Thursday, December 8, 2011

How a tweet turned into a DDOS attack {stories from the front}

Sometimes, I play reporter (for those of you who do not know, I was a reporter for years before I moved over to social/web).

Last night was one of those nights. 

Earlier in the day, our friends at the LATimes broke a story: Someone had posted a bunch of personal information on LAPD officers. The immediate question was “who?”

Around 5 p.m., the reporter who sits next to me figured it out. It was a hacker group called CabinCr3w. 

What did the other news sites do? They said “a hacker group.” The initial stories did not list the group’s name at all.

I have a personal interest in Anonymous, and the cloak-and-dagger side of the Internet thanks to dating one too many developer/nerd types. 

As Tami called the LAPD, I hit up the internet. I looked at the group’s tumblr, their twitter, and all their various profiles trying to find the post where they listed the info and anything else I could get. Then, using what we had, I tweeted.

Here’s what happened after that tweet.

I had more questions, so I asked them to DM me. We followed each other and then I got a DM that linked to an IRC chatroom.

I interviewed them.

Right about this time, we experienced a heavy load of traffic — what amounts to a denial of service attack. If you’ve ever experienced one of these you know it’s either that you hit something big or that there was an organized attack. We’ve had one before, but that was as a result of our stuff living on the same server as conservative news outlet. 

What is important about this to me is that no one else thought to tweet these guys. Other news outlets were too cautious or didn’t know to link to them or call them out. 

Because I sent out one tweet and @ mentioned the subject of the story, we got the story behind the story. 

That’s important to me. Being “of the internet,” I have always felt like few people have gotten Anonymous and hacktivism. I barely get it myself, but I’ve made an effort to learn as much as I could.

I asked CabinCr3w is they launched the DDOS attack. They said no. I asked if we had reported their involvement correctly and fairly. They said yes.

Just because they’re a part of a cloak-and-dagger movement doesn’t mean they are any less legitimate than any other source. 

The lessons?

  • @ mention subjects of stories, even if you haven’t interviewed them
  • Everyone is worth of an interview
  • Getting a better story using social media doesn’t take a large amount of mining or work. Sometimes, it’s a simple tweet.
Monday, December 5, 2011

#newsfoo distillations: audio, occupy and werewolves {braindump}

After every conference or gathering I attend, I’ve built in the habit of sitting in the airport (if it has wi-fi) or on the plane and typing up everything. It’s almost necessary to ensure that I go back home and remember the conversations I had and things I learned.

But to get this out of the way. Yes, newsfoo was an invite-only conference. I consider myself far from the media elite, because I’m fairly young to the high level tech discussions that happen at these sorts of things. The moment I walked in the room, saw who else was there, I was flabbergasted. I only knew 1/3 of the room. It was full of people I respected from afar, considered good friends and others i had only dreamt of talking to. 

Even if I don’t get invited back, I can’t thank the kind folks who organized it and everyone who came enough for filling my brain with the awesomeness it now contains.

I actually got the guts to propose a session I led with the amazing Monica Guzman of GeekWire, Ryan Jones of Frontline SMS and Jon Vidar of the Tiziano Project. It was about the psychology of sharing. But I don’t want to write about that.

The Takeaways

Occupy the News

I arrived at News Foo after a very, very long week of covering the Occupy LA raids and ridiculous wind. The challenges, successes and failures of how our coverage went down were very fresh in my mind. 

I had a couple of really long conversations with Michael Levitin and Sasha Costanza-Chock about Occupy LA, the resulting media coverage and the general issues and quandaries that come along with covering one of the most well-documented national movements in recent memory. 

I also attended a session where I shared some knowledge about the media pool in LA and how well (or alternately not well?) we dealt with citizen media as a whole. 

Personally, I do not think Occupy is going away. I do not think the resentment and anger will go away. This is not the last time I will have to debate whether to put an activist tweet under our name, or when a protest becomes a movement or how to reliably verify reports that come from “biased sources.”

