— wordbanks

Every year immediately after the holidays, I and scores of my colleagues and industry professionals are asked to judge journalistic excellence drawn from Ontario’s community newspaper industry, in the annual newspaper awards competitions. I’ve been doing this now for 30 years and I always look forward to seeing what the province’s best community journalists have produced over the past year.

There’s a few reasons for that. One, as a former publisher and editor in the industry, I know the people who produced the work entered, completed it in less-than-ideal conditions, often under-paid and over-worked. They overcame internal and external pressures to publish work their boss has deemed worthy to represent the newspaper in competitions. Second, it gives me examples of great local stories I can bring into the classroom to show my students at the college that print journalism is alive and well and even thriving. And that reaffirms my strong belief in the future of our province and country’s community press.

I’m judging the ‘Best News Story Over 10,000 circulation’ which is my favourite category next to ‘Best Investigative Story’ (another judge claimed that first). I will be judging more than 60 entries from towns and cities such as Smiths Falls and Port Perry, to Milton to Sudbury. Examples of the kinds of stories run from fires to deaths to plant closures, often tragic, but stories that require steadfast reporting to answer the community’s questions.

But the story that will win this category from my perspective will be the one that goes beyond the obvious five Ws reporting and the standard police press release. Scale of a news event is important — that is, its overall impact on a community — but I’ll be looking for the extra dedication spent in telling the total story at every level, to ensure that there are no, if any, unanswered questions a reader may have.

I want to see examples of “smart” reporting, in which sources that may not have been obvious at first, breaks information that unlocks key information that competitors overlooked.

Once I’m done and the winners are announced (first week in February), I will be highlighting the winning entries in this blog and provide my rationale behind my decisions. Stay tuned!

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Tweeting live from the Ontario junior curling championships might sound like a waste of time. I was skeptical too. But over these two days of tweeting from the tournament in Russell, Ontario, and training myself on the ins and outs of live blogging, I’ve come to see how this reporting method is beneficial for the reporter, his audience and a news organization carrying those tweets via their website.

Tweeting updates from any scene is live reporting, very close to real time. People love that, especially if it’s done professionally by a journalist who knows the lingo of what’s being covered. And tweeting provides an archive of notes that a reporter can refer to when building a story from a multitude of sources. Ottawa Citizen sports reporter Martin Cleary used some of my tweets to help build a story in today’s paper, and Meghan Hurley, the paper’s crime reporter, does the same thing when reporting from the field. Those tweets are permanent records, although the tweeter can delete any at any time. I just did that when I found a mis-tweet that said I was at the “Idling Championships!” That’s what happens when you give your iPhone to someone for even a brief second!

For the audience, the benefits are clear. They’re receiving information in real time, which they in turn, can retweet to others. It’s like a running conversation, except the original message doesn’t get lost or changed in translation as it goes from person to person. When I began tweeting, I did it as a volunteer for the Manotick Curling Center and to help myself learn about Twitter and iPhone apps. As I continued, I received new followers, some of whom wrote to say they really appreciated the updates. In fact, there were people at the club who were following my tweets as I was posting them!

And since my tweets were being fed to the Ottawa Citizen website immediately, which the paper has promoted, there has been a benefit to the sponsoring media company. That, in turn, has continued to grow traffic to the Ottawa Citizen’s website, which wanted to carry my tweets as a live blog. You can see an example at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/Live+Blog+Ontario+junior+women+curling+championships/5940264/story.html

The Citizen, in turn, has sold advertising space adjacent to the blog. With more live blogs, the hope would be that advertisers would respond to this new kind of real-time reporting. It occurred to me that a sports equipment supplier might have liked to have been sold exclusive space around the feed.

This is an example of how media can use mobile technology to continue to underwrite good journalism.

There are some downsides to tweeting. For starters, because I’m fairly new to thumb-typing, I find it awkward and I feel clumsy hunting-and-pecking like a grade 4 kid in keyboard class. I’ve been typing for 35 years and can run about 70 words a minute without a mistake. On the iPhone, it takes me 10 seconds to type ‘Manotick’ where on a keyboard I can do it in under two. I could overcome that by linking a laptop or a tablet to the iPhone, a process called “tethering.” Essentially that involves using a smartphone as a transmitter. The venue I was at in Russell had no WiFi, so my tablet and my laptop were useless. My iPhone, however, has a data plan, and so I was able to access limited network service which allowed me to get tweets out. This is a great advantage to having a self-contained device like a smartphone, versus having to rely on the generosity of others to get the WiFi pick-up.

Live blogging is work. It isn’t an idle little extra that you can knock off sitting around drinking latte. Over the 150 minutes of a game, I rarely had a break between watching the action, then thumbing what I see and compacting it into 140 characters.

