Category Archives: Hyper-local

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

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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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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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local, Social networking

Solving Readers’ Problems, Building Audience: The Fafsa Challenge

The process is daunting. Your newsroom can help.

The Chicago City clerk does it: Fafsa Preparation Assistance. A West Virginia foundation does it: College Goal Sunday. Kentucky did it in 19 towns: Sun., Jan. 29, College Goal Sunday.

A newspaper might run an announcement about a workshop, in Muskegon MI, Reading PA or Knoxville TN.

Why not organize a College Financial Aid workshop in your community? You could organize a virtual workshop, soliciting questions on Facebook, Twitter, through your email newsletter and on your website and providing answers from local experts. With a little more work, you could also organize a real-life workshop.

You may be publshing editorials, op-eds and letters about the rising costs of college, a trend Jordan Weissmann at The Atlantic labled a “surge of tuition rates and student debt that, for many Americans, is threatening to turn higher education into an unaffordable luxury.”

A reader-focused media company can do more than that.

Some editors may be asking: is this our job — to help families pay for college? Think of a related question: is it our job to provide a resource where members of our community can find information they need to solve their most pressing problems?

Newsrooms deepen community engagement by providing a platform for community voices, by providing information that leads to solutions for community problems and by convening like-minded groups to exchange news and ideas. Would a workshop fit that mission?

In Torrington CT and Winnipeg, Manitoba, newsrooms are opening their doors, inviting the community into the room. The Nonprofit Journalism Hub recently examined these two initiatives in an article: News Cafes and Open Newsrooms.

The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe wants to find a way to reconnect with a younger demographic as well as become more transparent and accessible to the public. The Register Citizen Open Newsroom Cafe wants to help the community become more involved in the journalism process and let the public use the open newsroom space as a community center for gatherings, discussions, and educational opportunities.

Connect to younger people? Provide educational opportunities? Strengthen communities? What better way than to help families new to the process learn to conquer the daunting forms involved in paying for college.

The basic steps for either a virtual or real-life workshop include: announce the event, find a local expert, announce the event, provide a resource box of links in print and online, announce the event, tell families what they have to provide (a W-2, other financial information), announce the event.

For the offline workshop, you need a room, a way to make sure coffee and snacks are available, a person who will be responsible for stocking the room with paper, pens, pencils, and, if possible, an available copying machine and scanner.

In either case, the project is also a way to generate plenty of content — frequently asked questions, profiles of local experts, list of deadlines, process graphic, success stories of families that have reaped the benefit of completing the application, videos.

Keep a list of all the names, contact information and what your newsroom learned. In 11 and a half months, it will make it easier to do all over again.

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Filed under Hyper-local, Social networking, Uncategorized, User-generated content

Phoenix Jones, Open Newsroom, Scanning Photos: Tips for Editors

Prompt of the Day
Does your town need a superhero to fight crime? Make a reference to Phoenix Jones, the self-styled superhero arrested in a paper spray incident in Seattle. Jones's names is at the top of the Google hot search list early Tuesday morning. Here's the rest of the round up of editor tips (short url's includede to make sharing easier).

Open newsroom
Call it budget, sked or newslist – when newsrooms turn process into product and plan in the open, everyone wins: http://bit.ly/ptWxaK The Guardian has started publishing its news budget on the web, letting readers in on the process. From Dan Roberts, a Guardian editor – Have Your Say:

What if all those experts who delight in telling us what's wrong with our stories after they've been published could be enlisted into giving us more clues beforehand? What if the process of working out what to investigate actually becomes part of the news itself?
It might seem a minority pursuit, but the experience of covering breaking news already suggests otherwise. Like many websites, we are discovering some of our best-read stories are the live blogs that report events as they unfold, often with brutal honesty about what we don't know or hope to find out.

What do we learn? The Guardian business news desk is kicking of the earnings season with a report on Alcoa's earnings and a politician's plan to crackdown on internet porn will be subject to a "reality check." It turns out the hidden plans of a newsroom gain nothing by being kept private.

In praising this step, Matthew Ingram of GigaOm (Memo to Newspapers: Let Your Readers Inside the Wall) says the time for secrecy is over: "Either newspapers develop a more balanced relationship with the people formerly known as the audience, by allowing them to contribute to the process, or they will find their audience has gone elsewhere."

