What follows is a simple roundup of the various things I do in a day as an online producer at spokesman.com. I’ve been thinking of posting something like this for a long time. Say, maybe the two years I’ve been at it. Not to brag but to illustrate what someone in my position, at a regional newspaper in 2010, can expect to do. Maybe it will be useful for those thinking of entering the field and vying for a job at a newspaper.
Here’s my take from Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010:
- Rewrote headlines for the web and tagged stories that exported from our print edition.
- Posted breaking news to Twitter ahead of local competitors.
- Edited and uploaded audio clips for a story that runs next week.
- Created a slide show for a story running Friday: Operation Lake Pend Oreille Trout Catcher.
- Posted breaking news about Bill Clinton’s arteries.
- Brainstormed a strategy for news expected to break in the next couple days.
- Posted more stories to the Web with excellent headlines.
- Added addresses to approximately 100 stories from the past two weeks to feed a great new feature on the The Spokesman-Review’s mobile site.
That filled more than eight hours, especially the last one. Things not included that I regularly do: shooting and editing video; coding and visualizing data; posting content to our Facebook page; training colleagues in our content management system and other online tools.
Hope this was illustrative.
I found myself in unfamiliar territory this week covering live action at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games at the Spokane Convention Center.
During my high school and newspaper reporting days, I wrote no more than four sports stories, all features. And I’d never tried to photograph, let alone video, athletes on the fly.
So it was ambitious to choose as my subject the game of quad rugby, also known as “Murderball.” But damn if it wasn’t worth it. The game is filled with collisions and athletes breaking up and down the court. The players exert themselves quite visibly. And the crowd gets into it.
Here’s the result. Dive deeper into the post for more post-mortem. Also, find the trailer for the outstanding documentary “Murderball.”
Last week I found the time and inspiration to produce a new video. The National Veterans Wheelchair Games were coming to Spokane, and I decided I’d find an angle.
Here’s where media relations people are your friends. At the official games site, somebody had helpfully prepared bios of Spokane-area athletes who would be competing.
A lot of these guys – and they were all guys – were competing for the first time. But I noticed one who had been to the games before and seemed to be pretty active in the veterans community. When I called up Brent King, of Cheney, he was happy to work with me.
Check out the almost-finished* product below, then keep reading for why I’m not happy with it.
A panel discussion Saturday taught me a few things about the Spokane media audience. Those who attended are concerned and a little frustrated with the major players, intrigued by the journalism experiments cropping up and healthily skeptical of the information they consume.
The event was at Auntie’s Bookstore as part of the Get Lit! festival. Here’s a link to the official description. (Full disclosure: The panel was moderated by Ryan Pitts, my supervisor at The Spokesman-Review.)
I listened but didn’t speak, and I was rapt for the entire 90 minutes, not all of them comfortably. Almost nobody seemed to think the region’s media ecosystem was healthy, but panelists and audience members took pains to point out what is succeeding. The Spokesman-Review wasn’t mentioned often in this portion.
I feel like I’ve been hibernating (see photo). Sure there was excitement on Election Day, but this blog has been on sedatives, and it’s been a long time since I’ve undertaken anything big at work. This is partly my hangover from the recent bout of layoffs.
Well, I’m awake now.
Exhibit A: Personal projects – I’ve given my other long-dormant blog, Burger, Revised, a new look and a new mission. I got a refresher in CSS and personalized Word Press’ Sandbox theme (built as a starter theme for designers) to make the appearance more of my own creation. If you are a vegetarian who lives or is planning to come to Spokane, my narrowly focused blog is for you.
Exhibit B: @ work – New video toys at work, and new energy for using them. Colin Mulvany has assigned me some of the gear he purchased when we were building up our videographer corps. So many of them lost their jobs that now we have a trove, and there’s no reason it should go unused.
The camera, at right, is a Canon HF10, and so far I’m in love. Great output, intuitive design, and easy import into Final Cut. Pair that with a Sennheiser wireless mic setup, and I’m geared up to go out and get better at this whole video thing. I’m developing a couple projects, but I need more story ideas.
