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Thoughts & Musings from #ONA13

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I wanted to do a blog entry after my visit to Atlanta for ONA13 but I couldn’t focus on just one thing.  So here are some thoughts and musings (in no particular order):

* I left before the awards dinner and in general I try not to get caught up in awards-mania but I will say that honoring Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com’s coverage of The Boston Marathon Bombings was a sign that good journalism matters and still gets recognized. The Boston Globe’s web sites — which won for Breaking News — provided authoritative, credible information via its live blog. The professionalism of those working on the sites provided them with the strength to shy away from the hysteria and rumor which swept through much of the Twittersphere on that horrible day. Kudos.

* And, the indefatigable Michelle Johnson and her crew from the Boston University New Service also received well-deserved recognition for their efforts. Student journalists can perform at stunning levels when inspired by the right professor. Michelle is one of the special ones.

* Listening to Boston.com’s Teresa Hanafin talk about the days of the bombing at the breaking news panel – and watching the gripping video again — was one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the conference.

* I forgot how much Lisa Williams makes learning new technology fun.

* Lisa’s sessions — and all the hands-on technology sessions — were standing-room only. Probably the most popular sessions of the conference.

* Those sessions were part of the different feel to the conference. Josh Hatch described it as “NICAR-ish.” Definitely true, but there was something else. Part of it was the strong presence of first-timers (657) and a much younger crowd. The University of Georgia was No. 2 on the list of top-five organizations represented at the conference. And, academics — both students and professors — made up almost 200 of those represented at the conference.

* Got to hang with my academic friends and also did a little brainstorming with fellow professors at the “Hack the Curriculum” session. I hope this is the start of something larger — would love to see ONA sponsor some efforts for academics and professors to get together and develop specific guidelines for curriculum at journalism schools.

* The “Circle of Life” was a phrase heard from a few professors. While I had one student (Brittney Figueira) doing great things in the student newsroom, the “Circle of Life” comes when you see former students (Eric Athas) and former interns (Patrick Cooper) becoming conference regulars.

* Amy Webb’s “Top 10 Tech Trends” session was well-attended and talked about by many. I couldn’t make it this year but the strong Twitter presence at the conference allowed me to catch up via Twitter. There were 30,000 conference tweets. Wow.

* Got to hang out with the Digital First Media crew for a bit Thursday night. Great to see a dynamic, young group excited about the future of journalism.

* I missed last year’s conference so I don’t know if this is a trend but the Thursday-Friday night receptions have had some amazingly good food in past years. That was missing this year. Bring back the rocking chefs!

* I did like the band, though. Any time horns are on stage it’s a good time.

* Because Mark Briggs can’t sit for very long, he’s developed a food app dubbed FORK. Check it out.

* The ONA conference is reunion central — I couldn’t walk very far without bumping into an alum from The Washington Post or the University of Maryland. The talent at The Post’s web site in the early 2000s was stunning. That talent is now scattered all over the country at different places and it’s great to see everyone’s successes. And, keep a close eye on what the gang at Maryland are doing — some strong innovation is coming from Terp-land.

* Loved seeing (and taking part in) the ONA Ethics session. I’ve been pushing for something similar for a few years now, leading Lisa Williams to tell me she dubbed it the “Steve Fox session.” Huzzah!

* And I finally attended the legendary Greg Linch Karaoke Night…..legendary indeed.

Until next time…..

Why Is Everyone So Pissed Off?

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“Why Is Everyone So Pissed Off?”

We see it everywhere. From Facebook to Twitter and e-mail: People seem really pissed off — and aren’t shy about being rude and crude in public discussions. Overall, civil discourse seems to be the exception, not the rule. And, well, I’m kind of wondering why. I have my own theories but in the fine tradition of crowdsourcing, was wondering what people think. And, this is research. I’m mulling at least a blog post and possibly a larger piece.

So, have at it. Agree/Disagree? Any research out there you can point me to?

Feel free to weigh in on the comments board here or e-mail me directly.

Why are we spending so much time ‘Measuring the Impact of Journalism?’

