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Jan 27 / King Kaufman

Being a journalist means being a student: Should you learn to code?

In the first quarter of my freshman year at the University of California-Santa Cruz I had a wonderful history professor named William Hitchcock. I loved his lectures, which an earlier chancellor had called “a masterpiece, every one.” But what I really liked was how this professional historian would look at us 18-year-old dummies and call us “historians.”

“Since we’re all historians,” he’d say, and then talk about how we historians might want to reason together about whatever subject was at hand.

Now I’m a professional, though I’m not a historian but the short-attention-span version, a journalist, and I look at things the other way around: I think we professionals are all students.

We have to be, with how fast everything changes.

So when I read something like this piece in PBS MediaShift’s EducationShift section about how journalism students should all learn a little coding, I don’t just see it as advice for college kids. I see it as advice for all journalists, because every journalist is a student.

Aaron Chimbel, a journalism professor at TCU, writes:

If we value clear writing and the ability to communicate clearly with a wide variety of people, we should value teaching our students the basics of computer languages and digital communications. These skills will only be more important going forward, and more importantly code, a broad term encompassing several computing languages, is the future of digital and global communication. If we don’t expose our students to this—students we want to lead the next generation of journalism and communication—we are doing them a disservice …

What is important is to expose all students to the basics of coding and to give them a baseline of understanding this language, the language of the future … What is important is for students who don’t become programmers—and most won’t—to be able understand how information can be gathered and presented using code and how to use it for journalism, even if they aren’t the ones actually building the project.

Chimbel compares learning some code to studying a language. You might not become fluent, but “you learn a lot about thinking and culture from learning a new language.” He also points out that, fortunately for those of us not enrolled in school, there are several free online resources, such as Code Academy, Code{Actually} and Code.org.

I’ve made a false start or two at Code Academy. I keep meaning to get back to it. Any of my fellow students feel the same way?

Jan 26 / Chelsea Becker

Content Standards: Attributing stats and factual information

Knowing when to attribute information to a third-party source is an important skill for any writer. In most cases, it’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to the presentation of stats and other factual information, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s fair game and what owes credit to someone else’s reporting.

It’s obviously fair game to use basic win-loss stats for Clayton Kershaw’s season without attribution, or to include a widely reported fact about his background in a biographical piece. But when it comes to factual information that isn’t as widely available—or when factual information is presented in a way that mirrors the work of somebody else—usage is only acceptable with proper attribution to its source.

This post focuses on best practices for proper attribution in such cases.

Stats

Let’s use this ESPN article from Mike Wells as an example.

Wells outlines easily obtainable stats from the 2014 AFC Championship Game here: “New England followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Now, if I’m a B/R writer reporting on this game, can I reference the same stats? Definitely. Can I phrase the same exact stats in an identical or near-identical way and present the passage as my own? Definitely not. I’d have to give credit where it’s due.

If I wanted to use Wells’ specific language, I’d follow B/R’s Attribution Guidelines for crediting direct quotes, which advises, “When you extract a word-for-word passage from the work of another author, you’re obligated to (a) introduce the quoted material with a hyperlinked reference to the original source …”

My attribution would look something like this:

As ESPN’s Mike Wells notes, the Patriots “followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Obviously Wells is not the only reporter using this data, and you are free to reference the Pats’ 177 rushing yards in your own work without sourcing the ESPN piece. However, his organization of the stats and information is unique to him and therefore requires attribution if we present the information in the same or similar way.

Originally reported factual information

If a piece of factual information comes from an identifiable source and is uncommon enough that it can’t be considered widely known, it needs attribution to the source that brought you to that information.

For example, mentioning that Mike Conley was a calming influence for his high school team comes from someone’s research and original reporting. In this case, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams provided us with that piece of knowledge and deserves credit.

Conley playing high school basketball with Ohio State University teammate Greg Oden does not need a source because it’s a fact available at hundreds of media outlets and not the result of a reporter’s unique research.