As a result of Exhibit A, I’m not going to reinvest a lot of time into this blog. There are so many great sites out there that do a smashup job of compiling tutorials and tips that I feel like I’m shouting into oblivion. I’d rather write about a topic that I have a particular expertise in and see as undercovered.
But as a result of Exhibit B, I hope to have some new work to showcase here, so this blog won’t go away completely. This is, after all, my professional insurance policy. Expect more about more personal experience and less guiding to the best tools for learning online journalism. For that, subscribe to the sites I mentioned in this post.
It’s been a strange five weeks. It began with a relaxing Montana getaway and culminated Friday night with toasting two dozen laid-off colleagues at the billiards hall down the street from the newsroom.
Rewind. On Oct. 1, eviscerating cuts were announced at my newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. It’s old news by now for some: Twenty-one mostly younger staffers were named in an involuntary layoff roll call. Steve Smith resigned as editor. The next day, Assistant Managing Editor for Local News Carla Savalli stepped down. Managing Editor Gary Graham has been tapped to take the editor’s reins. Last Wednesday, three managers were laid off, and another was moved to a nonmanagerial position.
Amazingly, I still have a job. The layoff list stopped just below my name. But I haven’t felt much like celebrating. Or, evidenced by my five-week blog hiatus, reflecting on my trade.
My departing co-workers are an insanely talented bunch. A few have gone public with their fates (here, here). My co-producer, Thuy Dzuong Nguyen, was on the list and wrote emphatically about the impact of these cuts (Colin Mulvany republished it on his blog). Her last day was Wednesday, and I’m already feeling the increased workload.
These were not just co-workers: Nearly all were friends. Many of us bonded on the Gang of Eight newsroom reorganization squad. I played music with one. I hung out with others. One of the managers gave me my first journalism job.
This has made for a depressing few weeks. But last week, I decided I couldn’t stay in this rut of gloom any longer. If I’m going to stay sane in this job, then I’ve got to dive back in head-first. I’m not alone. This isn’t to diminish the loss of my former co-workers. I’ll notice their absent every day. But I can’t dwell on it.
We have a huge election coming up. Our new website should launch in the not-too-distant future. And there remains plenty of multimedia to produce and package on our current site. I shouldn’t have trouble staying busy at work.
The remaining question is how I’m going to breathe life back into my blogging and the professional development resources it showcased. I’m going to do some reflecting on this site and my long-dormant Burger, Revised. I want to follow Mindy McAdam’s advice and make fuller use of social bookmarks and Twitter.
Five points to anybody who guesses the significance of the above image.
Mindy McAdams implores journalists who get online to do this in a recent post. And the sentence has been reverberating in my head all evening.
I’m fortunate to work for a newspaper where many people do get it. We commit sizable resources to video, audio and other multimedia. We’ve launched a radio studio with hourly reports. We’re about to unveil a new website that gives readers tremendous power to find information in the way that most makes sense for them.
But, a few days after getting back from a vacation in Montana during which I avoided the Internet, I wonder: Where can I take the lead?
This is likely a case where there’s no upper limit on leadership. And I was not the driving force behind any of the initiatives listed above, so I’d like to find that area where I can “step up” in my newsroom.
Helping my co-workers learn and master our new django site admin will certainly give me one avenue. Any other ideas out there?
I came to the online world via the night news copy desk. I truly loved parts of that job: editing the wires, writing heds that thousands of people would see, catching mistakes at the 11th hour. But I decided to leave to bolster my resume with online experience.
In some ways, I’m still a copy editor. When I post a story, I edit it (of course). When things are slow, I read the stories I haven’t seen. They’re live by that point, but I figure it’s better to catch the error later than never.
My job also involves news judgment, which I developed doing the wires and laying out local news pages.
I’ve often thought that my copy editing background is what helps me be especially effective in my position. But I’ve wondered whether this is common among online producers.
