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Oct 21 / King Kaufman

Application season: Poynter’s helpful list of educational programs, plus B/R’s

Looking for an internship, fellowship or other educational program to kick your journalism career up a notch or two? Check out this Poynter.org post, which lists, at this writing, 34 of the best of them.

Note that the URL says there will be 27 of them, so you might want to keep checking back. The list is growing.

As Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin notes, “October through January is internship application season.” Some of the application deadlines are already coming up. It would have been helpful if the list were in order of deadline dates, but here are the ones with October cutoffs:

The Virginian-Pilot—Oct. 24

The New York Times James Reston Reporting Fellowship—Oct. 31

The Dallas Morning News—Oct. 31

The Miami Herald—Oct. 31

All of the programs Mullen lists, he says, are paid, even if the pay amount is sometimes missing.

They’re not listed in the Poynter post, but Bleacher Report has two paid educational programs that we think are among the best as well, the Advanced Program in Sports Media, which focuses on sportswriting, and the Advanced Program in Editing and Content Management, the focus of which should be clear from the name.

Both are paid, 12-week programs for advanced journalism students or early-career professionals. Two things set them apart from most other programs: One is that they’re part time, usually taking about 10 to 15 hours a week, and the other is that students telecommute. There are no travel or living requirements.

Visit the links above for more information and the applications.

Oct 20 / King Kaufman

Twitter best practices: Advice from the journalist who oversees the BBC’s feeds

The BBC Academy asked Mark Frankel, who oversees the network’s Twitter accounts, a series of rapid-fire questions about best practices for journalists.

Because of the 140 character-friendly nature of his answers, the interview has a certain “Rain Man” quality, but there’s a lot of good advice for journalists. A sample.

2. What should you think about before you write?

Truth or rumour? Share with colleagues first. Can I explain it clearly in <140 characters? Do I need to credit someone? #bestpractice

3. Who are your tweets aimed at?

Not just existing followers. Think trending words & hashtags & cc others with Twitter influence to help your tweets travel #bestpractice

4. What ingredients make for an effective tweet?

Brevity, clear language, humour/light touch, judicious hashtag, a good pic and link (when relevant) #bestpractice

Definitely good advice. Definitely. And there’s more where that came from about double-checking sources, attribution, being careful with breaking news and more.

That #bestpractice hashtag isn’t all that useful because it’s used so widely about all sorts of things other than Twitter best practices. But Frankel does link to other sources of best practices for using the social network.

Oct 17 / King Kaufman

Celebrating Lionel Messi’s debut anniversary in various editorial ways

Thursday was the 10th anniversary of Lionel Messi’s debut with Barcelona. Bleacher Report covered that milestone in four ways, and I think they’re a nice cross-section of some of the different types of content available as you think about how to cover any event or topic.

There were two fairly traditional pieces, one looking back and one looking forward:

Lionel Messi Travels 10 Years from Shy Uncertainty to Stellar Name at Barcelona by Guillem Balague.

Predicting Where Barcelona Star Lionel Messi Will Be in 10 Years’ Time by Rik Sharma.

There was a slideshow that rounded up quotes about Messi:

Lionel Messi: Quotes on Barcelona Star from His Coaches, Team-Mates and Rivals by Mark Patterson.

A video featured the moment of Messi’s debut for Barca:

We Remember: Video Shows Leo Messi’s Barcelona Debut, October 16, 2004

And a pair of graphics, each accompanying a brief story by Patterson:

Lionel Messi: Exploring Barcelona Forward’s Trophy Cabinet 10 Years After Debut

Lionel Messi in Numbers: Graphic Shows Barcelona and Argentina Stats Since 2004

Finally, to encourage engagement, there was a Twitter contest in which fans could win a shirt and an exclusive print by artist Stan Chow:

Win a Lionel Messi Shirt, Exclusive Print to Celebrate 10th Anniversary of Debut

I wonder what we’ll be able to do for his 20th anniversary.

Oct 16 / King Kaufman

Missouri RJI’s Future’s Lab videos help you keep up with media innovation

It’s hard to keep pace with the changes in media: New tools and platforms are coming online every day, and users’ habits are changing with the technology.

But if you don’t want the business to leave you in the dust, you have to do your best. One good resource is the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab, a weekly video series produced by the University of Missouri School of Journalism that provides an update on innovation in journalism.

This week’s Futures Lab video looks at how Mashable makes use of the microvideo app Vine and how various media outlets are using the photo messaging app Snapchat.

