Archive — What Journalists Can Learn From

Know when to choose or lose a tool in telling your story

This is one of a series of blog posts from the second ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are beginning to make their voices heard and expand the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Tricia Fulks is the story director and researcher for Hollow: An Interactive Documentary.

On the left: Tricia Fulks, story director, storyboards in Welch, W.Va., during the summer production months of Hollow. On the right: Interactive Art Director Jeff Soyk outlines the interactive experience’s site map during post-production in Boston. (Photos: Hollow: An Interactive Documentary)

Adopt. Adjust. Adapt.

When it comes to emerging technologies and platforms for storytelling in our industry, we’ve all heard it. And — as long as we want to stay current — we’ve had to familiarize ourselves with new tools accordingly.

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Finding the funds, spreading the word

This is one of a series of blog posts from the second ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are beginning to make their voices heard and expand the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Tricia Fulks is the story director and researcher for Hollow: An Interactive Documentary.

Ron Serino, volunteer fire fighter and Hollow community storyteller, looks over the "stairsteps" near Ashland, W. Va., home to a former strip mine that has become a popular place for ATV riders on weekends. ATV fatalities continue to increase as the Northfork Volunteer Fire Department struggles to gain access and promptly evacuate the injured without a UTV. In the past, Ron and his fellow firefighters have carried injured riders out for miles to save their lives. (Photo: Hollow: An Interactive Documentary)

When Hollow‘s Project Director and creative force, Elaine McMillion, asked me to participate in the interactive documentary in December 2011, I was immediately on board. Elaine and I had gone to school together at West Virginia University’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism, and although we had both worked in journalism, I was the more experienced journalist, while she had more experience in self-starting projects.

So imagine the shift in mindset for me, a former newspaper reporter and editor, when I had to become one of the project’s fundraisers and PR people.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Web Theorists

1. Imagine possibilites to find new story angles

Being mentally flexible can help journalists break out of rigid story ideas and frameworks. One of the topics explored at the recent Theorizing the Web conference explored the idea of what the web could be. For example, why do we have to have IP addresses? Is there a different way to sort and categorize data? Who, exactly, gets to control the internet from a financial perspective? Does our current system of serving and hosting meet the needs of the users?

There are no easy answers, but co-presenters Katie Shilton and James Neal wanted to make a valuable point. So much of how we understand the internet is based on the norms we adopted when services were born. But if different users had designed the initial system, we could have had a completely different set of norms for the internet. This sounds opaque, but think about the privacy wars around Facebook and other services. Facebook didn’t magically appear out of the air one day; it was created, and the creators made choices about design, usability and privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great timeline on the evolution of Facebook’s privacy policy. Matt McKeon, a software engineer at Google, created an interactive infographic of the data here, if you prefer a visual.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: ROFLCon

What exactly is ROFLCon? According to the organizers:

It was a classic story as old as time: college kids grow up online, decide that it’d be a great idea to throw a internet culture conference, and unleash sheer ridiculousness upon the world.

Back in April 2008, we put on the original ROFLCon — the first internet culture conference devoted to discussing what makes memes work, why they work, and where it’s all going (and then throwing a big-ass rocking party with the internet celebs themselves). It was a kickass time, not to mention the most important gatherings since the fall of the tower of Babel.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Webcomics

Comics are having their moment in the journalistic sun. Erin Polgreen’s idea for a tablet magazine dedicated to illustrated journalism recently won the 2012 New Media Women Entrepreneur grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. And comics — and their journalistic applications — took over SXSW. But webcomics are a slightly different animal. Not necessarily looking for mainstream recognition, many webcomics are defiantly indie, surviving on hard-won ad revenue and a loyal fanbase. So what can journalists learn from these scrappy web pioneers?

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Startups

Y Combinator-Inspired Mousepad, by tagxedo

Startup culture has captivated the nation over the last few years, with starry promises of long nights spent in product development resulting in millions of dollars of funding and the potential for billion-dollar payoffs. Startup fever even infected the White House, prompting the launch of an initiative to support high-growth industries and entrepreneurship. So what lessons can media makers pull from startups? Read on.

