Archive — MJ Bear Blogs


Engagement Strategies for the Tiny News Desk

This is one in a series of blog posts from the 2014 class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Illustration by Flickr user Andy Bright

The hardest task for a small news startup — probably for most news organizations — is prioritizing. We can’t do everything well, so what can we do for the highest return on investment?

That’s the question I’m thinking about every day at Chalkbeat, a news startup that covers K-12 public schools in four states. A few months into my job, I was tasked with devising an engagement strategy. Everyone was doing cool stuff; I salivated over ProPublica’s “Get Involved” page and praised the Center for Investigative Reporting’s coloring books about earthquake safety. These were valuable examples to learn from, but I had to be realistic about our capacity and what we could achieve. We expect highly contextualized, nuanced enterprise reporting and breaking news to be published every day, and yet we only have an editor and two to three reporters in each of our locations.

Two years and many experiments later, the foundation of our engagement strategy is based on what we know works and what we think is promising. We love when our staff experiments beyond these strategies, but a clear prioritization plan helps keep things focused when we’re asking our reporters to do so much.

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Understanding your audience … then growing it, part 2/2

This is one in a series of blog posts from the 2014 class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Note: This blog is the second in a two-part series by Fellow Anika Anand, Director of Product at Chalkbeat, an education news network based in New York City. Her first post, published June 2, chronicled ChalkBeat’s need to develop a robust audience research project with a small team. That discussion is continued here.

As we planned for our project, I couldn’t find many good resources on how small newsrooms can do quick, effective audience research.

Below, we share a few of our research methods and takeaways in hopes that other newsrooms will chime in with their own suggestions. It is important to note we did not hire a professional researcher for this project, and these tools were not meant to be as detailed as a proper scientific survey. That said, we received useful feedback for better understanding our audience.

Illustration by Flickr user Giovana Milanezi

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The three profiles of a digital news team

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Photo by Flickr user Graham Holliday.

Over the last decade, as newsrooms across the world have embraced a shift to a digital-first focus, many organizations have experimented with the structure of their digital teams. It seems for every success there is another tech challenge on the horizon to consider, such as the Apple Watch and at-a-glance journalism.

In this ever-changing world, it’s smart to think strategically about the roles digital teams take on across newsrooms. I’ve settled on three profiles that the best digital teams often have: research and development (R&D), news apps and tech. My hope is to provide a smart framework for thinking about how your newsrooms can create the most focused and compelling digital content and products.

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Understanding your audience … then growing it Pt. 1/2

This is one in a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Anika Anand is Director of Product at Chalkbeat, an education news network based in New York City. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.

Note: This blog is the first in a two-part series. The second post was published on Thursday, June 11.


Photo by Flickr user Robin Hutton

In the premier season of the new podcast “StartUp,” host Alex Blumberg briefly discussed the success of “Serial,” the other extremely successful podcast startup launched at the same time. “If you’re listening to the sound of my voice right now and you have not heard of ‘Serial,’” Blumberg said, “you occupy a very strange niche in culture, and I’d like to hear more about you, frankly.”

As a journalist, it was incredible for me to think that anyone listening to “StartUp” hadn’t followed “Serial.” But assumptions about our audience often turn out not to be true. Blumberg learned this lesson after he received a stream of tweets from people who said they had never heard about “Serial” until it was mentioned on his podcast.

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Using open-source tools to expedite news graphics

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Since the Online News Association’s 2014 Conference & Awards Banquet, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to better integrate newsroom workflows into creating and publishing digital graphics. Many newsroom developers juggle copy from reporters, editors and the copydesk, often forgetting key text, while also working on design and code. In other words, collaborating on interactive graphics is a challenge. Here’s a quick look at solutions from other newsrooms, as well as a technique I’ve developed in my former role at The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

Google Drive as the CMS

Google Sheets is a common tool for powering digital news graphics. While a spreadsheet can’t fully replace a database, it can mimic some of its key characteristics: columns, rows and headers. This provides an easy way for web producers and reporters to add content to a graphic while newsroom developers can focus on the code.

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An example interactive map built with Mother Jones’ Story Tools. Source: https://github.com/motherjones/us-color-coded-map

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Lessons from Haiyan

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. The deadline to apply for this year’s fellowship closed on June 6. Fellow Armie Garde is assistant content editor and multimedia journalist for Sun.Star Publishing, Cebu City, Philippines.

