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Feb 20 / King Kaufman

Career lessons from Steve Buttry, five years after leaving the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Here’s a long blog post by Steve Buttry, often referenced in this space, about the lessons he learned from his time as the editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, which ended five years ago.

There are lessons about disaster response—there was a major flood in the city just as Buttry took the job—newsroom leadership and managing innovation and upheaval, but it’s the first section that I found most interesting, and I think you will too. That section is headlined “Career Lessons.”

The lessons, which all come with explanatory text, are:

  • Take the risk.
  • Be as transparent as you can.
  • Move on.
  • Don’t give in to bitterness.
  • Breaks sometimes even out.

Take risks, move on from disappointments and don’t give in to bitterness. Those are some good lessons.

Note: The original headline on this post incorrectly said “the flood” was five years ago.  

Feb 19 / King Kaufman

Engagement is more than just tweeting out links

It’s always disappointing to hear that something you have to do isn’t as simple as you might have thought.

Jake Batsell, a journalism instructor at Southern Methodist University and the author of “Engaged Journalism: Connecting with Digitally Empowered News Audiences,” says that for journalists wanting to engage with their audience, “It’s not about tweeting links to stories half-heartedly.”

Well dang.

Interviewing Batsell for PBS MediaShift, Sonia Paul asks, “Engagement is a buzzword across media circles all over the world now. How do you think most media makers are understanding it, though? Is it similar or different from the way you understand it?”

Batsell’s answer:

There’s a whole different conversation on how the wider world of communications defines engagement. I think from a journalism perspective, I think the sort of default knee-jerk definition a lot of people have in their heads is that engagement means interacting with audiences on social media. But especially after doing my work for the book, I’ve found it’s a much wider understanding than that. It’s not about tweeting links to stories half-heartedly. It’s about really and authentically integrating the audience into your work and mind when doing your job.

Batsell admits this isn’t easy:

Many journalists [I talked to] came out with the sense that, if done well, engaged journalism never really ends. We’re on social media, on Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus, and still—how can I do the shoe-leather reporting I still need to do? I can see from the freelancer perspective that it can be even more tough.

And here I thought half-heartedly tweeting links was going to get it done, didn’t you?

Feb 18 / King Kaufman

Bleacher Report Media Lab’s MJ All Day: An experiment in immersive entertainment

Bleacher Report’s Media Lab launched a Michael Jordan tribute site Tuesday called MJ All Day. As Media Lab director Bennett Spector described it, All Day MJ is “an immersive, highly visual, parallax website.”

“It’s a way to create an interactive feeling,” Media Lab project manager Will Leivenberg said of the site’s huge images, which reveal more as users scroll.

The site is unlike anything B/R’s done before. It was 10 months in the making, though the Media Lab crew was also working on other things during those months, Leivenberg told me on my SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio show.

The Media Lab is charged with experimenting, trying new ways to entertain and inform B/R users. Talking about All Day MJ specifically and the Lab generally, Leivenberg said, “We’re trying to have a pulse on our audience, and that audience is first incredibly young, second incredibly mobile—actually I should say mobile first.” Almost 80 percent of young users use mobile devices for Bleacher Report.

And sure enough, the experience is much better on mobile, more like a video than something you have to scroll through.

Leivenberg said he doesn’t think MJ All Day will be a template for similar sites about other athletes, but that building it was a constant learning experience for the Media Lab team.

“The next time we do it it won’t take 10 months,” he said.

Feb 17 / King Kaufman

More tributes to New York Times writer David Carr: “He grabbed a shovel”

I mentioned the death of New York Times media writer David Carr in this space last week, but I wanted to go back to Carr because the tributes and remembrances kept coming in, and I think they’re worth reading for anyone who cares about journalism and media.

Poynter.org writer Kristen Hare did a great job of collecting the best of them. Many come from people who were co-workers, friends, employees and students of Carr’s, and some come from people who barely knew him or only knew him through his work.

