Home

Carnival of Journalism: Talking to People IS a Life Hack!

4 Comments

The question for this month’s Carnival:

“What are your life hacks, workflows, tips, tools, apps, websites, skills and techniques that allow you to work smarter and more effectively?


One of my favorite scenes in the Dead Poet’s Society is when Robin Williams tells his young students to stand on top of their desks.  It’s a lesson on seeing life from different perspectives, and not following the pack and doing what everyone else is doing.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.  Usually in the middle of his concerts, Springsteen goes into a monologue, saying:  “I want you all to GET UP OUT OF YOUR SEATS…..”

So, how does this relate to work hacks?  Don’t worry, I’m getting there.

When I first saw this question from David Cohn, I thought of one word:  Twitter.   It’s become a place I turn to for information, updates, breaking news, etc.  But as I thought through the question,  I thought I would get radical on my buddy Dave.  I enjoyed Will Sullivan’s post as well, including this section:

  • Only use the “http://five.sentenc.es/” technique for (most) email responses (Or four or three or two sentences)
  • If it’s not time-critical, try to focus on emailing people around 8-9 a.m. in the morning so it’s at the top of their mailbox as soon as they get in, responses tend to be higher because they haven’t developed email fatigue yet.

But what struck me was, well, the lack of the personal touch.

Yes, I’m going to get radical here and suggest GETTING UP OUT OF  YOUR SEATS and actually talking to people!

There, I said it.

Radical, huh?

Now, I’m not sure how much discussion about face-to-face communication came up at the hip kids gathering organized by Mr. Cohn but it’s something I stress often in my Journalism classes at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  And, frankly, such suggestions usually freak out 20-somethings.  Well, most people actually.

Yes, put aside your laptop, smart phones, tablets and mind-melds and go talk to folks!

And, you know what?  It works.

Recently, I was trying to deal with a complicated personal issue and my reflex was to send an e-mail.  You know what I did?  I called the person instead.  The discussion went smoothly and things worked out rather nicely.

Would I have achieved the same result via e-mail?  Probably not.

E-mail is actually a terrible form of communication, even moreso in a work environment.  You never know when one word might be received the wrong way, destroying a relationship.  Tone and body language are absent in e-mail — two critical forms of communication, especially in the workplace.

My old boss was fond of saying that if an e-mail goes back and forth three times, end it and go talk in person.  I try to follow that advice but even better advice would be this:  Why send an e-mail when you can actually talk to someone?

There, I said it.

Anyone who has shot photos or video has heard of the phrase:  “Focus with your feet.”   So, the next time you sit down to hammer out an e-mail at work, consider “focusing with your feet.” 

GET UP OUT OF YOUR SEATS AND GO TALK TO THAT PERSON!

Get Rad People!

Q&A With Mike LaCrosse

Leave a comment


Mike LaCrosse, a 2010 graduate of the UMass Journalism program, and now a reporter/producer for WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. found himself in the middle of the Springfield tornado coverage this week.  The tornado was a local story that quickly went national, with a report from LaCrosse making it onto the ABC Nightly News broadcast.

“Being on network was pretty crazy,” said LaCrosse.   “I didn’t know until later that night.  ABC was recording all of our newscasts and used a phoner I did.  I started getting calls from people when the service got better telling me.  I was also on Channel Five in Boston and WBC radio.   It is pretty awesome being seen and heard as the lead story on network.”

“Overall it’s been a crazy and emotional last few days.”

Some more thoughts from LaCrosse:

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

I was in the newsroom running back to where our sky camera video comes in getting an operator to turn it so we could see it.I spirited back to the newsroom and was told to get to downtown so photographer Alan Rosko and I headed there and were in the south end within 10 minutes of the hit.

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

I was shocked at what I was seeing. People were everywhere; trees were down; bricks were scattered everywhere; cars destroyed. It was overwhelming.

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

Wednesday night I was all over the South End of Springfield. Talking to witnesses getting images. I kept doing live phone interviews during our five hour wall-to-wall coverage. We were all over. We ended up going live from Court Square. After that we continued talking to people about what they saw and their damage.

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

Social media was tough because there was very limited cell phone service in the downtown area.

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

Just how widespread the damage was and how people still remain in good spirits despite losing everything.

Q&A With S.P. Sullivan

1 Comment

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

Leave a comment


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.

Quote of the Day

Leave a comment

“When looking, it is important to be conscious of what one is seeing and what else of equal importance isn’t in view at the same moment.”

— Courtesy of Tom Kennedy, Professor of Multimedia, Photo at Syracuse University

Yes, There Are Jobs! UMass Journalism’s Alumni Night To Be A Good One!

Leave a comment

Back From The Front:

WHEN:  Thursday, April 21, from 7:30-9 p.m.

WHERE: Bernie Dallas Room, Room 506, Goodell Hall.

WHAT: We’ve invited six recent Journalism graduates for a discussion of their experiences in the shape-shifting journalism market.

WHO:  The panelists are:

Mary Kate Alfieri, ’10, Account Coordinator/ Office Administrator, The Loomis Group, Boston, MA.

* Eric Athas, ’08, Producer, washingtonpost.com, Washington, D.C.

* Mike LaCrosse, ’10, Reporter/Producer, WGGB, ABC40/FOX6, Springfield, MA.

* Michael Phillis, ’10, Staff Writer, Lexington Minuteman, Lexington, MA

* Julie Robenhymer, ’03, Senior Writer for HockeyBuzz.com

* Sean Sullivan, ’10, Associate Producer, MassLive.Com , Springfield, MA


RECEPTION
: Before the discussion, we’re having a reception for panelists, faculty, and alumni in the Commonwealth Lounge, Room 504, Goodell, starting at 6:30 p.m.

Feel free to join us for a great night!

A Day in the Life: News Judgment, Initiative Pay Off for One Digital Journalist

Leave a comment

“There are a thousand stories on a college campus.”

It’s a phrase I often use in my classes.  Usually, the goal is to motivate students to be in a “constant state of journalism.”   What I mean by that is that I want my students to always be ready for a story, always looking for ideas and always ready to shoot photos, video, and interview folks if a story presents itself.  In my first year here, I had one student who shot a great Veteran’s Day photo and ended up freelancing it to one of the local newspapers — and got paid! Since then I’ve had a number of students who have made the ‘state of mind’ pay off.

It’s a concept that just becomes second nature after awhile. And having such a mindset makes you a better journalist once you are out there and getting paid.

So, I was pretty excited to come across this blog post by Eric Athas, a 2008 graduate of the UMass journalism program who now works as a producer for The Washington Post’s web site.   Eric recently found himself in the middle of one of the more horrific stories to hit the Washington suburbs in quite a while.

I’ve stayed in contact with Eric since he graduated and he’s always been a journalist who has an uncanny nose for news.  And, when we talk about the most important characteristic needed in today’s new world of journalism, that remains a key asset.

What’s impressive in what Eric did here is that he didn’t wait for instructions or a press release.  As the events unfolded before him on a sleepy Saturday morning, he took the initiative (and took out his IPhone to shoot video) got out of his car, investigated, and came back with a story.

And, trust me, that kind of initiative is noticed.

Older Entries