I found at least one parallel in this list via Mindy McAdams via her colleague. In it recent grad Nick Rosinia, now working for MLB.com, passes on pointers to editing students. I liked his opener:
The new job title is “editorial producer.” It means little else than the Internet is too cool to have “copyeditors,” but you might win a few points with a recruiter if you know it.
He goes on to address writing heds, cutlines and teasers, and the importance of being clean and quick. All things I confront daily, all things that a good copy editor should handle adeptly.
At the end of her post, McAdams writes, “It looks like there will always be jobs for good copy editors.”
I hope she’s right, but I might tweak that statement a little. It looks like there will always be need for good copy editing skills, because in online journalism you often are your own copy editor.
BTW, searching Journalismjobs.com for the keywords “copy editors” turned up 67 listings today, most at daily newspapers. If you’re willing to work in a small town and have little job security, there certainly are jobs for good copy editors right now.
Where will I be working next month? Where will I be working next year? What’s the best platform for this story? How do I learn video storytelling?
These questions speak to one of the biggest challenges facing young journalists today: the need to be agile.
A quick bit of context: I’m writing this to participate in a blog ring of young journalists. This month’s topic relates to the challenges facing young journalists. I’ve been a working journalist for just about three years. And in that time I’ve observed that staying in this field for very long will require flexibility.
As someone else noted, a good attitude will give you a foundation. I want this post to be constructive, not discouraging, so I’m linking to resources that can help you become agile in terms of…
Since I entered grad school, I’ve been staring down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with questions:
- How can newspapers reverse falling readership and ad revenues?
- How can they compete effectively with other news providers on the Internet?
- How should newspaper journalists change their routines to serve multiple platforms?
- How can newspapers possibly maintain quality and innovate while cutting staff.
Now I’m in the middle of an 11-day assignment from Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith aimed at exploring some of those questions and drafting recommendations for restructuring the newsroom. The goals: to be more efficient and produce a more compelling, consistently multiplatform product.
There are eight of us, all relatively young in a newsroom notably filled with talented veterans. Most of us have come out of journalism school within the past four years. The group dynamic is solid.
This is exciting and scary as hell.
It’s strange how the people running newspapers have been talking about changing for most of my 20-year career. Yet, all they’ve really done in that time is tinker under the hood a bit.
We are tasked with doing far more than tinkering under the hood. We were picked, according to Steve, because we have a huge stake in what happens to this industry but little stake in the processes and organization that have driven this newspaper in the past.
We have constraints, as Nick notes:
[W]e can’t eliminate the print product, we can’t eliminate the new radio initiative, we can’t eliminate the community-oriented Voice sections, we can’t suggest layoffs.
It’s comforting and intriguing to watch other newspapers wrestle these questions and swing for the fences. Most recently, it’s been the Tampa Tribune. It’s shakeup is outlined on Mindy McAdams’ blog, and reporting intern Jessica DaSilva has a great account of the day Editor Janet Coats outlined the changes to the staff.
There has been grumbling within the newsroom and skepticism from without. But many staffers have quietly wished us well, and comments at Nick’s and Colin’s blogs have also been encouraging.
We’re under a tight deadline. At some meetings, we’ve got so many ideas its hard to chart a path through them.
But the biggest challenge is to be systematic, practical and yet visionary. We are supposed to blow up the newsroom, but, as I think we all feel, the model we propose must be functional. And above all, it must keep the newspaper coming off the press, the Web site (overhaul pending) updated throughout the day and our radio broadcasts filled with local content – and make all of this journalism as compelling as possible.
This may be my best, last chance to throw bold ideas into the mix and have them heard. Given the recent explosion of newspaper layoffs and Steve’s not-good-but-could-be-worse briefing Tuesday on the state of our company’s finances, I’m not optimistic that the business I went to grad school to enter will sustain me until I retire.
But now I’ve got a chance to suggest changes to help an enterprise, to quote Janet Coats, “worth fighting for.” I’ll see what I can do.