An update two weeks ago shared insights and takeaways from the 14th annual Online News Association conference in Chicago. The description of the video says a lot about the very things we should be staying current on:

We bring you a recap that identifies several major themes: The growing complexity of devices and platforms; a drive for more sophisticated analytics; the central role of social media in news today; and the integration of new technology and innovation.

The videos are generally about six to eight minutes long, and while they’re professionally produced, they’re not very slick. Futures Lab is an easy, slightly nerdy way to keep track of some of what’s going on in the biz.

Oct 15 / King Kaufman

How young journalists can get that next job: Advice from an SPJ chat

Kenna Griffin, an assistant professor of Mass Communications at Oklahoma City University, offered a ton of great career advice recently in a Twitter chat and a follow-up interview with the Society of Professional Journalists.

I found the chat, which used the hashtag #youngjournojobs, a little hard to read and digest, for signal-to-noise reasons, but you might find some useful nuggets. The interview, by SPJ communications coordinator Taylor Carlier, had some real wisdom. A sampling:

What are the top three qualities news orgs are looking for in the young generation of journos?

News organizations are looking for professionalism, strong foundational skills in writing and reporting and an understanding of multimedia tools with a willingness to adapt to change …

If young journos only have time to market one skill to potential employers, what should they focus on?

Adaptability. Our industry is changing in ways many of us never imagined. Students have to show that they have the basic skills they need now and a willingness to learn whatever storytelling tools the future presents.

Griffin also advises having two versions of both your résumé and clips, paper and digital; networking by joining as many professional organizations and attending as many local events as you can; and promoting your work with a consistent online presence.

Oct 14 / King Kaufman

New MarketWatch editor: “Bring me bagels!” And it’s good writing advice

In an interview with Talking Biz News, Jeremy Olshan, the new editor in chief of MarketWatch.com, makes a few points I found interesting.

As the headline points out, Olshan wants most MarketWatch stories to stick to 400 words, “without all the empty calories and filler journalists love to stuff in the sausage. We will also do longer, deep dives on important stories that warrant such treatment. This is the way the digital news is going: tall and venti, no more grande.”

That’s not a new idea, but we just heard last week that the traditional newspaper length, around 750 words, was optimal from the perspective of users’ attention, which advertisers crave. I wonder if Olshan will run into some resistance to his 400-words edict from the business side.

Olshan also makes a point that’s a favorite around here, about having to stand out from the crowd: “It’s important to routinely ask the Passover question: Why is this site different from all other sites?”

And most amusingly, when asked what he looks for when hiring someone to work at MarketWatch, Olshan says, “Someone to fetch me bagels.” That sounds like a joke, a little self-deprecating humor about what a lousy boss he is. But it turns out to be a tasty bit of writing advice:

My years at the New York Post taught me how to tell stories with a sledgehammer, how to find that one detail that ends up a kind of shorthand for anyone talking about the whole affair. When New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook was busted in 2010 on the usual corruption charges, for instance, we focused on one of the seemingly minor offenses: He fudged his expenses to charge taxpayers $177 for a single bagel. Whenever Seabrook is mentioned now the sentence almost always contains the word bagel.

I am looking for reporters who can find the bagel in every story. Tweets are now the atomic unit of journalism. When quizzing reporters on their stories, editors used to say, “So what’s the headline here?” Now we ask, “what’s the tweet?”

Oct 13 / King Kaufman

3 questions to consider about sports media and sports journalism

A little food for thought: Three interesting reads about journalism and sports media from the last few days.

First, on CJR.org, Ann Friedman asks, “Should all journalists be on Twitter?” Launching from a BuzzFeed piece giving the New York Times grief for some of its stars ignoring Twitter, Friedman puts it another way:

“Can you still be an effective journalist if you ignore Twitter?”

She concludes, “You should consider getting comfortable with 140-character communication if”: You write about media, TV, pop music or digital culture, because of the prevalence of Twitter use among people in, and covering, those industries. I’d add sports. Also, if you want to give your audience a way to interact with you, if you think you might be looking for a job someday—because it’s a great place to network—or you love words.

We’ve talked before around here about how Twitter is a great way to learn about concision and economy of language.

Conversely, keep that egg avatar and ignore Twitter if:

You have a completely secure job at one of the world’s largest print publications and don’t see a need to network with other journalists. And don’t care if they see your work.