I am a very transparent person and the work that Andy Carvin and others have done has already begun to shape a precedent. We can work with and utilize movement-based journalism. We can still filter it through out lens, whatever that lens is. 

Also, my plane reading is the Occupied Wall Street Journal. A printed product. How cool is that?

Audio is the new cool kid

I’m not a radio producer by any means, but working on the digital side of a radio station has a bit pitfall — seeing radio as the “old folks.”

So it surprised me that in several sessions I went to, that we talked about audio and it’s potential. (Note: I only went to sessions that had nothing to do with what I do for a living, so I actively avoided social media themed sessions)

This is alternately great and terrible in my eyes. 

Great: Public media, in particular local stations, has a great opportunity. It could build something that starts at passive consumption and span across multiple devices and locations and builds toward interactive. Audio is not doing much for us right now. We can do everything with it, and there are evidently interested people.

Terrible: Innovation in public media has been centered around digital. Blogs, social, etc. NOT audio. We are missing something here. The innovation is happening on the web site and the web site is rebelling against the radio, instead of making it cooler. I’ve seen this in my own newsroom, the divorcing of audio and web content. Why haven’t we done it yet? Why are non-public media people pointing out to us that we could do more? Are we so blind?

Fight for fun

The dense pessimism that has infested us media types is killing us. My newsroom spent a week kicking ass and taking names (on air and online) and it took over a week for a positive sentiment to be e-mailed.

The day after, no one said to the newsroom, “We kicked ASS!”  They said: “Well, that could have gone better. Let’s have a meeting.”

What. The. Fuck.

That pessimism I speak of is killing the souls of innovators. Someone needs to be our champion.

I consider a good chunk of foo-ers my colleagues (sometimes more so than my colleagues). They are optimistic. The believe. They subscribe to the Church of Making News Better. Yet, I saw a bunch of tweets from people angry that we were tweeting about werewolf, a game we played until the wee hours to bond, instead of the future of news.

What. The. Fuck.

Aren’t we allowed to be optimistic? Aren’t we allowed to have fun?


Algorithms were a huge topic of discussion. Automating some of our news process so we could focus on the best of what we do.

I don’t have much more to say on this than let’s go.

Let’s go build something. 

One last thing..

A few tips for anyone doing this next year (I can only dream of being invited again):

  • They are not kidding when they say arrive well-rested. I was exhausted and felt like I could have gotten more if I hadn’t covered all the things I did the week prior.
  • Bring a jacket. I’m a terrible packer, apparently.
  • Participate. Host a session you do not know the answer to. I talked about the psychology of sharing and I definitely learned just as much, if not more, than I shared.
  • Make it a point to go to sessions you know nothing about, and talk to people you’ve never seen. There are some of the most amazing people there, but you have to get out of your bubble.
  • Jenny 8 Lee is *always* a werewolf.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The spread of mis-information and realities of live-covering events {braindump}

(Just a note to remind you that I’m posting as me, not officially KPCC.)

{Edit, adding in some stuff from Alex Cohen’s interview with RTNA rep Royal Oaks}

It has been a whirlwind of a week here.

Last night, Occupy LA was raided and cleared out by the Los Angeles Police Department. To cover it, we continued a live blog we started Monday as well as live-tweeted. 

I want to jot down my thought on two things. One more nerdy than the other.

Media pools and the spread of mis-information

Somewhere around 5:30 p.m. I sent an e-mail to our radio and print staffs about a LAPD briefing that would happen at 7:15 p.m. The alert went out via Nixle, a notification service LAPD uses for crimes and media events. It was picked up on Twitter quickly.

This was the first tweet I saw, which is a good summary of the text we got. 

Jazmin_Ortega: #LAPD meeting to do lottery to select “pool media” for future #OccupyLA activity. Interested media in pool must have rep attend mtg @ 7:15pm 

A note: you needed to be credentialed with the LAPD to be considered. 

We sent three people to the event, both from web and radio side. In that meeting, the reporters and LAPD agreed to three pools of four people, each pool would have a radio, print, TV and photo/video representative. The general rule was (which I don’t believe is uncommon with pools) that you can’t do any of your own reporting until you file to the pool.

