A multimedia journalist today has so many tools at her fingertips that it makes a reporter from the 1990s envious and wishing the tables were turned.
I’ve been an editor for 11 years and, although I’ve filled in when we’ve been short-staffed to cover a government meeting or write some police briefs, most of my 60-hour work week is spent editing copy, posting articles and photos online, assigning stories to staff and freelancers, engaging the audience on behalf of our publications via social media, keeping abreast of issues going on across the county, checking out new technology, processing press releases and reader-generated content, and administrative tasks such as tracking website traffic, managing my email account, which brings in about 300 messages a day, reviewing and submitting payroll, employee reviews and processing stringer invoices.
While I try to promote and model the approach that I would like my reporting staff to take in today’s world, with social media and new technology at their disposal, part of me is torn in understanding why it’s not being done completely the way I ask. On one hand, I think, “It’s so much less cumbersome and a lot more fun to report the story today and do it a more engaging and meaningful way, so why aren’t they all doing it?” But, on the other hand, I think, “Well, I am not in the trenches, so who am I to ask?”
And this is what I would ask:
*Did you crowdsource this topic so you could ask more relevant questions of local officials?
*Did you upload the City Council’s agenda to our website using Scribd.com before the meeting and share it on social media so readers would know that city leaders were considering raising their own salaries despite a general fund deficit?
*Did you “check in” to the meeting on social media and then Tweet and post on Facebook some of the discussion points during the meeting?
*Did you shoot video of local residents during the meeting protesting the decision, process it during the meeting and post it our our website before the meeting ended?
*Did you post a paragraph on our website under breaking news about the vote during the meeting and then write the full story shortly after, post it online, and push it out using social media, SMS text or our breaking news alert via our e-newsletter subscriber list?
*Did you follow up on the issue by hosting a live chat the next day with local leaders and residents?
I don’t buy the excuse, either, that it has to be a controversial topic like the one I described above to report it like I want it done. For instance, this past weekend was the Relay for Life fundraiser in Milan. I saw posts in my Facebook news stream about it from people in the community. I didn’t, however, see a single Tweet from us, a single Facebook post, or a story and video. By late Sunday, after the event had wrapped up, I thought — and expected — we would have something. Again, I was disappointed, as, I am sure, were our readers. And now it’s Monday and I still haven’t seen anything about it.
So, in an attempt to promote and model what I expect of my newsroom, yet be empathetic to the pressures and time constraints on young journalists today, I’ve come up with a scenario of how I would cover an event and expect the same from my reporters — A day-in-the-life of a modern-day community journalist, if you will.
Covering the Relay for Life: What to do
*Tweet and post on Facebook days before the event that I am going to be there and ask who else from the community will be there. Use these sources and officials from the American Cancer Soiciety to write a piece for our website telling readers about the event and sharing the stories of people involved (maybe a cancer survivor or someone who has been volunteering at the event for a decade).
*Use social media the day before and morning of the event to post the schedule of events and remind readers I will be there looking for stories. Ask readers to share their stories, photos and video from the fundraiser so we can share them on Facebook, our website and in print.
*Show up about 15 minutes before it starts to chat with organizers, volunteers and participants, take photos, capture audio interviews for a podcast and shoot video of the opening ceremony.
*Find a place to sit down to upload audio, photos for a slideshow and video to our website using my Netbook and Flip video camera. Have this posted within the first two hours of the event.
*Push out on social media a link to the content I’ve generated so far: a short story about the opening ceremony, with an embed of video, audio and the photo slideshow.
*Crowdsource cancer survival stories, information on how much money individual teams had raised, what events were taking place and all of the effort that goes into organizing such a a huge event that means so much to a small community.
*Hold a live chat with the main organizer and team leaders from the location using Cover It Live discussing what was going on, who was saying and doing what, and sharing statistics and information from the American Cancer Society about cancer rates, research, needed funding, and efforts to raise awareness.
*Create a timeline using Dipity.com or Capzles.com to document the entire event, from start to finish, featuring “capsules of moments” with headlines, text, audio, photos and video. Embed this in my finished story for online with embeds of all my other media, including a Twitter stream from people Tweeting at the event using storify.com.
My reporters have learned all of these tools and I encourage my freelance writers to learn and use them, as well, especially as we move forward in this new world. Now the trick is to get them to do just that. Hopefully, they will see the value. As an editor, journalist and, most importantly, as a reader, I certainly do.
Tell me how you would report the story. What other tools and opportunities should we take advantage of while in the field?
(Note: Based on some feedback from readers, I’ve edited and updated this piece.)