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I love this question posed by Greg Linch in this month’s Carnival of Journalism.  Almost every newsroom these days is driven by the need/desire to generate pageviews.  The Washington Post’s newsroom receives hourly updates on what stories are trending in the “most popular” category. A recent New York Times article on the trials and tribulations of Marcus Brauchli noted that 35 reports a day track traffic to the site.

“Editors receive a midday performance alert, telling them whether the site is on track to meet its traffic goals for the day. If it appears that they might miss their goal, editors will order up fresher content,” notes the Jeremy W. Peters of The Times.

The Boston Globe’s newsroom has nice feature in it:  Three screens devoted to Twitter feeds — so reporters can see what is trending.  And, The Globe also has a major effort underway to find ways to get at audience through different methods thanks to their MediaLab operation

These efforts to generate pageviews; develop audience; get visitors to stay on the site longer — are not new.

Way way back in the early years of the Interwebs (pre-2000) I worked with one washingtonpost.com editor who was fond of photo galleries of animals.  Specifically, pandas.  Who doesn’t like a photo gallery with pandas?  Those of us at The Post at the time came up with the phrase:  “guaranteed pageview generator.”  There were a number of stories that we knew would generate pageviews — mostly celebrity news and anything with “Redskins” in the headline.

Did we become whores to the stories we knew would generate pageviews?  We tried not to.  The morning/afternoon/evening news meetings often became  battlegrounds where editors from each section fought hard for homepage space (back when homepage positioning mattered to pageview counts.)  But more often than not those arguments were fought on journalistic merit.

In 2002, I was the political editor at the site and spent months with my team building a package for the 2002 Election coverage.  It was a fairly involved effort with more than a dozen people involved. And, it was a fairly important election.  It was the first election since the 9/11 terror attacks and the first real test for George W. Bush after he won the contested 2000 election.

Most of the homepage the morning after Election Day was devoted to a major interactive feature we had developed which we dubbed Election Explorer. It was mapping before its time — giving state-by-state breakdowns.  We knew people would come to the site looking for results and analysis — we figured we would get a decent amount of pageviews.

Then, in the late morning, as the election coverage dominated the homepage, news broke that Winona Ryder had been convicted on two counts of shoplifting.  Despite my many pleas, the decision was made to blow up the beautifully designed page featuring election coverage to make way for the Winona news.  Several staffers, dismayed with the move to prioritize celebrity news over real news, were spurred to leave a few months later.

It’s only gotten worse….

Pick your story. Brangelina.  Justin Bieber.  American Idol.  The top “search” on The Post’s Web site right now is Mega Millions (the jackpot is $640 million but is this “news?”)

There has always been this push/pull relationship.  Do reporters and editors give readers/viewers/users what they want or what we as journalists feel they  need/should want?  (See: previous election coverage reference.)

Journalism used to be about finding that balance — trying to educate and inform as well as entertain.

Today, it seems more like we’ve become whores to the pageview count.

Perhaps we all need to remember that the true “impact of journalism” rests with the impact we have on people’s lives.  Have we given readers/viewers an amazing piece of writing or video that makes them appreciate parts of their life more?  Have we created an “Oh, wow” moment for readers/viewer?  Have we expanded someone’s universe?  Isn’t that why we got into this business?  Isn’t that what journalism has always done?

Perhaps the real question should be: “Why are we spending so much time measuring the “impact” of journalism?”  Because, it really isn’t quantifiable now, is it?

The Carnival Takes Off

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I always enjoyed carnivals growing up.  You never knew what to expect — new games, rides, foods just around the corner.   And, such an eclectic group of people that often looked and acted strangely :)

I think what David Cohn had in mind when he re-started the Carnival of Journalism was bringing together a diverse group of folks who would exchange ideas and maybe shake things up in the process. Cohn got just that Wednesday when a Google Groups discussion between Carnistas ranged over a variety of topics, spanning over two days and 70 e-mail exchanges.

The extended thread prompted this reply from the rad one:  “This thread brought tears to my eyes ;)  I never want to dictate where the Carnival goes – I just wanted to create a forum where once a month we can tackle the same topic.”

It all started with a relatively simple question from Lisa Williams, one of my favorite “new media” types out there:

I’m a judge for the Online Journalism Awards this year.

When I did it last year, one of the things that captivated me was that the discussions between the judges revealed that our basic ideas of what “good” is when it comes to journalism are changing because of the web and mobile technology.