A good explanation from Alexis Madrigal’s Atlantic article

The POOL consisted of our our editors, editors of other print publications, and a central news service that anyone else (tv, radio, more print) could read,” Smith told me. “Once we filed to the POOL… that info could go live anywhere. The premise was that we just couldn’t be greedy and publish information from inside the park directly to our own site without first sharing with the POOL so everyone could have it at the same time.

An RTNA rep told us in an interview today that originally, LAPD only wanted one pool and media negotiated to three.

"There was a negotiated resolution to the question of a need for a pool and the extent of a pool," he said.

One of the first articles that went up on this was from the LA Weekly. Then there was this post, from an Occupy LA blogger. (In retrospect, maybe we should have written a story on this right away.)

Here’s what bothers me. Immediately, this was reported as censorship. Depends on how you look at it. Should they have set up a pool to cover a public event? Not sure. Do you normally need police permission to go beyond police lines at an event? Yes. (Think of crime scenes here) 

That was still not clear to Oaks. He sad he wasn’t clear that press had “unfettered access to the entire area.”

I asked SPJ-LA yesterday if they were concerned with what had happened. They said discussions had taken place, but no official stance.

Oaks, again from our interview, said that LAPD may trying to avoid a repeat of events in 2007 that resulted in a lawsuit against them when reporters got hurt covering a protest.

Press were certainly allowed in the park as police raided, but if they failed to listen to police, they would be subject to arrest. 

Grant Slater was our videographer on the ground, was not arrested. Some of his thoughts, summed up from tweets.

"I watched the pool come and go from the epicenter, whisked on by as i remained. eventually, though, i was led out by the arm." he tweeted "seemed for a moment that i had better access than pool who were being ferried around."

But what I saw on Twitter was far from what Grant said happened. I saw fevered claims fueled by the mis-information that pool press was censored, not allowed to tweet or say anything until the raid was over. As far as I know, no one from our team was told explicitly that they could not tweet.

Frank Stoltze, our guy in the pool, tweeted the whole night.

We wrote about this at our liveblog. I tweeted under our official live handle AND my own in an effort to get the incorrect information changed or correct information spread. It was beyond difficult to get that to stick.

In an age where social media rules, what role do we, as media, have to correct the quick and virulent spread of social media? Is it worth pursuing?

The realities of live….covering

Now the nerdy part.

We covered the move by LAPD in two dynamically new ways for us: A Scribble liveblog (a tool we’ve never used before) and livetweeting from a brand new account.

Some stats on the tweeting part that I sent out last night.

We gained 414 followers in less than three days on KPCCLive
We tweeted 560 times
We made 15 lists
We were Retweeted 437 times and @ mentioned 698 times
We possibly reached 2.81 million people

The most difficult part of what we did last night is in the same vein of what I said above. In an effort to be completely transparent and verify as much as we could, I made a decision

I would not RT something that appeared to be a first-person account that was not. There were a lot of people watching livestreams, then tweeting and it was hard to tell who was there. So over time, I built a private list with people who told me, and proved to me that they were actually at the camp. 

I did RT some things from second- and third-person sources, if it was decently clear that it was a RT of a first-person account or a note or press release.

If you look through KPCCLive’s feed you’ll see a lot of me @ messaging people “Were you there? Where was this? Do you have a photo?” I wanted to make sure people know I was trying to verify, so no DMs unless it was sensitive.

If I came across something I found compelling, but could not get confirmation, I old-school RTed with a question (not unlike Andy Carvin’s style).

It was hard to do this on a brand new account. Unlike Andy, I had not spent significant time building up Occupy sources. I probably missed things and good accounts. Next time, we’ll start building that list early if we anticipate live-tweeting something,

On the liveblog, we took in tweets and other info and tried to build it out more with context. We used Campfire to pass info between the team working on the liveblog (thought sometimes I was tweeting and blogging) and myself or who was watching the account.

We came across interesting issues. 

