content? Keep reading.

Pinterest boards are web pages that display collections of images. Once you join Pinterest, you can build these boards by selecting, or pinning, images from any web page. You can organize your board around themes in your community, around colors, people, seasons, or collections of objects.

Journalism.co.uk called Pinterest a “virtual bookmarking system that can be used by newsrooms to curate and share news.”

The International Journalists’ Network listed seven ways journalists can use Pinterest, including storyboards, photo displays, and finding trends with the Popular on Pinterest search feature.

The Wall Street Journal used Pinterest to post as-it-happened news of Fashinon Week. The fact that the Journal used Pinterest to cover breaking events drew coverage from Nieman Journalism Lab: WSJ Covers Fashion Week Fashionably.

A young journalist in the United Kingdom, Elena Cresci, who is among the demographic group that uses Pinterest the most, wrote a blog post about Journalism and Pinterest:

The site is an absolute goldmine for lifestyle journalists, but I’m not sure it’s somewhere to find hard news, not yet at least. Here we have a very specific demographic (18-34 year-old women) and it’s one I happen to fit very neatly into, as do Seamless readers. Once I get my next sewing project finished, I’ll pin it to the site myself and see how things pan out from there.

Hard news is winning display space, and not just for Fashion Week coverage. The Mercury News is collecting Bay Area Mug Shots on Pinterest.

Lists or directories work so well with this very visual tool that I expect newsrooms will find even more ways to with with Pinterest. The Mercury News lists staff writers and columnists from its business news staff on another Pinterest board. In Pennsylvania, Buffy Andrews of the York Daily Record, lists the features staff from the Daily Record/Sunday News on a Pinterest board.

As I said in a November post, there is value in bio and contact information about journalists. We will move faster to build strong relationships between our newsrooms and the communities we serve if we use every tool we can to help our communities know about us.

There are 10 million people signed up to use Pinterest and it is growing fast. That’s one reason journalists should be there — audiences are there. Another reason is to cover what your community is doing on Pinterest — to provide guidance and tips to your readers. A third reason is to use the very inviting and simple pinning system to co-create with your audience — to build a board together.

Here are three six ideas any local newsroom can use to engage community members and create compelling content with Pinterest.

1. History. Andrews in York is already far along in using Pinterest to display her own finds and reader submissions on this board showing historic views of York, Pa.

2. Made Here. I took a few minutes yesterday to start answering the question for my hometown of Canton, in Stark County, Ohio: What is made in Stark County? My next step is to invite others in the community to contribute more images.

3. Meet your public officials. We used to run a list of public officials, municipal, state, and federal, with photos and contact information, in zoned weekly sections of The Philadelphia Inquirer when I ran the news departments there. I haven’t seen anyone use Pinterest for this, but if it works for a staff directory, it can also make a handy visual directory of officials. Here’s a sample page from a research group that collected social media profile info on public officials from each state (click for Ohio public officials). Wouldn’t a Pinterest board listing information about the public officials in your area be a service for your community?

After this went live, thanks to everyone who tweeted, shared and pointed to other examples, I collected additions to the list:

4. Artists. Make a board of local artists (by medium, if numbers warrant). Show their work and some profile information. Ask the community to contribute examples.

5.  Who’s that? Track down some high school yearbook photos of celebrities in your area — the mayor, the TV news anchor, the high school principal. Make it a contest to ID the photo. You can do the same thing with baby photos. For a local market, it will produce a version of this 17 Magazine feature: Celebrity Yearbook Photos. See this Think Progress board of the school photos of the presidential candidates.

6. Political spending. How can you visualize a level of spending for a political campaign? Think Progress published this board, of campaign spending, visualized:  Luxury Hotels Of The Romney Campaign. Did another politician leave the state or the country for a fact-finding trip? A Pinterest board can be used in much the same way to illustrate spending for trips billed to taxpayers. August in Chicago, anyone?

I added the image (right) of the final edition of  The Washington Star, from Aug. 7, 1981, to add to my Goodbye, Print board. How are you using Pinterest in your life or in your reporting? How are others in your newsroom using it? Leave a comment here or send me a note: carllavin@gmail.com.

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