I’d love to do a question about what we SHOULD be rewarding when we’re handing out prizes for the **Online** News Association — but I need a little help writing the question.

My sense is that the Online Journalism Awards have to be about more than solid reporting or social impact; the winners should reflect what we believe is excellent in the use of the web or mobile technology, too.

A relatively simple question, but the answers prompted a conversation that spanned criteria for contests to what makes for a successful business model to Thomas Jefferson.  It was a classic “online discussion” — starting on one topic and branching off into a variety of areas.

At one point, Chris Anderson commented on the idea that innovation and experimentation were more welcome in academia than in the news industry:  “I might say that academia currently (temporarily?) has more money to do more things than the journalism profession at the moment, and that the ability to ‘innovate’ in academia is primarily (paradoxically?) a consequence of that historical anomaly known as ‘tenure.’ Since we’re going all off topic here ;-)”

Lisa’s reply:  “Off topic forever, baby!”

Lisa’s original query promoted some interesting replies, including:

Mark Plenke:

“Number one for me is using the right storytelling tool for the job. A good site uses text and graphics to explain, video to illustrate and capture action and emotion, audio to bring interviews alive, interactive graphics to illustrate a process and involve viewers, social media and polls to involve visitors and get them to participate. I think understanding this is what makes a great online editor. Too many sites don’t get this.”

Anna Tarkov made a number of interesting points during the discussion, including this:

“I would add that engaging your readers substantively (not just: send
us a photo! like us! follow us!) is important as well as being open
and transparent about the news gathering and reporting processes. This
is still mostly not done, to the detriment of both news orgs and news
consumers.”

Tanja Aitamurto sought some clear criteria:

“Whether awarding exploration i.e. trying out new things, and bringing value to journalism that way or success (usually involves risk taking than the former option): solutions where technology is used in an efficient fashion and increases transparency in journalistic practices.”

Paul Bradshaw:

“I was one of the judges on the Press Association’s Regional Press Awards and as the title was ‘digital innovation’ that’s what we looked for – something that pushed the form forward. I also took into account whether they were having to produce to a deadline (the winner was a piece of live data journalism), how sustainable the innovation was, and how it played not just online but in print as well.”

J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer made some important points along the same lines:

It seems to me that an important component is whether a new idea actually “works.”   Cool tools are nice.  Advances in new processes for doing journalism are great.  New ways to tell stories are still being invented.   But who paid any attention?  Did it actually engage audiences? Prompt interactions? Have impact?  Or are we still at risk of talking to ourselves?

University of Nebraska Dean Gary Kebbel (an ONA judge with Lisa) also weighed in on the opportunities available in academia:

“And although we at the University of Nebraska are trying to get on the innovation path, I’m regularly reminded how, well, academic, our thoughts can be when we try to tell news organizations here’s what they should be trying. But an active combo of innovative J profs who get news and digital tools and who know how to make that into digital news tools – in combination with newsroom editors grinding it out every day with no budget – seems to me a great way to work on creating the new culture of innovation and culture of constant change that we need.”

Geoffrey Samek became passionate when some (me) wondered whether ONA was becoming too focused on gadgety gimmicks:

“Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on “online” and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline….In a world where tech is flying forward at an exponential rate, journalism’s baby-step technological advances are killing me.

Journalism is about informing the community for positive change by collecting, reporting and inevitably organizing information in compelling ways. Technology has an enormous ability to aid in the organization of information. Tech allows for assembling and displaying information in unheard of ways. When humans use new tech to do that, then they are fully taking advantage of Online Journalism.”

Michael Rosenblum suggested profitability as a criterium, which took the discussion into another direction:

“I will never understand the inherent antipathy most journalists have toward making money.  It is in our DNA, strangely, and it is incredibly self-destructive.  The ‘Internet Revolution’ took place not only on our watch but on our turf.  Most of the primary online start-ups were largely journalism/information based.  Yet we stood by idly as others benefited from 100+ years of our labor to lay the groundwork.  What is Craigslist but an iteration of the newspaper classifieds.  What is Google, in fact, but ‘all the news fit to print’.  Movies are replete with our own image of ourselves: note Russell Crowe as a newspaper journalist in State of Play:  unshaven, generally drunk, drives a crap car, hard working, dedicated but poor.  What is our problem here?  If we OWN the product we can call the shots.  And we CAN own the product.  But we have to embrace the notion of making money and building businesses as a good not an evil.”