I considered it a service to embed and link to livestreams within the camp. But many were from protestors or activists. There were things said that were biased. Should we promote that? Is it like a RT? Does out audience know the difference?

I talk and write a lot about trusting the audience, so it’s a bit easy to guess my stance on this. But it’s a good point to think over. At what point is something that, regardless of the service, too biased to link to? How do you show your audience that it’s NOT you? There were certainly points where I cringed at what the livestreamers were saying.

I’ll try to build out my thoughts more on both of these topics. But if you have questions or things you think we should ponder, give me a shout.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Success is not all-staff e-mails. A plan, a manifesto, a philosophy for engagement

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I have been reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin lately (highly recommend) and had a rough day. 

So, I wrote in what is now apparently a journal for my work thoughts. I’ll re-write them here, slightly more coherent.

Edit: Read this with your rose-colored glasses on. I’m not saying anyone this in a bad or derisive way. This is not a stab at anyone but myself. Ultimately, the nut graf on this is that I realized I am the one responsible for my own engagement destiny. Waiting for others to get it was a folly. It’s about believing in myself enough to create something awesome without a memo or permission from others. I have room to do this here, and I need to stretch out.


I had a plan six months ago. A plan I thought would change things. I even gave a presentation about it.

It was two-fold. Build a team of mini-evangelists and get buy-in — complete buy-in — from the glass offices. I would send-all staff e-mails of our accomplishments. I would hold meetings.

I talked to people who loved this idea. And while it may still be a great idea, I might be wrong.

Here’s the issue with getting buy-in: No one wants to buy in. I was operating off the idea that everyone cares as much as I do, that all I had to do was show them the light. They are not standing by my desk every morning, waiting for my brilliance. They simply have other things to care about. 

That’s OK. This is my job and not theirs.

When I started, I told worried onlookers that I would never force anyone to tweet. They simply wouldn’t care enough to do a good job of it. I would lightly push and they would come around and I’d be ready when they did.

And that’s just it. What would getting buy-in on a full scale get me? An all-staff dictate no one would read and maybe Poynter (I miss saying Romenesko) would pick up? Does that really change the way anyone does their job? Does that get them engaging with their audience on a real scale?

I stayed up because I realized that I don’t need that. I don’t need someone telling everyone else this is important. They’ll either get it, or they won’t. Six months of singing the praises of what I do and the biggest headway I made has nothing to do with me — it was because the pope started a Twitter account. That’s disappointing. But on the plus side, when I and the people who are as excited a I am shined on a big news day, people noticed. That day, the work, it converted someone. 

No one is paid to care about engagement. I am. Any good therapist will tell you that you cannot change people. You can change you and you can change your reaction.

As for my mini-evangelists? I set up meetings. No one has time for meetings. They want to do work. I thought I’d show up and prod them and they’d have discussions on their successes. Instead, it turns into a Q&A with me. 

I have a new manifesto.

Motivation: I don’t need the approval of three levels above me to succeed.

I am lucky enough to work with an incredibly excited, loving audience and a few excited, engaged reporters/producer. I can’t change others. But I can show them how much they mean to me. How much they can achieve. When we succeed, they’ll care. 

Action: I will create small. I will create often. I will fail often.

I was so focused on getting approval — from the industry, my boss, my newsroom — that I lost sight of what real success is. It’s much smaller than a gigantic project that wins awards. I wanted impact. I wanted to change lives. It’s why I got into the crazy business in the first place.

There is idealism that cost cast aside somewhere around 2 a.m. I can’t change millions. But I can change a few a day. So small projects, as often as I can. if they work, I’ll build on them. I’ll call on people I can rely on to help. It will get bigger. It wil have impact. 

And if they fail? They fail. I’m allowed to fail. Often.

Action: I won’t, I don’t have time for complicated process. 

If it takes longer to think up than it does to do, I can’t do it. Yet.

To create, to build what I want to build can’t stand by the wayside while someone approves an e-mail or paying for that software. 

And some philosophy: This is not about me.