Value of Photos — From Your Archives, From the Police
In Conway, Ark., the Log Cabin Democrat has been scanning and publishing 5,000 photos a month. It organized them into what it calls the Conwaypedia. Another initiative from this Morris newspaper is Faulkner County Booked, which is attracting 300,000 pageviews a month.
These steps are part of the Morris drive to put digital first. A Morris exec, Derek May, posted this more detailed explanation of what the company is doing in an attempt to reverse a 40% drop in revenue and a 75% drop in profits over five years.
Digital first might have a familiar ring: Digital First, of course is the holding company for the JRC and MediaNews Group newspapers, from San Jose to New Haven.
It's also the rallying cry in papers from Seattle to Wichita:
In Seattle Times’ new digital-first newsroom, roles change to ‘creation, curation, community’ | Poynter. http://bit.ly/n0nzcE
Wichita Eagle: Testing a new organizational model for a digital-first newsroom | Knight Digital Media Center http://bit.ly/okhsUf
Making the most of every frame captured by staff photographers and your readers keeps readers engaged. When my hometown paper published a gallery showing the opening of a new fire station, our family was delighted to find this photo of my father: Photo Gallery: Canton's New Fire Station -  CantonRep.com http://bit.ly/nIKxE6  One tip: allow readers to add caption material.

Pumpkins, Unicef and Pet Costumes: Halloween Ideas
Who runs the pumpkin contest in your market? Size matters: 1,704-pound pumpkin earns CA farmer $10,224 in Pumpkin Weigh-off prize money: http://bit.ly/p7K0Ma

Unicef Halloween drive is a good peg for a prompt: Are you donating to Unicef this year?
UNICEF's Little Orange Box Goes Digital This Halloween http://on.mash.to/qlPEZc

Favorite pet costumes: MainStreet.com has a pet costume roundup: http://bit.ly/rqKgyO

Have you brainstormed your Halloween coverage plan? Have you been inspired by the Guardian to publish a list of stories your have in the works?

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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Current Affairs, Hyper-local, Social networking

Occupy Your Town, OccupyWallStreet: Tips for Editors

Occupy Your Town
Occupy Wall Street is not just about Wall Street. How to track similar protest movements in your town? Look at this list from Occupy Together. The site says there are organizers working in 1,271 towns (now 1,302 towns), including major metros but also smaller towns from San Luis Obispo, CA, to Greensboro, NC, from Allentown, PA, to Springfield, MO.

Twitter is one of the best listening posts. Here is a list, from Listorious, a web company that pulls together guides to related material on Twitter, of many of the Occupy Twitter feeds.

Do a Twitter search: http://twitter.com/#!/search-home
Enter "occupytownname" all as one word, using your town and nearby communities. Example: http://twitter.com/#!/search/occupyallentown

Many communities have seedbeds of anger over high unemployment rates and a sense that immoral financial activity enriched a privileged few while knocking millions of others into poverty. There is an equally strong sentiment that more government intervention or higher taxes will not solve the problem. Are you tapping into the strong feelings on all sides of this issue? Put up some prompts on Twitter and Facebook, with references to what is happening from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale.

A sign that organizers of these modern-day Hoovervilles are planning for the long term? Have they made provisions for toilets, hygiene, and bad weather?

Teens and tanning beds
Now that California has banned anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed, teenagers and parents in your area may have strong opinions on the role of government and the health impact of indoor tanning.
Possible prompts: Should our state ban tanning beds for anyone under 18? Would you allow your teenager to use a tanning bed? California has the highest age limit. Other states have bans for under 14 year olds or for different age groups.

Parent Unions
Parent unions are another California idea that may be taking root in your town. This weekend, the AP ran a piece about a new type of parent group organized to push for fundamental change in local schools. 'Parent unions' spring up in school districts from San Diego to Buffalo, N.Y., pushing for academic reform: http://apne.ws/pvf8V8
Is there a parent union in your area? Do parents want the ability to force change through petition? What role should parents have in running local schools?
From the article:

Behind the parent empowerment movement is a feisty Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Parent Revolution, which in 2010 pushed through a landmark law giving parents authority to force turnarounds at failing schools through a petition.