A few took issue with Michael’s point, including myself:

“@Michael — I take your point but not sure there is the antipathy you reference today, judging by the number of pieces being written daily in the ‘Paywalls are Stupid’ vs. ‘Paywalls Will Save The World’ debate.  Making money is very much on the minds of journalists these days.  But, to get back to Lisa’s original question, we’re talking about rewarding journalism, not the making of money.  Although, I wonder whether ONA should have a separate award for ‘Innovative Business Models’ — something beyond trying to reinvent the wheel with paywalls.”

And Dan Gillmor:

“I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that the percentage of journalists who believe this (‘profit is evil’)  is higher than the percentage of the entire population that believes it.”

And Lisa Williams:

“As someone from the tech industry — where we have few of the internal conflicts about money I observe among journalists, I’m not sure that I would put profitability as a criteria for an award series about innovation.

Many people are under the misapprehension that Silicon Valley startups are primarily concerned with making money. This is not true: they’re about getting big (by growing their userbase). In fact, many “successful” startups lose huge quantities of money for years (*cough* twitter *cough*). The idea is to get big and then sell the entire company to a large publicly traded company at a profit.

That’s not always the same as making money either (witness News Corp’s buyout of MySpace, basically a billion dollars down the drain).

If Twitter was judged on the same basis as the Guardian’s local experiment, it would be history. Most mature companies and industries don’t have the stomach for five years of multimillion dollar investment at a loss that the tech industry does, particularly when there’s no exit market (who will the Guardian sell the Local to?).”

And Daniel Bachhuber:

“Responding to Michael’s point of profitability, I think a better
criterium is “viability”. News organizations should be awarded for
intelligent internal technology investments they’re committed to for
the long term. I’d love there be the proper incentives (e.g.
journalism awards) for news executives to support visions like Matt
Waite’s
.

And, much much more….

The good news?  This discussion will continue.  Lisa will be the wrangler for next month’s Carnival of Journalism.  The topic?   You guessed it….more of the same.

Q&A With Nancy Cohen

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This shelter is at Central High School in Springfield. About 200 people are there They're looking for donations of socks, t shirts, towels, baby wipes. (Courtesy of Nancy Cohen.)

Adjunct instructor Nancy Eve Cohen teaches Reporting and Writing for Radio and Podcasting at UMass.

Nancy is also the environmental reporter for WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio and the Managing Editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub, a collaboration of 20 public radio stations.

She’s been covering the aftermath of the Springfield tornado, producing several pieces including:

*  This report on tornado survivors for WBUR

*  “Clean Up Crews Get To Work in Springfield.”

An interview with Morning Edition host Ray Hardman

I recently caught up with her to get her thoughts on covering the tornado and its aftermath.

1.   Where were you when the tornado hit Springfield?   What did you do?

I drove into Springfield the night of the tornado, a few hours later. There was a torrential rainstorm… every exit off the highway to Springfield was blocked so i wasn’t able to see much, but it prepared me for the next morning.  I knew it might be difficult to get where I needed to be when daylight came…

2.   Were you surprised by the amount of devastation in Springfield?

Shocked. I’ve been working in this business for a long time…even worked in a war zone… Sarajevo in 1992, but to see my own community ripped apart stunned me. The sheer force of the tornado was humbling

3.    Describe what you did during coverage on Wednesday and Thursday?

I managed to be in the right place at the right time on Thursday. Some of that was planning, some was assertiveness, some was dumb luck.

I got to one of the Red Cross shelters at 5:00 AM and snagged the last legal parking place. You couldn’t drive anywhere so it was key to stage oneself as close as possible.

When I walked into the shelter people were sleeping. I heard snoring, a few people were crying quietly. A baby was whimpering. A few people walked around wrapped in blankets, smoking.

One young woman said she had just paid her landlord before the tornado hit. Now she had no money and no place to live. A man in a wheelchair described waking up that morning in the shelter and realizing where he was and what had happened. His building was destroyed and he was worried his apartment would be looted. But he had no way to get there and little hope of finding another accessible apartment.