This is a ridiculous line to put in here, but it’s true. There is so much woe is me, in my own life, in journalism, everywhere. 

In some cases, it’s needed.

But this thing I do, which some days is so far beyond the word engagement, this is not about me. 

I’ve written about trusting the audience. It’s time I remember that I’m doing this for the audience. When they love it, I do to. I do this for the thrill of seeing, hearing people love my work as much as I do. I do this because my soul does cartwheels every time we produce a great story that now other people will know about.

I’m getting a little teary-eyed at my desk. This struggle, it got me, it’s put us, for far away from where and why we started.

Now I’m going to have some coffee and get to work.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Post-#ONA11 thoughts

I wanted to take a minute to think about the talks I had and the sessions I attended at ONA11. Random and not necessarily journalism-related topics.

Tech is not everything

I’ve had the privilege and honor to be a part of the weekly phenomenon that is #wjchat. And we were lucky enough to get a session at this year’s conference. Thanks to @webjournalist, we had some awesome temporary tattoos to spread around the conference. They spread like wildfire. So did the delicious rice crispy treats at the Disney booth. 

A lot of ONA is about technology and what is coming for newsrooms and journalists themselves, but a lot of it, at least for me, is about re-forging connections in person. I cannot even begin to spout off the list of amazing people I met this weekend, and the people I only get to see once a year, but feel like are some of my best friends. 

The technology is not everything. The technology helps us reach new people, but low-fi things like temporary tattoos that won’t wash off spread the word and face-to-face chats cement the bond. 

That thought is not just personal, but a good reminder for when I get lost in the technology of social networks. I could spend hours looking at code, widgets and metrics. But getting out there, talking to some people and handing out pieces of paper will really make a difference as well. Look at the whole Open Newsroom movement, pioneered by folks at JRC and California Watch.

We need to get on the bus, and get out into the community, as was the message of @acnatta's "If I were in charge…" pitch.

The user is the driver

I swear to God that I only sort of knew what Matt Thompson and Megan Garber were up to. Yet, somehow, our ideas crossed paths.

It is no longer about the brand, the person, or the entity. It’s about the user.

They’re driving our brands, they’re driving our social media

It’s nothing I haven’t written about before (Trust the audience!) but it seemed to come out full-force at ONA11. Not only did @mthomps and @megangarber remind folks that brands cannot be #shelfish, but I pushed social media editors to let go of the notion that we know what our audience will share on networks.

Facebook and Google proved it by blowing up what we knew about news on their platforms. It should be scary, but it’s exciting. We can now get back to really working with our audience and working for them, not just the advertisers.

I’m provoked by the thought that we have access to so much data and the ever-increasing potential to include audiences in our stories. Storify is on the way to releasing new changes and the folks at Chartbeat spoke to me about how much social intelligence I can get from their product. It’s amazing. This can, and probably forever will, change the way we produce journalism.

For some things, there are still no easy answers

I got involved in a long tweet chain between @racialicious and others after the diversity keynote Saturday. 

My point in longer than 140 characters: While as a minority, I appreciate news outlets’ efforts to include diversity, over the years I’ve grown cynical as to how authentic some of these efforts are. I’ve seen news corporations put up rules like “every story must have a diverse source" and "Every front page must have a diverse face.” While it’s a simple way to increase diversity, what if the from page is about farmers and the pope in Iowa? Are you going to force diversity on the page just to fill that quota? In some instances, I think the answer is yes.

And there comes the rub. Newsrooms are being sacked by a call for more diversity — it’s happening in my own newsroom, too. We all want to hire more diverse candidates, include more diverse stories and show the world from a different viewpoint. Why can’t we find the existing diverse staff, have them help us recruit and tell stories that are relevant to the whole community by asking the community what we’re missing? Here’s where this all usually goes wrong. I have been asked — several times — to write stories about Chinese New Year or some other Asian heritage celebration. First off, you are better off by sending someone who can learn from such an event. Second, covering diversity in the form of holidays, events and protests is not covering diversity. 

It’s not an easy problem and I have no easy solutions. But this is not it.

