Monthly Archives: March 2012

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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Filed under Current Affairs

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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Filed under Business models, Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local

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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Filed under Social networking, User-generated content