Many of the people had little to begin with and now they had even less.

After interviewing several of the survivors I went outside and walked south until I hit a police block. I talked to the police and they pointed out a man getting out of the car who turned out to be Senator Scott Brown. I had the chance to talk with him for a while. Then Governor Deval Patrick showed up along with Senator Kerry and the mayors of Springfield and Westfield.  I interviewed each of them and then, along with a gaggle of press, followed the politicians as they surveyed the damage on foot.

After the officials left a photographer friend and I talked our way past the police to some of the worst hit places.

I got some incredible interviews with two people who lived through the tornado…one took shelter in a closet inside, but the wind was blowing so hard the door almost blew away. Another saw a roof flying through the air “like the Wizard of Oz”  A building inspector examining the damage said it was a miracle not more people were killed “God Looked over the city and protected the people.”

Today, Friday I went to a new shelter that had been set up. I  spoke with a family who were from Somalia. They had come to Springfield a year ago after spending 12 years in a refugee camp. The 25 year old mother of four told me her new situation– homeless after the tornado— reminded her of being in the camp.  “It’s like when we fled from our country … We feeling like refugee all over again. We don’t have nothing now.”

One woman told me she had broke down crying the night before. ” I finally realized. like this is serious. I can’t go back to my home. Like this is it for us.”

I left the shelter and drove to a suburban neighborhood that was also hit. There was an army of utility trucks installing new telephone poles that had been snapped in half. There were damaged trees everywhere. Big ones. One house had several huge trees broken and splayed across the roof.

4.   Describe the role of social media in your reporting.

None. This was old fashioned, on foot, on-the-ground from early morning until my deadline loomed.

5.   What has surprised you most about the coverage of the tornadoes?

I haven’t had time to see a lot of other people’s work yet. I haven’t really stopped, but I’m about to.

Q&A With S.P. Sullivan

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The devastation in Springfield after Wednesday's tornado was surpising to many covering the aftermath. (Courtesy of S.P. Sullivan)

S.P. Sullivan is a 2010 graduate of the UMass journalism program.  Upon graduation, he took a job as a producer for MassLive, the online operation of The Springfield Republican.  I was chatting with him online prior to Wednesday’s tornado and caught up with him to see what the past several days have been like.

1.   Where were you when the tornado hit Springfield?   What did you do?

When the first tornado hit I was in the office. I stuck around because I have a little car and I didn’t want it to blow away during the NWS’ tornado watch.

We saw the tornado pass a few blocks from our building, tearing debris off the tops of buildings, but honestly I wasn’t that impressed. Even when our general manager came back from a meeting with photos of a few uprooted trees downtown, I didn’t think it was anything more than the microbursts that sometimes happen around here, destroying a random barn and leaving everything else untouched.

So I left! I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for that. I went grocery shopping. But there was no way to know the extent of the damage at that point, and I couldn’t get downtown because of gridlock traffic in that direction. It wasn’t until I got home that I heard about the level of damage. So, jaw ajar, I went back to work from my dining room table.

2.   Were you surprised by the amount of devastation in Springfield?

I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw.

3.    Describe what you did during coverage on Wednesday and Thursday?

Because I was 40 minutes away in Amherst when I started working on tornado coverage, I did a lot of back-channel stuff Wednesday night. I’m a producer, not a reporter, so the paper had reporters all over the scene. I tried to flesh out details of what happened from the streams of media reports, the chatter online and communicating with other staff. I made sure the latest stuff was on the homepage as it was coming in and added all the necessary media.

Then, I started recording statements from the governor and other officials remotely using a complicated set-up involving my smartphone, a Zoom H2 recorder and a stereo cable. Because of that I was able to listen in on the governor’s press briefings and file stories on the site about the state response within minutes of them ending. I edited and embedded audio from those briefings.

Most of Wednesday night I was glued to Twitter on the back end, trying to vet information as it was coming in and post stuff as soon as it was confirmed by us or our media partners.