I keep running across snippets of tribute to Carr that become my new favorite until I run into the next one. My current favorite is this, mentioned in the Poynter piece, written by David Von Drehle in Time:

It’s no small thing to claw a path upward from that low point to a star-turn as the face of the New York Times—which was Carr’s role in the acclaimed documentary, “Page One.” The hidden ingredient was stupendous effort. The man did his homework. If a trench needed digging, he grabbed a shovel. In his early years at the Times, David wrote for every page, every section, uncomplainingly. He became the paper’s biggest cheerleader and one of its most original voices. The bosses wanted a blog—he blogged the Oscars. The bosses wanted video—he shambled in front of a hand-held camera. The bosses wanted live events—he slipped on a necktie and made himself an emcee.

That’s a formula anyone in any profession can put to good use, don’t you think? Where’s the next place a ditch needs digging? And more importantly, where’s the nearest shovel?

Feb 13 / King Kaufman

Something for us all to aspire to: Be remembered like David Carr

New York Times media columnist David Carr died suddenly Thursday night.

If you want to aspire to something, you might go for being remembered the way Carr was when news of his death emerged. If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, it was almost nothing but tweets about David Carr once the news hit.

Vox collected some of Carr’s best answers from a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Much of it is great advice for writers. Carr, 58, was known for his generosity to younger writers.

My favorite among his gems of advice: “Keep typing until it turns into writing.” I’ve used that method myself on deadline.

Last year Carr was interviewed by Bloomberg’s Andrew Lack on a video that ran on Boston University’s BU Today site. In the last question, Lack notes that journalism can be a lot of things, but a get-rich-quick scheme is not one of them. Carr’s reply:

The dirty secret: journalism has always been horrible to get in; you always have to eat so much crap to find a place to stand. I waited tables for seven years, did writing on the side. If you’re gonna get a job that’s a little bit of a caper, that isn’t really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it—that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody’s lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working.

Here is Carr’s archive at NYTimes.com. There are 1,776 stories.

Feb 12 / King Kaufman

Northeastern students reimagine digital storytelling with Esquire magazine

Here’s a fun keeping up with changes in media story: PBS MediaShift’s EducationShift spotlights a collaboration between Esquire magazine and the Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program.

As Jeffrey Howe, a Northeastern journalism professor, explains, students in the program are working as a sort of R&D department as they and Esquire explore new ways to tell stories digitally. This takes two forms: StoryLab, a course in “designing the future of magazine journalism,” and Storybench, a website that covers developments in the field.

StoryLab’s first project was for students to take Walking the Border, a 2011 Esquire piece in which Luke Dittrich chronicled his walk of the 1,933 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. The assignment, Howe writes: “Blow up the traditional magazine story, then rebuild it from scratch.” The students formed four teams, each presenting Dittrich’s piece in a different way.

There are live links to three of the four demos. What do you think?

Feb 11 / King Kaufman

Wright Thompson in his own words: It’s not about the words

Wright Thompson of ESPN the Magazine is a great magazine sportswriter—or, to use the current term, which I don’t like, longform sportswriter.

Thompson talks about his career and craft as part of the Still No Cheering in the Press Box series at the University of Maryland journalism school’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. We talked about that series last year when it ran a profile of the sports columnist I grew up reading, Jim Murray.

This is Thompson “in his own words,” his answers to a pair of student interviewers, according to the series overview. It’s a bit ironic because it reads as if Thompson is rambling uninterrupted on a bar stool, bouncing from topic to topic. That’s the very opposite of Thompson the writer:

When you’re a kid you think writing has to do with words and then you figure out that it doesn’t and that it has to do with structure. It’s architecture. That’s the whole job. It has nothing to do with words, really. It’s outlining, structure, it’s conflict and resolution …

I go through notes, I outline and underline and I make note cards and reorganize the notes into like piles. And I cover walls of offices with post-it notes. I do whatever feels like is necessary to wrangle all of this information.

Pull up a barstool and listen.