* * *

The art of proper sourcing gives fellow writers their due for helping you construct your piece. Look at it this way: If another journalist was using your ideas, words or research, you’d also want credit for your work.

If you are on the fence about whether something should be attributed, ask yourself whether you’d have that essential piece of knowledge without coming across the content in question. If your work has relied on another piece, your readers should know about it.

As we’ve written time and again, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to proper attribution. If you’re ever in doubt about whether something requires attribution, don’t take unnecessary chances—simply email contentstandards@bleacherreport.com for guidance.

* * *

Chelsea Becker is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report. Content Moderator Nick James contributed to this post. 

Jan 23 / King Kaufman

Real talk about the “Talk about” question from Grantland’s Bryan Curtis

The Worst Question in Sports: What We Talk About When We Say ‘Talk About’ by Bryan Curtis at Grantland, is a terrific piece on two levels.

First, it’s just a good, solidly reported opinion story. Curtis analyzes the ubiquity of the sports-media question that begins with “Talk about …” as well as it’s cousins, “How big was …” and “Walk me through …” He also marshals a metric ton of examples, complete with video embeds and links. And he interviews sports media colleagues for their views on the tactic and whether they use it.

Curtis writes about the various reasons reporters use “Talk about”: As an ice-breaker at the start of press conferences, to cover up for not having watched the play in question, possibly because they were busy tweeting, to try out the thesis of the reporter’s article on the interview subject, or as a warmup to the real question—as in “Can you talk about the decision to overturn the call and why you overturned the call?”

He talks about the history of the use of “Talk about” and speculates about the reasons for its rise. It’s an engaging, nuanced examination of an often remarked-upon but rarely examined phenomenon in sports media.

And that’s the second reason I liked Curtis’ piece. It would have been easy to write a snarky, wisecracking piece about sportswriters and their stupid “Talk about” questions. “Talk about” is easy to spoof. That spoofy piece would have been greeted by an amen chorus on social media. Curtis didn’t settle for that.

That’s something to talk about.

Jan 22 / King Kaufman

Looking for your next podcast fix? IJNet lists nine podcasts for journalists

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. Have you? The breakout success of Serial has made podcasting the hot media item of the moment, and in my case a new halfway decent smartphone has contributed to my newfound podcastphilia.

I’ve been listening to a lot of This American Life, Love + Radio and The Moth, and in the right mood I’ll listen to interviews on Fresh Air or WTF With Marc Maron.

If you’re into podcasting and journalism, the International Journalists’ Network, IJNet, has a post for you. It’s headlined Nine podcasts for journalists:

Commenting on the rise of the popularity of podcasts, Doug Mitchell, founder of NPR’s Next Generation Radio, said that the value of podcasts has finally caught up with a society that is far more mobile than it was when podcasting launched in the late 90s.

“Those who appreciate good storytelling, a more narrative form, will always have a unique audience. Think those who listen to books on tape,” Mitchell told IJNet, adding that the opportunity now lies in reaching everyone who has a smartphone.

IJNet compiled a list of journalism podcasts that media practitioners can listen to for on-the-go tips and inspiration.

I’ve only heard one of them, PBS Mediashift’s Mediatwits, hosted by Mark Glaser, with whom I’ve had coffee. It’s good.

I’m looking forward to listening to the other eight. I’d like to hear what you think of them too.

Jan 21 / King Kaufman

What should sportswriters do now that athletes don’t need them to speak directly to the public?

Ian Casselberry wrote about athletes speaking directly to the public on Awful Announcing.

That’s hardly a new thing. Cristiano Renaldo has almost 33 million Twitter followers. That didn’t happen in a week.

But in a post headlined Golden Tate goes first person to address rumors about Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin, Casselberry notes that the Lions receiver is part of a trend of athletes moving beyond social media and “taking that effort further through ventures where they can post first-person narratives, such as Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune.” Casselberry, who used to write for Bleacher Report, also notes the B/R athlete-video site Uninterrupted.