Thursday, I came in early and started out with my normal morning routine, which is manning the homepage. I built what we call a ‘defcon’ promo, which is a module that we roll out for large, breaking news events like this one. Then I worked with a reporter at the paper on a live blog, bringing together dispatches and photos from reporters in the field, user-submitted photos and video and updates on traffic, office closures and whatnot from state agencies.

In the afternoon, I was sent out in the field to capture images and on-the-ground perspectives of the recovery process. I visited the badly damaged South End and talk to a security guard from one of the towers, who had helped his tenants to the shelter at the MassMutual center. I got yelled at by cops and National Guardsmen for crossing police lines, and told by others that I was OK as long as I had my press badge. It was a confusing time, and I was struck by the number of people wandering the South End, taking pictures of the damage with their cell phones.

Between disaster areas, I found some women flagging down cars for a car wash to raise money for victims. A few of them had been impacted themselves. I thought it was a touching story and, for our readers’ sake and mine, I shot some video so we’d have a positive piece to balance out the desperation.

4.   Describe the role of social media in your reporting.

I got on Twitter as soon as I knew it had happened because I have a decent base of followers in Western Mass. I knew they would be posting about the situation wherever they were at. It’s also useful as an aggregation tool, because it would take me 30 minutes to sift through all of the state’s news organizations that were covering this, but as everyone was sharing from their news site of choice, I was able to see headlines from all over in real-time.

Twitter was most useful in the hours right after the storm hit, and I keep checking it to this moment, but since Wednesday night I’ve mostly been using it to keep our 3,000+ followers up on what we’re doing, what other orgs are posting and what the various state agencies and aid groups are saying. I posted updates from the field, but that was somewhat difficult with spotty reception due to downed cell towers.

5.   What has surprised you most about the coverage of the tornadoes?

It’s a friggin’ tornado in New England. Everything about the past 48 hours has been surprising. If I have to pick, I’d say the courage of the folks like the women I met at the car wash, who managed to remain positive amid all of the rubble.

Q&A With Dave Madsen

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Dave Madsen has worked in broadcasting since 1970, and now serves as managing editor and anchor for ABC’s affiliate WGGB TV, ABC40 in Springfield. He attended UMass Amherst, majoring in Communication. He has been teaching at UMass since Fall 2000, first for two years in Sport Management and then with Journalism starting in Fall 2002.

I checked in with Dave to get his thoughts about covering the tornado and the effects of the storm on Springfield and Western Massachusetts

1.   Where were you when the tornado hit Springfield?   What did you do?
We were live on the air and watching our Skycam video as the tornado moved across the river and Memorial Bridge. People watching saw it as we did, live and heard our reaction to what we were seeing. It was stunning and hard to believe it was happening here.

2.   Were you surprised by the amount of devastation in Springfield?  Absolutely. The first pictures we saw came from the South End. It looked like a war zone.

3.    Can you describe what you did during coverage on Wednesday and Thursday?

We went live, continuously from around 3:45 to 9. We kept updating information as it came into us from the field and from Facebook and Twitter, as well as our email address. We worked with police, hospitals and viewers , taking live phoners of people describing where they were and what they saw.

4.   Describe the role of social media in your reporting.

Social media played a huge role. People were posting pictures and videos that we used on the air. We had more than 1,000 people friend our WGGB Springfield account Wednesday afternoon alone. People communicated with each other on our Facebook page, as well as with us. Yesterday’s tornado really reinforced my opinion on the growing strength and reach of social media. We streamed our coverage live all afternoon long. We got e-mails from people all over the country and world for that matter. We received a request from a blogger in Russia to use some of our video.

5.   What has surprised you most about the coverage of the tornadoes?

The social media aspect. In times of crisis, it’s probably the most effective form of communication.

Q&A With The Post’s Eric Athas

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The view from The Washington Post's newsroom on the night it was announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed. (Courtesy of Eric Athas.)