You are content to let readers contact you via your personal email or an email to your publication’s general inbox, and don’t feel a need to respond immediately.

You don’t enjoy playing around with words.

Second, Mathew Ingram’s piece at GigaOm.com, “Journalism’s biggest competitors are things that don’t even look like journalism.”

It’s a nuanced piece I want you to go read, but the main point is that any journalism outlet’s—or any journalist’s—competition isn’t necessarily journalism done better, it’s anything that gives the audience the information or experience it’s looking for, whether it’s journalism or not. As an example, people used to read reviews of new music before buying. Now, they listen to the music themselves on services like Spotify.

Taking off from this blog post on fungibility by journalist/programmer Stijn Debrouwere, Ingram offers these possible responses:

Focus on storytelling and personality, because those things are irreplaceable, and concentrate on appealing to readers who are passionate about specific topics.

Finally, Scandal, sports journalism and the NCAA, by sportswriter-turned-journalism professor Brian Moritz. It’s an examination of SB Nation’s decision not to pursue the Todd Gurley autograph story when a tipster approached them, “because the purpose of this website is not to enforce the NCAA’s insane bylaws. On the contrary, we’re all for players making money, and are thus editorially supportive of those bylaws’ erosion.”

Moritz asks, “Is good journalism that tacitly endorses a corrupt status quo good?” That is, if we can all agree that the NCAA rule that Gurley broke is stupid, and part of the foundation of a corrupt system, is it good to help the NCAA enforce that rule, even if good journalism is committed in the process?

Moritz leaves it as a question and so will I. Two things to consider, though: In most cases, and certainly in the Gurley case, not reporting it won’t prevent the story from being reported. As SB Nation surely knew, the tipster would keep moving on to other outlets until he found one that would run the story.

On the other hand:

Exposing wrongdoing is a core mission of journalism. But when that becomes your focus—sniffing out scandal without contextualizing it—it can get dangerous. You start to seek out the scandal without seeing the whole board. You start to get so caught up in asking about the salacious details of the scandal that you forget to consider the larger questions.

Oct 10 / King Kaufman

Man’s name added to scandal by Wikipedia user: A cautionary tale of verification

Ben Koo of Awful Announcing did some great detective work to clear the name of Joe Streater, whose name had been dragged into the history of the Boston College point-shaving scandal of 1978-79, despite Streater never having been implicated. In fact, as Koo points out, Streater wasn’t even a member of the 1978-79 BC team.

In Guilt By Wikipedia: How Joe Streater became falsely attached to the Boston College point shaving scandal, Koo shows how an anonymous user added Streater’s name to the Wikipedia entry about the scandal:

There is no mention of Streater that we can find as being involved the scandal before 2008. In May of 2007, a Wikipedia article had been created and can be found in its original incarnation here.

On August 12th, 2008 an anonymous Wikipedia user for all intents and purposes then rewrote history. We don’t know why or who, but on that day 43 characters were added to the page. The bulk of these edits were the addition of Streater’s name five times into the article. The changes to the article on that day can be found here. From that day in 2008 up until yesterday, Streater’s name was never confirmed, challenged, or deleted. He was now part of the scandal.

That’s a problem, but here’s the real problem: Koo writes that a variety of media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SB Nation, have included Streater’s name in pieces about the BC scandal over the years.

A Bleacher Report story, now corrected, named Streater. And of course, the AP story, reprinted countless times in outlets across the country, became a major distributor of the incorrect information.

This “snowball effect,” as Koo calls it, is a particularly dangerous enemy of the truth. It’s easy to cast Koo’s story as a lesson in why we shouldn’t trust Wikipedia. But it goes beyond that. You needn’t have trusted Wikipedia to name Streater in this case. There was his name on all sorts of other trusted sites. Heck, Sports Illustrated, one of those that named Streater, published the original first-person account by mobster Henry Hill—one in which Hill named three BC basketball players he says he bribed, none of whom was Joe Streater.

We talked about this effect recently on this blog, after someone confessed about a Wikipedia hoax they’d manufactured, inserting a false fact about a children’s literature character. From that post:

Whether it’s Wikipedia or that respectable news organization, if there’s no attribution, you keep digging till you find the origin of the fact. If you can’t find that origin, if you find yourself running in circles from reference to reference without finding a source, you shouldn’t use the fact, or you should be clear that you’re not sure about its provenance.

In this case, Koo notes that while the Wikipedia page had citations before Streater’s name appeared, those citations have disappeared. The entry now carries a warning at the top that reads, “This article does not cite any references or sources.”