Tate used the Medium publication The Cauldron to refute some rumors about him and talk about what it’s like to be a famous person about whom salacious rumors get passed around. His basic point, other than “I did not have an affair with Russell Wilson’s wife,” is that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

Mine is a question: As more and more athletes get more and more sophisticated in their efforts to, in Casselberry’s words, “eliminate the middleman of sports media,” how should sports media respond? With less need to filter and disseminate what sports-world figures have to do, what should sportswriters be replacing that work with?

Jan 20 / King Kaufman

Rosen’s “banking theory” of media trust: Keep that credibility balance high

If you’ve been reading in this space for a while, you’ve heard me say that credibility is a finite resource. Once you’ve established it, all you can do is keep it or lose it.

But media critic and professor Jay Rosen of NYU posted an essay last week that takes a more nuanced view. In A (brief) banking theory of newsroom trust, Rosen writes that trust, another word for credibility, is something that can be built up and drawn down, like a bank balance:

Some decisions that editors make put stress on accumulated reserves of trust, while others add to those reserves. From this point of view, trust—credibility!—is not something you have or don’t have as a news provider. Rather, the way you operate can build up or draw down the “reserves” of trust.

Rosen sketches three scenarios, in descending order of transparency. The first is “Don’t take our word for it. Judge for yourself,” in which the outlet shows its work, gives users access to all of the information it has. The second is “We had to make a call. Here is our reasoning,” in which the outlet withholds something, but explains its reasoning, as in the recent case of the New York Times not publishing cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, editor Dean Baquet explaining that the paper took the sensibilities of Muslim readers into account.

The third is “Look, you’re just going to have to trust us,” which is self-explanatory. With this third scenario, Rosen writes, “the operation is drawing on deposits of trust put there by earlier acts of journalism that turned out to be trust-worthy.”

The more we operate in that first scenario, the more trust we build up. There may be rare times when we have no choice but to operate in the third. If that happens, we’ll be making a withdrawal from our credibility account. Rosen concludes:

The banking theory of newsroom trust draws attention to the fact that some acts of journalism are easier to trust in than others. The harder you make it for us to trust you, the more likely you are to wind up with a negative balance. The solution is to build up your reserves by operating in a transparent fashion most of the time. In other words: Journalists, show your work.

I would put it this way: Tell us what you know, and tell us how you know it.

Jan 16 / King Kaufman

Social-media news startup Reported.ly tackles same problems sportswriters often face

Reported.ly is a startup that aims to bring global news to users almost entirely through social media. It’s part of First Look Media and is run by Andy Carvin, who pioneered social-media reporting when he was at NPR.

Here’s a NiemanLab story about how the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last week was the first big test for the new venture. The Lab’s Justin Ellis describes how the Reported.ly team responded to the initial reports and the developing story.

Over the next 18 hours, Carvin and his small team divvied up the coverage, with an eye towards providing context but also playing to the strengths of certain channels. As Carvin told me, one of the biggest goals of Reported.ly is fitting coverage to the right platform — finding what kinds of storytelling works best on Twitter versus Reddit, for example.

But the work of Reported.ly is more than simple aggregation and amplification. A large part of their work is trying to verify and factcheck reports already circulating …

Though Reported.ly will report on developing stories, don’t expect it to be a breaking news service. The specific focus is on providing context around breaking stories — or, as Browne put it, “organize the chaos. Because social media is chaos.”

On an often smaller, almost always less important scale, this is what sportswriters find themselves doing when news breaks in our world. Verifying, fact-checking and making sense of the reports flying around social media is one of the key services we can provide.

I’m interested to see how Reported.ly evolves. I expect it to be something worth emulating.

Jan 15 / King Kaufman

10 tips on raising your “digital game” from the NABJdigital Blog

Here’s a little followup to yesterday’s post about trying out digital tools that are new to you. It’s a very short post on the NABJdigital Blog, from the National Association of Black Journalists.