I contacted Eric Athas (Journalism ’08) after I saw him post a photo from outside the White House after his Sunday night/Monday morning shift occupied by the Bin Laden news.  My Q&A with him follows:

1.  How did you find out about Bin Laden’s death?

I was editing the washingtonpost.com homepage Sunday evening, and news had come to a screeching halt. Our lead story was hours old — about how embassies in Tripoli had been attacked. The Capitals had just lost their second straight game to the Lightning. The most interesting story we had was about a dangerous shortage of U.S. medical supplies. There was also one about oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Then a reporter sent an e-mail saying that Obama was going to address the nation on an undisclosed topic. The next piece of information we received was that it was national security-related. My first thought was that it had something to do with Libya given Saturday’s news that Gaddafi’s youngest son had been killed by a NATO air strike. Typically in these situations (knowing there’s news, but not sure what that news is) I head to Twitter. I had Tweetdeck open, but I had to focus on getting a banner headline on our homepage and begin planning for a major news story. I first heard it was bin Laden-related from MSNBC, which was on in the background. But the actual “Osama bin Laden is dead” news then popped up in my Twitter feed.

2.  What are your thoughts about how the story broke on social media?

Breaking news on Twitter is the standard. Look at the major news stories this year — and there have been a lot of them — and they all developed on Twitter and Facebook in a way that is incomparable to any newspaper, Web site or broadcast. The bin Laden news was no different, especially considering the raid was inadvertently tweeted by @ReallyVirtual as it was happening. What’s funny is that this story was moving so fast on Twitter that I had to quit out of TweetDeck to prevent myself from getting too engrossed. With reporters calling sources and other producers monitoring Twitter, it would have been more of a distraction for me.      

3.  Did you go immediately to work?

Lucky me, I was there.

4.  Tell me about how you handled the story Sunday night/Monday morning.

On washingtonpost.com, the story developed like this: When we got the report Obama was going to address the nation, I put up a breaking news banner and simultaneously sent a breaking news e-mail alert with a link to where the live video would be displayed. Meanwhile, as our reporters worked on figuring out what the story was, our social media team signed on and began tweeting. When we confirmed bin Laden was dead, it obviously became our lead story, but I kept a live video banner headline up so users could watch Obama on our site. At this point we began building a big package that would have a giant photo, big headline and all of the bells and whistles of a major story. We added components such as photo galleries, video, stories and a place where users could submit photos. After that, it was a matter of creating a package that would deliver the story — the biggest I’ve ever encountered at The Post — in the most effective way possible. With stories like this, one challenge is sifting through all of the content that’s pouring in and feeding it to our users steadily.

5.  Did you use social media in getting the story out on your site?

One of the advantages of working at The Washington Post is that we have many producers and editors handling all of the different moving parts of a mammoth story such as this one. We have a great engagement team that was able to focus on social media all night and day — which not only means tweeting and posting to Facebook, but also finding other ways to tell the story. Here’s one example.

On a personal social media level, once I finally had a chance to get out of my seat (4:30 a.m.), I took a stroll over to the White House and shot some video and photos of the cheering crowd. I uploaded the video to YouTube and posted the photos on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. It was a fun Washington moment.

6.  Any lessons learned from how fast this story moved?

I was reminded how important it is that a news organization’s Web presence doesn’t get caught up in the the freight train of information spilling out. People will go to Twitter for the news as it’s happening, and they’ll go to washingtonpost.com, nytimes.comwsj.com and elsewhere to learn more about it. I also think there’s a lot to learn from this story, along with the Tucson shooting, the turmoil in the Middle East, the tsunami in Japan and the storms in the South. Once the dust settles, all of those stories will help teach us about better ways we can help deliver news to he world.

Jarvis on the Future of the Journalism Business

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I would add more to this post from Jeff Jarvis:  Hard economic lessons for news, but he does a pretty good job of summing up the state of the journalism business, so I won’t!

My favorite sections:

* Tradition is not a business model. The past is no longer a reliable guide to future success.

* Disruption is the law of the jungle and the internet. If someone can do what you do cheaper, better, faster, they will.

* The question about pay walls is whether they are the *best* way to make the *most* money. It’s not a religious matter. It’s a practical question of whether circulation revenue will net more than equivalent advertising, whether one can afford to give up audience and growth, what the costs are to support pay.

* We have not begun to explore new definitions of news.

Wednesday’s Quote of the Day

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“Have grown real tired of professors who say that technology shouldn’t be taught in media schools because ‘it’s always changing’. Would professors at medical or business schools ever say something that willfully ignorant?”

Vin Crosbie, Syracuse University

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