See also

Wright Thompson of ESPN: Write “scenes”

Feb 10 / King Kaufman

Felix Salmon essay kicks off a day of #AdviceForYoungJournalists

Felix Salmon of Fusion set off a little journalism nerdworld firestorm yesterday with his letter “To all the young journalists asking for advice.”

Salmon’s message was dark, as hinted at by the story graphic, a photo illustration that featured the words “We won’t pay you” superimposed onto newspapers:

I’m sure that many people have told you this already, but take it from me as well: journalism is a dumb career move. If there’s something else you also love, something else you’re good at, something else which makes the world a better place — then maybe you should think about doing that instead. Even successful journalists rarely do much of the kind of high-minded stuff you probably aspire to. And enormous numbers of incredibly talented journalists find it almost impossible to make a decent living at this game.

It goes on like that for quite some time, though Salmon also calls himself a “golden ager” and writes, “I think this is probably the greatest era for journalism that the world has ever seen.”

The problem, he writes, is that “Labor has almost no leverage over capital any more,” meaning it’s very hard to get paid.

Salmon makes a lot of good, tough points. I saw two responses that offered pushback on his bleak vision. This is my best advice to young journalists by Ezra Klein of Vox, and Advice for young journalists by “Sports Media Guy” Brian Moritz.

Both offer plenty of solid practical advice, but not terribly much to rebut Salmon’s pessimistic view of anyone getting paid. “The Death of Journalism is really a kind of disruptive change in journalism,” Klein writes, “and that’s bad for incumbents, but you’re not an incumbent.”

The problem with that is that, if successful, you will be, and, as Salmon wrote: “If you get a job by competing on price against 40-year-olds when you’re 22, then the turnabout, once you reach 40, is only fair play.”

Moritz, playing off a quote from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” writes, “If the students and young journalists care a whole awful lot, they will create the journalism the world needs—both as a business and as the news.”

The whole dustup spawned a Twitter hashtag #AdviceforYoungJournalists. There are a lot of attempts at humor to wade through, a few of them successful, and some good advice mixed in.

Laurie Penny, herself a young journalist but a brilliant one for the New Statesman and the Guardian, collected her thoughts on the hashtag in a Storify.

Feb 9 / Content Moderation Team

Content Standards: Attribution rules for advanced stats and statistical analysis

Bleacher Report’s Attribution Guidelines say that “All quotations, paraphrases, and statistical analysis from other published works must be accompanied by attributions to original source material.”

While quotations and paraphrases are fairly straightforward, it’s a bit more difficult to determine what type of statistical analysis requires sourcing. This involves distinguishing between basic stats (no attribution needed) and advanced stats (attribution required). The tips below should make that process easier to understand.

What’s the difference between a basic stat and an advanced stat?

Anything that can typically be found in a box score or basic league/team/player profile is considered a basic stat. These stats are widely circulated and available in plenty of places, so there’s no need to acknowledge which specific source you may have used to verify the numbers. These often rely on fairly simple arithmetic and can be calculated without too much trouble.

On the other hand, an advanced stat might be exclusive to one source, require intricate data-tracking, come from a complex formula, reside behind a paywall, be a result of a particular writer’s research—or all of the above. The source of such a stat deserves credit for leading you to that information, even if other outlets carry the same figure. That way you’re being completely transparent about how you’ve obtained information that might not be regularly referenced.

Here are examples of sites that may contain advanced stats. Keep in mind that not every stat found on one of these sites qualifies as advanced—we’ll get into that more later:

Multiple Sports: Sports-Reference.com‘s various sites, official league sites, ESPN.comSpotrac.comOddsShark.com
NFL: ProFootballFocus.comFootballOutsiders.comAdvancedFootballAnalytics.com
NHL: BEHINDTHENET.caHockeyAnalysis.comwar-on-ice.com
NCAA Basketball: kenpom.com
MLB: BrooksBaseball.netFanGraphs.combaseballsavant.com
World Football: WhoScored.com, Squawka.com

Why should I source advanced stats?