Nor is the issue of how to get more developers into journalism, which I have discussed at length, several times, with the amazing @michelleminkoff. It’s a hard job, pays little and many journo-programmers want to work of data or partially reporting projects, which is understandable. But news sites are in a state of decay and I can’t think of a site that couldn’t use another programmer just to work on making what is there better.  No easy answers there either.

But we need to try. And as was the topic of a whole session, we need to learn to fail better.

Last thought: You need a power strip

Even though I was part of the group that help put together sessions, I still can complain about the lack of power outlets. There were several moments during the conference where all my technology was dead or dying. That is not a good thing when you use them to track where everyone is and you know, maybe get some work done.

The amazing @jenleereeves had a power strip and she made some #powerfriends. She gifted what she had to the rest of the conference and we were grateful. I also leeched some powerstrip time from @NABJDigital and her amazing Griffin Powerstrip of which I need to buy.

What lesson is there in this? Bring a goddamned power strip, because there will never be enough plugs. Which really means: I am constantly blown away by the work done by people who sat two feet away from me. @jonkaj of @tizianoproject is a friend of mine, yet I am in absolute awe by the work he and his team accomplish. In a time when we are supposed to be struggling, there is amazing work being done and amazing work left to be done. The well of hope for web journalism will never dry up. So bring a goddamned power strip and let’s make this disco happen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Write Hard, Die Free {musings}

This pin.

When I was a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star, I was gifted one of these by an editor. 

I came across it again today and I stopped.

I wrote about 5-6 stories on half of a suburban/rural county north of Kansas City every day as part of my “fellowship.”

I smoked too many cigarettes, stayed up too late and lived off sauteed spinach and spaghetti. Sometimes ramen. I made about $25,000 a year. My credit card regularly paid for groceries.

This is where I started.

Today, I make a slightly better living and have learned to cook other things on the cheap. I quit smoking (unless I’m out or stressed) over 4 years ago. I rarely write stories.

But I’m still a journalist.

I dropped in on a class at USC yesterday and I looked at the students, a couple of whom I knew.

I want to tell you this:

You will work too hard. You will no be paid enough. You will get yelled at, doors slammed in your face. You will stand on the side of the road next to a terrible accident in heels until your feet go numb from throbbing. You will never forget that accident.

You will write stories you hate, and your editor will kill the only sentence you like in that story.

But it will be worth it, I promise.

The sleepless nights, the carpal tunnel, the lack of a social life outside the newsroom, it’s worth it.

One day, you will look up and realize you’ve done this for six years and you have never stopped loving it. You will be tired, your shoulders will ache and you will only be thinking about the story. Today’s story. Today’s experiment.

Journalism will beat you up and leave you by the side of a road, but it will come back for you a few hours later, with the promise of a story so good that you’ve got to hear it. A tweet so heartfelt that you might cry. It will hand you a project that is so awe-inspiring that you will work on it until you fall asleep on your laptop.

I still love spinach. I still don’t make enough. I could leave this industry — and I did — and get paid twice as much. But I came back to it.

I will always write hard. And I know because of that, i will die free.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Post-#jcarn thoughts

About 30 people sat in a room for a full day where our brains were squeezed for innovation. @digidave promised us we’d be out of brain juices and as always, he didn’t lie.

The purpose of Hardly Strictly Young (If you’re wondering, it’s a reference to a bluegrass festival) was to look at four recommendations from the Knight Foundation and formulate actions based off of them. A few things to be noted: this wasn’t necessarily about journalism, although we were 30 journalists, the words “journalism” and “newsroom” were rarely spoken. Knight white paper was about improving the information needs of communities. As vague as that sounds, it was possibly vaguer. The report was full of assumptions and for a number of the 16 recommendation implementations we made, we threw half of the words Knight used out the window, working from what we knew. 

These are 30 of the smartest, most innovative journalists I know. Everyone from coders, to project managers to evangelists and some flat-out amazing reporter/bloggers. Despite the constantly rotating selection of food and snacks Reynolds kindly provided us, we were wiped at the end of the day.

