A reporter with today’s tools should use them

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.)

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16 Comments on “A reporter with today’s tools should use them”

  1. McVey Says:

    I just *love* this feisty attitude. I should (and could) easily say the same things about teachers and administrators. There are a great many tools to use in (and outside) the classroom so that if teachers are not using them I become quite agitated. Thanks, Michelle.

  2. Martha Says:

    Wow, now that’s a way to cover an event! I do have a couple of reservations. One, is a reporter going to spend literally days covering one event? I am wondering if the reporter is supposed to volunteer their time in some respect. Also, I still don’t understand why anyone spends money on a paper copy of a newspaper if they’ve got it all free on social media?

  3. Beverly Harris Says:

    If you are going to devote this much time and expertise to one story, how are you going to cover the dozens of other stories that have the audacity to occur on the same day? Your method seems perfect for a small town or an encyclopedia. But in a metropolis where we have cartel invasions, business turns, transportation woes, school challenges, sports mishaps, massive conventions, political storms, fires, floods, etc., not to mention good news such as in-depth personality stories, it would be unwise to spend that much time bowing to electronic gadgetry. On one hand, it’s impressive to be so organized and to know so much. On the other, it is more satisfying to embrace the old-fashioned idea of covering the typical variety of news as it happens.

    • Hi, Beverly. Thanks for commenting. The publications I run are in small towns. Also, everything I have described can be done very easily with an iPhone and Netbook. I’ve done it myself, with a Twitter app, ipadio app (for audio), Facebook app, and then shortcuts to your video upload page and capzles or dipity, and storify. Of course, what I’ve described is not something you would do for every story, but in the scenario I’ve presented, it can be done easily. Also, my reporters are expected to produce two stories per day. Spending a few hours at the Relay for Life event can yield two stories and all of those bells and whistles I’ve described for a wonderful multimedia package.

  4. hobson Says:

    You should provide some links to the stories you work on each day where you do all this.

  5. Mike Cassidy Says:

    Michelle, I also like your feisty attitude. We do need to have a bias toward taking advantage of social media. (I’m also impressed that your reporters actually know days in advance what they’ll be covering on any given day.)
    My concern with this “kitchen sink” approach to disseminating information is this: When exactly does the reporting take place?
    How does a reporter gather the information he or she needs to write a clear story while pushing video and recording interviews and assembling tweets?
    When does a reporter double-check the veracity of the statistics Cancer Society officials are providing? How does a reporter know that the money-raising figures that various teams are tweeting about are accurate? How does a reporter even know that the information is coming from someone who is actually involved in the event?
    It would seem the responsible way to handle this sort of coverage would be by assigning two reporters to the event — a strategy that seems unlikely in this era of gathering news on the cheap.
    Again, you are absolutely right that reporters and our reporting needs to change — and quickly. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water — or the kitchen sink.

  6. Fletch Says:

    At my first newspaper job, I covered more public meetings than I could count. Budget meetings, planning and zoning meetings, city and town council controversies, police commission hearings, you name it.

    My take on it was, and is, vastly different than what you propose here. Sitting through a five-hour zoning meeting to find the 20-minute kernel of news takes time, and it takes focus. A reporter’s job at these things should not be to twitter, live-blog, SMS and video blog every second as it happens, free of analysis. It’s to attend these meetings with an informed eye, figure out what’s important and what’s not, what’s true and what’s not, and boil it down for a reader who doesn’t have five hours to spare. Meetings were a great way to find topics for breaking and long-term stories, and I think every reporter should spend the first couple of years of their careers covering them, and learning how to tease the news out of a seemingly-boring meeting.

    That said, do you want you reporters to liveblog everything said during the public comment portion of a meeting they cover? What if it’s the town crank, who gets up every month to complain about how the mayor won’t return his or her phone calls and therefore must be corrupt? I’ve been to meetings where people have accused council members of giving themselves raises when, in fact, no raises were given at all. Should I have tweeted those comments? Does every zoning application get a tweet? Should a reporter chase down interviews after a big decision, or should they go off in a corner somewhere to push video?

    I’m all for pushing big developments as breaking news. If a town government passes 3 percent property tax hike, by all means, put that up online right away, with a promise of more analysis to follow. But crowdsourcing, microblogging, SMS texting, hosting chats, pushing up-to-the minute video splinters a reporter’s focus, at a time where focus in journalism is sorely lacking.

    Post-game analysis, as it were, has far more worth than a stream of mini-updates on Twitter.

    Incidentally, regarding your Relay for Life points, I’m curious, does your reporter have the weekend staff necessary to cover a Sunday fun-raiser at the level you want? If not, are you clearing a reporter for weekend overtime? How much breaking news flexibility are you willing to sacrifice to turn a fundraiser into a news event worthy of the pope’s arrival in town?

  7. […] you read what Rogers thinks reporters should be doing when cover a story and you can see at a glance that it is beyond […]

  8. Great example of technology use…

    What you describe is how smart companies try to cover their corporate events (and are slowly becoming media organizations in their own right) and how citizen reporters should and are covering stories that matter to them and their community.

    As for “traditional media”, I’ve never understood their fear of change but do understand that their business & working model is under huge stress by the advance of simple technology.

  9. […] can read Michelle Rogers’ viewpoint here, the Managing Editor we’ve made reference to […]

  10. […] you read what Rogers thinks reporters should be doing when cover a story and you can see at a glance that it is beyond […]

  11. […] proponent of the “digital first” strategy for media. Rogers’ memo – “A Reporter with Today’s Tools Should Use Them” – outlined all of the things a modern-day journalist should be doing when covering events, […]

  12. […] email gallingly titled “A Reporter with Today’s Tools Should Use Them.”Rogers describes her day as a managing editor:Most of my 60-hour work week is spent editing copy, posting articles and […]

  13. […] A: I still struggle to get reporters to embrace the technology we have learned. That’s partly because of a turnover in staff, as we have lost some journalists who have taken advantage of other career opportunities and, to be honest, others who “saw the writing on the wall” and didn’t want to evolve into multimedia journalists. Luckily, however, we hired an online coordinator, David Veselenak, in spring 2010, who has been helping to teach these new tools to staff, and has been leading the way in incorporating technology in our newsroom and encouraging others by leading by example. Some examples of our work as a staff includes live Tweeting government meetings, creating a Storify to localize national topics, embedding Google maps, creating photo slideshows in Flickr and Capzles, using Dipity to create timelines, hosting live chats, and improved video quality that came after JRC training coupled with a tutorial for iMovie created by David. He has also conducted blogging workshops for the public and is in charge of recruiting community bloggers for our website. As of just a week ago, every reporter now has a professional Twitter account, in addition to each publication having one, to better leverage and engage our audience, and crowdsource stories. So, I feel as if we’re making progress, probably not at the rate of speed I would like, as we seem to take steps backward with turnover in staff. You probably read about some of my frustration last summer in my post “A reporter with today’s tools should use them.” […]

  14. […] a blog post by Michelle Rogers titled: “A reporter with today’s tools should use them,” in 2011 there was an influx of […]

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