Think lean

The Lean StartUp method hit the scene as a new, streamlined way of thinking about products, development and the launch process. By focusing on reducing wasted time and wasted money, the Lean Startup method centers on the MVP (minimum viable product) that can be put to market and tested. In many ways, news organizations are ahead of the curve on streamlining operations, since covering breaking news requires a quick turnaround and the processes generally are in place to support quick publishing.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Sundance

Way up in the mountains, nestled in the sleepy town of Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival shines out as an annual beacon showcasing the best of independent film in a sea of mediocre mainstream releases. Each year, filmmakers, composers, actors and marketers make the pilgrimage to Utah to soak up two weeks of workshops, networking and films. Sure, movie buffs love Sundance — but what lessons does the festival have to teach journalists? Read on.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Spark Camp

A joint collaboration between Matt Thompson of NPR, Amanda Michel of the Guardian US, Andrew Pergam of The Washington Post, ONA Board member and Webbmedia Group CEO Amy Webb, and Jenny 8. Lee, Spark Camp is a grand experiment in journalism. Taking the form of an unconference, works by inviting 50 journalists (and colleagues from other field), having them each invite one person to the conversation, and seeing what develops during a massive meet up in a select city. The invite process is fairly mysterious — the organizers work hard to find an interesting mix of people, but don’t share their secret sauce for the initial picks. Spark Camp is sponsored, so outside of travel and accommodations, the event is free.

Fueled by a desire to remake journalism (and massive amounts of sugar), Spark Campers spend 48 charged hours tackling the issues of the day. Here are four takeaways from two Spark Camps that have been held so far:

1. Choose a Theme for the Quarter

Each Spark Camp has a core theme. The first gathering in New York was called “Real Time,” and the goal was to explore how instant communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed how we understand, create and source news content. The second meetup, in Texas, focused on the emerging role data plays in journalism. Selecting a theme allows for attendees to really explore a topic in depth while still allowing for a lot of different interpretations. The lesson: Working with a theme starts to center our often fragmented and frantic work lives. For a part of this year, try dedicating your career to a new theme — it could be anything from “learning to code” to “more creativity.”

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Psychologists


Sigmund Freud and brown leather couches aside, there are a lot of similarities between psychology and journalism worth note, particularly relating to questions of ethics.

1. A thorough code of ethics is worth its weight in gold

The code of ethics for psychologists is fairly intimidating at first glance. It’s a 15-page living document, complete with a preamble and a distillation of the basic principles into five main ideas. The core ideas aren’t completely different from journalism — striving to reduce harm to subjects (though journalists work to serve the public, not necessarily those that are the focus of the report), and placing a high value on integrity are common in both fields. However, journalistic codes of conduct vary widely. The Society of Professional Journalists published a code of ethics with five key points, but doesn’t go into detail about how these ethics are employed in a given situation. Let’s look at the idea of “Independence:”

Act Independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

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What Journalists Can Learn From: Occupiers

(Photo by _PaulS_, via flickr)

Since Sept. 17, the Occupy Movements have been a constant presence in both select cities and the news cycle as media outlets around the world try to make sense of a protest-turned-social movement that has held on for close to 80 days.

In the words of Washington Post scribe Elizabeth Flock:

There is the Occupy shown by the news media, defined by police clashes and a lack of hygiene — images that tell non-Occupiers that the movement is leaderless, chaotic and on its way out. But as the marchers passed through towns large and small, and ordinary Americans came out of their homes and businesses to give food, money and words of support, it became clear that this movement isn’t going away.

While Occupy may not be over, it’s never too early to start checking out the lessons media can take from the movement.

1. Remember the fight for press freedom

A press pass is a powerful thing. It confers access and some level of privilege. Watching my Twitter feeds during some of the OWS actions that ended in police action toward journalists, many were aghast that the police would 1. arrest journos and 2. require press pre-registration (if it is even available) before protests.

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