The other places where Streater’s name has shown up, including Bleacher Report, did not cite any sources for that information. That makes sense: There was no source for the information. It wasn’t true.

That’s the very difficult takeaway. Not just “don’t blindly trust Wikipedia,” but “don’t blindly trust anyone, including any major media organization you consider trustworthy.” If you’re going to use a piece of information, dig down until you find the source of it. If you can’t find that source, don’t use it.

That’s a tough call to make, but it’s one that prevents things like what happened here: it becoming accepted fact that an innocent man was part of a conspiracy. It also would have prevented the media-wide embarrassment of the Mante Te’o-Lennay Kekua story.

See also
Bleacher Report Attribution Guidelines

“Muhammad Ali knocks out Cleveland Williams is a lie”: Verify everything

A handy 5-step guide to avoid being fooled by online bull

More B/R Blog posts on Verification.

Oct 9 / King Kaufman

Modern data analysis shows old-school newspaper types were savvy about length

A post on Digiday, which covers digital media, marketing and advertising, caught my eye this week. The headline: Longer stories draw more attention, but with diminishing returns.

The diminishing returns have to do with advertising. If I’m reading it correctly, advertisers face a dilemma with longer pieces. A reader who scrolls down on a longer story is more likely to be engaging with the story, and therefore more likely to be spending more time with it, and thus more time looking at the ads. But think of all those readers who don’t scroll down, who just read a few paragraphs and then bail out. Advertisers aren’t crazy about placing ads where all those people will never see them.

But what interested me was the question of whether longer pieces drive more attention time, which, as writer Lucia Moses points out, “some are touting as the new metric of choice for digital publishers.”

Citing some analysis by the analytics company Chartbeat, Moses writes:

It’s tempting to think the Internet has not all but killed our ability to slow down and sustain our attention in an era of slide shows, listicles and other easily digestible posts. But the the truth is actually more complicated. It turns out that longer is better at drawing attention, but only to a point. Ironically, it turns out the ideal sweet spot for people’s Web attention span is about the length of a prototypical newspaper article.

While Chartbeat measures in pixels, Moses says that the ideal size Chartbeat found translates very roughly to about 700 to 800 words.

Maybe it’s just an accident that the old-school newspaper folks found their way to that length for a fairly typical newspaper article. But I wonder if their collective wisdom, something they’d come to understand about reading patterns down through the years, led them there.

Oct 8 / King Kaufman

What you can learn from the horrible prose of academia

If you’ve ever read academic writing, you know it’s terrible, turgid, boring, obtuse, opaque and generally horrendous. And if you’re anything like me, you really don’t care why that is. So a Chronicle of Higher Education piece headlined Why Academics Stink at Writing ought to be of no interest.

But I found the story interesting because its writer, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, author of “The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century,” doesn’t just talk about why academics stink at writing. He talks about how they stink at writing.

And guess what: A lot of the ways that academics stink at writing are the same ways the rest of us stink at writing. When we do, that is. Here’s just one example:

Hedging. Academics mindlessly cushion their prose with wads of fluff that imply they are not willing to stand behind what they say. Those include almost, apparently, comparatively, fairly, in part, nearly, partially, predominantly, presumably, rather, relatively, seemingly, so to speak, somewhat, sort of, to a certain degree, to some extent, and the ubiquitous I would argue. (Does that mean you would argue for your position if things were different, but are not willing to argue for it now?)

How often have you seen those words in sportswriting, or used them yourself? I would argue it’s rather common. A hedging word I’m sort of partial to is “pretty.” If I want to say something’s good but I don’t want to seem too enthusiastic, I’ll write that it’s “pretty good.”

Oh, yeah. “Sort of” is another one. All hedging doesn’t involve two-dollar words like “presumably.” The concept is the same even if you use relatively earthy words, like “kinda.”

See what I did there? Relatively.

Pinker also writes about apologizing—explaining why your task is so hard, to get forgiveness in advance if your piece isn’t good—scare quotes, which he calls “shudder quotes,” and metaconcepts and nominalizations, which I’ll let you explore. They all involve obfuscation of one kind or another, when the goal of writing should be clarity.

When I advised a college newspaper, I used to tell my students that my main job was to unteach them everything they’d learned about writing in high school and college. That’s because what they teach in those places is acadamese-lite. Get good at that, and you’ll probably stink at writing.