Known as the "parent trigger," the California law was the first of its kind in the nation. It inspired Texas and Mississippi to adopt similar laws and legislation is under consideration in 20 other states. Two states have voted down parent trigger bills.

Lee Cowan of NBC Nightly News covered this last month: 'Trigger law' put to the test in Compton, Calif.

Cowan's lede:

On its face, the idea sounds so simple: if a school is persistently failing, give parents the power to change it. But the reality of putting that notion into practice is proving challenging, at best.

In the last two years, California, Texas and Mississippi have passed so-called "parent trigger" laws. In each, the law stipulates that if at least 51 percent of the parents of children enrolled in a school sign a petition, they can trigger change.

Diane Ravitch, a professor at NYU, attacks what she calls a "deceptive scheme" in this letter about the trigger laws, published in the Washington Post.

The experts are solidifying their views. What do your readers think?

Traffic and Real Estate
Readers are always fascinated by traffic and the status of major commercial real estate properties. As the experts of their own realms, they are also vocal. Here are examples from the Centre Daily Times page on Facebook that showed good social media instincts and good reader engagement:
Traffic: A reporter and photographer are on the scene. We'll have updates online. Crash closes U.S. Route 322
Real estate: Wonder why the former A&P has been vacant for all of these years? Today's story provides the background. 
By including Facebook as a conversation platform, the CDT involved readers in the conversation.

Follow the Money
Looking to learn more about money in politics? @OpenSecretsDC Resource Center has guides for beginners, FAQs and more http://ow.ly/6LUTP
Much of what is published here for voters is very useful, too, for reporters.

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Filed under Crowd sourcing, Hyper-local

Rich List Rankings, DADT and Local Story Ideas

Follow the Money

Every September, Forbes publishes an update of The Forbes 400, the list of the richest people in America.
Every spring Forbes runs the richest people in the world and every fall, the publisher lists the richest people in the United States. Each list is an opportunity for local coverage.

A year ago, this MLive post was typical of the way local outlets used the material: Metro Detroit boasts 5 on Forbes 400 richest list: Ilitch, Taubman, Moroun, Penske, Ford | MLive.com.

Here is a similar post about the spring list, from a Florida TV station: Central Florida billionaires make Forbes’ richest list.

The Forbes site allows you to search by state. For example, here are the Connecticut people on the 2010 rich list.

Publishing at a time President Obama is pushing his Buffett rule for a minimum tax on millionaires, the Forbes list is also an opening for a local reporter to ask the wealthiest people in your area to weigh in on the tax debate.

Ask, Tell

Starting today, (Tuesday Sept. 20), the US military is open to openly gay service members. The topic can be mined for Facebook and Twitter prompts that will stir conversation in your area. What does it mean to a local recruiter? To students in your area considering enlisting? To veterans groups?

The AP has a strong piece about elite military training: Academies don't expect much change from DADT end http://bit.ly/oyZkN2 

Even the Pentagon is tweeting about this: Twitter / @DeptofDefense: #DADT is Repealed. http://bit.ly/no1rRi 

The Army is there, too: @USArmy Today marks the end of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." The law is repealed. http://ow.ly/6zmR1 #DADT #Military

A local reporter can use advanced Twitter search, the hashtag #DADT and local geographical information to find people in your area who are also Tweeting about the day.

ASNE Chat

 Copy editors in staggered shifts, starting at 6 AM? Dismantling the night rim was just one step Sherry Chisenhall took in Wichita. Read more and ask Sherry questions at #ASNEchat today at noon, Eastern time.
Wichita Eagle: Testing a new organizational model for a digital-first newsroom | Knight Digital Media Center http://bit.ly/okhsUf

Hat Tip

Many thanks to Yvette Walker and Steve Buttry, who continued the discussion about the use of Twitter for breaking news stories, based on my note about the Reno air crash and the @rgj Twitter feed.

Yvette: NewsTeach – Disaster plan 2.0 — does it include social media? http://bit.ly/qiCYUN

Steve: Carl Lavin studies Twitter use in covering Reno air crash « The Buttry Diary http://bit.ly/o7GO2R

 

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