I want to stop here and not outline the implementations we came up with. You can hear about those on the stream of presentations.

What is worth commenting on is the tone and trends I noticed throughout the weekend and the thoughts I think are underlying.


A public media survey recently came out that more or less said that local NPR-member stations rarely, if ever, partnered with outside organizations and newsrooms (LINK). It’s changing, for sure, but the process seems slow.

Despite this, I can’t think of a single plan that we came up with that didn’t involve meeting with other newsrooms and anchor institutions — everything from barber shops to churches to the Elks Club. 

In order for any fundamental change to occur in how we present information to communities and work with them to improve our reporting, we need to make better use of the existing resources. This holds particularly true in the case of inner cities and rural areas. After working in semi-rural areas and launching a site in an underserved urban community, I’ve learned nothing but that communities have been ignored, abused and sometimes cast of by the same journalistic institutions that are now scrambling to cover them. 

Let’s not ignore the fact that journalism isn’t the only answer to giving communities the connection and information they need, as well. DavisWiki and others were named in our recommendations, none of which are actual newsroom products.

We have to get over our egos and seriously think about what partnerships can bring us. Newsrooms are starting to work with blogs and small, local sites, but it goes a little beyond that. I had a straight-forward conversation with one of the few non-journalists in the room, Rahn from a foundation in Boston about journalism and foundation/non-profit partnerships and the hurdles we face. In essence, it came down to egos and transparency. Foundations are thinking about hiring journalists, knowing that the reports they release might be biased. Newsrooms are tip-toeing toward foundations, hoping there is a way to partner without appearing biased, even though the public may not care. The only solution Rahn and I could think of was transparency, but that doesn’t even completely answer the problem. Can we trust the public enough to know that there are multiple “truths” to every story?

Get our of your box

The next words you read will not be revolutionary. Or new. But reporters need to go back into the communities they serve. 

Much of what was discussed was about that, but a step beyond. Evaluating communities’ needs whether defined or understood was the purpose of a few implementations, including the CAT signal (possibly the quickest I’ve ever seen an idea from a conference become a site and Twitter handle).

This is where you bring in people like Brian Boyer and Daniel Braubacher. Numbers, analytics and opening pathways to discover community needs is what is missing. The issue with journalism is that we move at the speed of light, with little time to slow down and look at what is passing us by. Market research, evaluation and building systems to make authentic reporting easier simply takes too much time when we’re under deadline. At least, it seems to.

We’re past the age of investigative dream teams, where you have a year to report a single story. Newsrooms are squashed for time and resources. We’ve got to stop trying to do everything, slow down and do a few things well — including actually seeing the communities were serve for who they are.

Finding existing models

You get 30-some of incredibly well-read people in a room and you’ll discover that some things you’re dreaming of already exist.

Simply put: we can’t spend money to re-invent the wheel. Few of us have VC funding to build like Facebook, but a number of things that have come out of start-up culture can be repurposed for journalism. @suzanneyada and @laurenmichell presented Basecamp for communities, a consistent theme “—— for communities/journalism”

It goes back to partnering outside of journalism. If journalists and the tech-community really, truly worked together, what could we come up with? It’s the purpose of hacks/hackers and I wish more newsrooms were looking at it.

City-centric design

This may be my only criticism. Perhaps the issue is that many of the innovators in the room came from mid-to-large cities, but far too often, we’re designing things for cities the likes of Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

I work in a large city, and I spend a good amount of time working in the context of cities. However, if I were Knight, I’d start looking at ideas and technology that serve smaller, underserved communities.  There are far more small publications than there are NYTimes’. This is not to say that we need to build Patches. NPR is in the process of launching Core Publisher, which will do well to serve small stations get on the web quickly and easily.


There were more ideas and themes that came up, but I hooked on these four. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some of the attendees implementing some of the ideas we came up with.