Seven months after Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) devastated Central Philippines, killing thousands, survivors are slowly rebuilding their lives. Many things have changed, but life goes on. Hope is evident.

I have spent most of my life in Leyte, one of the storm-hit provinces, before I moved to Cebu City to study and to work eventually. Back home and in nearby Samar, Cebu and Iloilo provinces, thousands of people were killed, thousands of others were left homeless and displaced and many others are still missing even seven months after Haiyan’s devastation.

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Think Outside the (Advertising) Box

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications to apply for this year’s fellowship closed on June 6. Fellow Ashley Lohmann is a media entrepreneur and founder/director of Beyond the Bombs.

When I launched Beyond the Bombs, my multimedia platform showcasing the untold stories of the Middle East and North Africa, I had prior professional experience in the region, as well as with the media. Yet, as the platform grew, I discovered that I was missing an important skill set: business experience.

If I hoped to expand the platform further, I needed to know how to secure funding and generate revenue. I began seeking advice from anyone I could — journalists, entrepreneurs, bloggers, investors. I quickly learned about funding resources for journalists and media start-ups, but when the conversation turned to revenue generation, the advice became less clear cut.

If you are working on a media project or start-up, here are a few places to start your search for fellowships and funding: Knight Foundation, Matter., International Women’s Media Foundation, UNITY Journalists for Diversity, and International Reporting Project. Also, seek out foundations and accelerators related to the issue your project or venture addresses.

Everyone, from early-stage start-ups to media giants, is grappling with the challenge of making digital media profitable. Advertising, subscriptions, and content licensing are oft-mentioned revenue options but rarely seem sufficient. From my advice-seeking conversations, I distilled two main suggestions for generating revenue.

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Finding ‘The Line’: Young Journalists Hungry to Discuss Ethics of Editorializing

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications to apply for this year’s fellowship closed June 6. Fellow Kyle Stokes is the youth & education reporter at NPR member station KPLU in Seattle.

Recently, a group of J-school students at the University of Washington was intently, graciously listening as I bloviated about good blogging practices. Somewhere in the middle of a riff about how the best bloggers don’t wait for the perfect news peg to tell important stories — that they, in fact, set editorial calendars and post about important stuff simply because it’s important — a hand in the back of the room shot up.

“You’re talking about setting an agenda. Isn’t what you’re describing editorializing?” an incisive student interjected. “How do you know when you’re crossing that line?”

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Social Media Evolution: Coordinating Disaster Response

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. The deadline to apply for this year’s fellowship closed on June 6. Fellow Armie Garde is assistant content editor and multimedia journalist for Sun.Star Publishing, Cebu City, Philippines.

Social media platforms have turned into powerful tools for creating online communities to keep people informed and promote unanimity, especially during disaster response.

The Philippines experienced two major natural disasters in 2013, the magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Bohol October 15 and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) on November 8.

Critical information about the damage caused by the quake, along with a few photos of its impact, were posted first on social media. Further, the Bohol Quake Assistance Facebook page provides an example of how social media is being used to monitor rehabilitation efforts in areas badly affected by the earthquake. It publishes photos of disaster response initiatives, such as the distribution of donations from local and international donors. It even includes photos of livelihood rebuilding ideas to help victims cope up with the economic impact of disaster.

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Take the Red Pill: Apply Your Journalism Skills to Being an Entrepreneur

This is one of a series of blog posts from the third ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Applications are open to apply for this year’s fellowship until June 6. Fellow Ashley Lohmann is a media entrepreneur and founder/director of Beyond the Bombs.

Becoming an entrepreneur is like a scene from The Matrix, at least according to IMDb Head of Business Development Harry Lin.

At ONA’s 2013 Conference & Awards Banquet, Lin opened his talk (“Am I Really an Entrepreneur“) with a screenshot from that film showing Morpheus offering Neo a blue pill with one hand and a red one with the other. The blue pill would allow Neo to remain in his comfortable, if unfulfilling, life, while the red pill would lead him into the unknown.

Lin’s allusion sounded intimidating, and I sat in the back of the room wondering, am I really an entrepreneur? Little did I know, I had already taken the red pill, and Lin’s talk would prove particularly relevant for me in the coming months.

In his talk, Lin explained that the traits that characterize journalists are indispensable in the startup world, and he urged his audience members to transfer those strengths to their entrepreneurial endeavors.

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