The post lists 10 Things You Can Do NOW To Step Up Your Digital Game. The suggestions range from the vague (“Step up your game on Twitter”) to the specific (“Create an embeddable map using Google Fusion Tables).

There’s a link to a tutorial or guide for each suggestion.

Jan 14 / King Kaufman

Poynter offers tips on digital tools you should find the time to try

You probably know this feeling: Some smart person is telling you about all these great digital tools you could be using to improve your stories, your workflow, your reporting, your life—and you’re thinking, “Yeah, that sounds great. If only I had time to learn how to use these tools. But I don’t.”

Ren LaForme, an interactive learning producer at Poynter, writes that he heard that complaint recently from a reporter and entrepreneur “after I rattled off a list of media innovations and digital journalism tools for a small crowd at The LAB Miami.” In a post headlined Digital tools you should have been using in 2014, LaForme writes:

Adding a vetted suite of digital tools to your repertoire can make your job easier and your work more engaging, but knowing how to fit them into your old recipes can be tough. Here are a few that gained popularity among journalists in 2014 and, more importantly, how they can fit into your workflow.

The tools are organized under ‘Sourcing,” “Reporting,” “Publishing” and “Engaging Audiences.” I’m particularly interested in the recording app Cogi, which caches the last few moments until you tap to start recording. It looks like the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a real-life version of that DVR button that allows you to rewind a few seconds at a time, but more importantly, it looks like it can be a great reporting tool.

See anything you like?

Jan 13 / King Kaufman

Why you should never call your online critics names, even if you edit the N.Y. Times

The headline on the latest piece by Poynter media ethics columnist Kelly McBride made me think of drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, who often writes, “I’m surprised I have to explain this.” As in this observation from 1992: “The star of a horror flick—and they’re always women—defeats the psycho killer. The female star of an ”erotic thriller’ is the psycho killer. I’m surprised I have to explain this to you people.”

Here’s the headline: Why editors shouldn’t call readers a**holes

Got that? Thus endeth the lesson.

Oh, all right, here are some details. On his Facebook page, USC journalism professor Marc Cooper shared New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan’s blog post about the paper’s decision not to print cartoons from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that are seen as key to the massacre at the paper’s Paris office last week.

“A question for NYTimes editor Dean Baquet,” Copper wrote. “Exactly how many people have to be shot in cold blood before your paper rules that you can show us what provoked the killers? Apparently 23 shot including 11 dead is not enough. What absolute cowardice.”

Baquet responded with a comment: “Dear Marc, appreciate the self righteous second guessing without even considering there might be another point of view. Hope your students are more open minded. Asshole.”

That comment went viral, with Cooper gleefully sharing coverage from Politico, JimRomenesko.com, the Washington Post, Gawker and others. There was some back and forth in the Facebook comments, with Baquet calling Cooper self-righteous and pompous and Cooper reiterating his point that the Times had no good argument for withholding the images, and taking the high road by not engaging in name-calling.

Here’s McBride:

I’m sure Baquet expected the scrutiny. Teachers, politicians, newspaper editors, cops—they all hold power over others. They all have the ability to force others to listen. They command a microphone and a spotlight.

I’m not saying they should roll over. Almost everything else Baquet said in his comment was legitimate dialogue. Even the wish that Professor Cooper’s students are more open-minded was fair game.

But the name-calling diverted our attention. I bet it felt good in the moment. And for others, perhaps it provided a vicarious moment of satisfaction in the face of smug self-righteousness. But in the long run, calling Cooper an asshole harms the very condition that Baquet and the rest of journalism strives to create: an informed and engaged citizenry.

Name-calling starts when reasonable listening stops. In doing so, Baquet signaled that he was no longer listening.

It’s easy to get pulled into flame wars on social media, whether it’s by a troll just looking to stir things up or by our own fatigue, frustration, anger or whatever negative feelings we’ve got going for whatever reason. As McBride points out about Baquet’s outburst, it’s not a good idea. Listening and civil discourse are bigger wins than the mental high-five you give yourself after calling someone an asshole on Twitter.