I want to make sure I say thanks to the Reynolds Institute and Dave for inviting me out. It was a great weekend and I’m pretty sure we’re all BFFs forever now. Long live the #jcarn bus of awesome.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Innovation outside of the bubble

(This post is part of the awesome Carnival of Journalism.)

Innovation is a tricky word. It’s tossed around journalism blogs and conferences with ease, but let’s get real here — true innovation is hard. 

This is not to make excuses for lackadaisical newsrooms or those who shun change. It’s a reality. You can have a great idea, see it through to reality and it still fails or lands with crickets.

So, I can only applaud Knight for what they’re doing with the News Challenge and what Reynolds is doing with their fellows. It’s tough to foster innovation and it’s tough to find time in a busy newsroom to even ponder innovation.

But I’m worried we’re innovating in a bubble. It’s not tech start-ups or even thought leaders who need help innovating. It’s figuring out how to do that at work, along with the day-to-day slug. (@grovesprof has it right there.)

I’m pretty sure we’ve all done this. You go to a conference. You get learn new things, you meet new people, think of new ideas and go back to work bursting with energy.

And then you have meetings to attend, stories to write or edit and problems to solve. Energy gone. Ideas lost to your indecipherable handwriting in a notebook somewhere in the pile of conference freebies.

This is where I think Knight and others have a chance to make a difference.

Two suggestions, one for each program.

1) Knight. More follow up. I’ve seen plenty of Knight News Challenge ideas get built and then….nothing. There is very little followup, seemingly and many projects either run out of steam or fail with little retrospective. It’s fine to fail, but let’s make sure that these ideas are creative in journalism and business. Sorry, revenue and/or business support needs to play more of a part. I surely don’t hand out my money without expectation for ROI, why should Knight?

2) Reynolds. Pair those amazing fellows with newsrooms who needs help. I’m looking at the Mozilla program here. Bring forces of change to newsrooms with these people. Have them pair with a participating news org and make their plans, blogs posts and thoughts into reality. 

So many newsrooms need energy. Innovation shouldn’t occur in dorm housing on a campus or in a apartment in Silicon Valley. Innovation needs to happen in the tranches.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Value of Listening

(I was recently asked at work to write about the value of social media and blogging. Somehow, it became a blog post. So here it is)
I recently gave a couple of talks around Los Angeles focusing on blogging and social media at the station.

Without intention, my theme quickly became listening.

News outlets are used to talking. We’re used to telling people the news through their medium and informing their day. We wake them up, tell them what happened around town and send them off on their day with a banana and a coffee. We let them talk back, maybe through certain outlets like the editorial page or in online comments, but we rarely responded.

It’s a monologue. Not a dialogue.

Now, we’re getting push back. We’re seeing blogs popping up and friends informing each other through Facebook and Twitter. No longer can we be the center of the world.

It’s important to engage. It’s important that we take the conversations we are already having to the next level. The public is demanding that we speak to them. They’re throwing the coffee in our faces, and telling us that Suzy down the street told them differently.

Stalking the conversation
Follow the conversation to where it is. If it is on street corners, we should be there.

We can no longer afford to silo conversations in one area. We must seek out our audience and join them where they are — Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, wherever.

Not always our show
Through social media, we have to accept that we are walking into someone elses’ dinner party and listening to the conversation.

NPR’s Andy Carvin is frequently quoted as saying that NPR’s Facebook page was successful because NPR remembers that the page is on Facebook. It’s not their party to run. They’re just there as a conduit, to moderate.

Yet, realizing our influence
When we give tours of the station, people are enamored and thrilled at the chance to see us at work.

We have to remember that regardless of how menial we think our jobs and stories seem, they can be the world to someone. We wake them up in the morning, we keep people company during slow hours at work, quiet nights and sometimes on their commutes.

Whether we like it or not, we are important and we are strong voices in people’s lives. We must live up to that. We must let them in and remind them that this is not a one-way relationship. We need them as much as they need us.

Back to listening
At the end of the day, we should do all of these things. But we should listen first.

Listen to your community and what they want and need from you. Respond to them. Then speak.

It takes a minute, but it’s also un-training what we’ve done for so long.