If you’re relying on someone else’s research, formula or data in order to supplement your own analysis, it’s proper journalistic practice to credit that source and be completely transparent about how you’ve obtained your information. Basic stats can be found in many different places across the web without too much trouble, so those can be incorporated without attributing a particular source.

How do I source advanced stats?

In the same way that you would provide a hyperlink for a quotation from another source, you should provide a link that leads readers directly to the stat you’re referencing.

Beyond linking, you should properly credit your source by acknowledging it in the text. There are a couple of options for doing so: Either name your source alongside the hyperlinked stat or include a tagline clarifying where your stats come from. The latter option is particularly useful if you have multiple advanced stats in an article—that way you don’t have to continue naming your source throughout the text.

An in-text citation looks like this:

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in adjusted yards per pass attempt at 10.14.

If you choose to go with a tagline to cover all of your citations, it would look like this:

In the article: Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in adjusted yards per pass attempt at 10.14.

Article tagline: All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Regardless of how you decide to name the source of your advanced stats, there should be a link showing where each of your stats is located. If the same link shows more than one of the stats you’ve referenced, no need to link it repeatedly.

Exception: If you’re using a built-in table to present advanced stats, naming your source in the required caption field is sufficient attribution since there’s no logical place to provide multiple links.

Sometimes a unique URL leading to your stat does not exist, in which case you should provide a hyperlink that takes readers as close to the stat as possible.

For example, if you mention where Kyle Korver’s true shooting percentage ranks league-wide, this NBA.com link is the closest you can get to showing that. While the stat won’t show up immediately upon opening that page, readers can click TS% in order to sort the players accordingly and see where Korver stands.

Why do we characterize true shooting percentage as an advanced stat? Because it comes from a complex formula—that formula is: points / [2 x (field goals attempted + .44 x free throws attempted)]. As you can see, it’s not exactly the type of figure found in a box score or one that’s widely circulated. So even though the same stat (both category and actual value) is available at other sites like Basketball-Reference and ESPN.com, meaning the formula isn’t proprietary to one source, you should show exactly how you know it to be true considering it’s somewhat obscure.

Still, an advanced stat is not always the result of a complex formula.

If I write that Giancarlo Stanton hit 16 home runs after facing a count of zero balls and one strike, that stat comes from simple arithmetic. However, it clearly took intricate data-tracking by somebody else—like Baseball-Reference—to determine his performance split up by specific counts. You should credit that source for their research and for making it available to writers like yourself to bolster your argument. You might have gotten the same stat from ESPN.com’s database, in which case that’s the source you’d acknowledge in your article.

Take-Home Note

If you’re unsure how a stat would be characterized, err on the side of caution and provide attribution while keeping the following notes in mind.

Advanced stats could be one of the following:

  • behind a paywall
  • calculated through complex formulas that require more than basic arithmetic
  • only available at one or a few sports outlets, not most of them
  • unlikely to appear in standard box scores
Feb 6 / King Kaufman

Journalists at Instagram? You never know where jobs might pop up

I think that even now, as deep as we are in the digital revolution, it’s important to keep reminding each other that the upside of all the disruption is that jobs might sprout up in the most unexpected places.

This piece at CJR.org asks “Is hiring journalists such a good idea for Instagram?” Author Damaris Colhoun is a little skeptical given the disappointing results of such efforts at both Twitter and Tumblr.

That debate aside, it’s probably news to you, as it was to me, that Instapaper is hiring journalists, and that Tumblr and Twitter have done so in the past. So has Facebook. As Colhoun points out, the jobs mostly involve helping the companies’ branding efforts. They’re much more public relations or marketing jobs than journalism jobs.

So not all journalists will want them, and those who do take them should do so with their eyes open, knowing they’re not being hired to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But they’re jobs, and that’s a good thing to know about.

Here’s Digiday on Instagram expanding its “editorial” team.

Where have you seen journalism jobs, or at least jobs that leverage journalism skills, popping up where you hadn’t expected?