But the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I can also take still photos and video and tweet those too and post them to YouTube or any other site. Have a look at some of my work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wordbanks/. I have some other apps such as Gingle and FlickIt that even provide live streaming on the web.

Tweeting events may not be suitable or desireable in every case. You don’t want to be seen to be on your handheld during a solemn occasion, for example. But for sports, presentation ceremonies, breaking news, and other events that is of interest to a wide audience, it’s a powerful and increasingly popular way to report.

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Small town community newspapers continue to show strength south of the border, which can only be good news for publishers of them here in Canada.

Local  newspapers remain the dominant source of news in small towns and rural  areas, according to the results of a new survey performed by the  Reynolds  Journalism Institute’s Center for Advanced Social Research and  the University  of Missouri’s School of Journalism on behalf of the  National Newspaper  Association.

Overall,  74% of residents of these areas said they read the local newspapers  at  least once a week, with 48% reading them once a week and 11% reading them every day.

When interpreting these results, it should be remembered that  many of the  newspapers in question are weeklies or “non-dailies,”  making up 86% of the  newspapers in the survey. Thus, 70% of the  respondents said they read non-dailies.

Respondents  said they spent an average of 39 minutes a week reading the  local  newspaper, up slightly from a previous survey in 2010. The survey also  found that older adults, residents who  have stayed in their communities longer,  and people with more education  read local newspapers significantly more than  younger adults, residents  of shorter duration, and those with less  education.

Among  respondents who said they read a local newspaper, 92% said they pay  for  the newspaper, and the rest get it free. Within this group, 67%  subscribe  to the newspaper, while 33% said they buy it from a news rack  or store.

In  terms of motivation, 83.2% of respondents who read the local newspaper   do so primarily for the news content, but 69.2% also agreed that it  “provides  valuable local shopping and advertising information.”

The organizations surveyed 500 adults  ages 18 and over living in areas  served by newspapers with a circulation  under 15,000.

Read more: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/164796/extra-extra-local-newspaper-readership-stays-str.html#ixzz1hrALKpeO

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The closure of Ottawa’s community newspapers in the Metroland family is such an affecting situation that the Canadian Association of Journalists has issued the following press release.

“The Canadian Association of Journalists is concerned that community newspaper amalgamations in Ottawa and area will lead to job losses.

The concern stems from the recent decision by Metroland Media Group Ltd. to close six community newspapers that had been serving the communities of south, west, east and central Ottawa along with Nepean and Barrhaven. The closures come after Metroland purchased Performance Printing Ltd., which publishes newspapers in the same communities.

There could be further closures ahead as these were not the only communities where both Metroland and Performance have publications.

“Closing a newspaper means extinguishing a voice within a community that people could turn to for news and information about their neighbourhoods,” CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues said. “Metroland’s aggressive entry into the Ottawa region in the last few years added new voices to the mix and brought competitiveness to community news. It’s unfortunate the chain is now killing off some of the papers it launched in its drive to consolidate operations.”

The CAJ understands the business rationale behind these consolidations, but is now concerned for the journalists whose newsrooms have been amalgamated. It encourages Metroland to keep its stated commitment that the positions from the closed newspapers will be moved to its remaining newsrooms.

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing almost 600 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.”

All staff at both operations, as a condition of severance, have been told not to say anything to anyone regarding the buyout. Only the Citizen reported on it at http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Metroland+closes+Ottawa+weekly+papers/5875031/story.html

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Are you progressively becoming less impressed with the latest handheld, app or software to be launched, or about to be launched?

Me too. It seems as though as soon as we get comfortable programming and using our laptop, smart phone or tablet, yet another device is trumpeted as the Next Big Thing. The hype is relentless and, dare I say it, tedious and mind-numbing.

And yet, third-party reviewers of this stuff who claim to be technology journalists have dropped any pretense of objectivity and race to breathlessly recommend the latest, forgetting that the other 3,214 hyper-enthusiastic endorsements they made are all distant memories, as if to say “This time we’re REALLY serious about how GAME-CHANGING this stuff really is.”

Here’s an example from CyberJournalist.net, a site supposedly devoted to helping objective scribes to keep up with the times.

“If you think the iPad 2 and new Kindles are small and lightweight tablets, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Samsung is developing flexible displays that it plans on using for new smartphone and tablet devices.

The smartphones might be available in 2012. No date at this point for the tablets but they have released a video showing what they look like and how they might be used.

The combination of being bendable and see-through means that they are not only going to be easily portable, but can be used for augmented reality applications. Words can hardly describe.”

Words hardly describe? What is this, the Second Coming of Christ disguised as a bendable Samsung tablet? Did the person who wrote that ever experience a truly undescribable vision, like a sunset or a child being born?

I’m no luddite. I’ve been using digital technology in all of its iterations since 1979 (Compugraphic phototypesetter). My generation (yes, Steve Jobs) invented this stuff. I’ve been through all of the revolutions, including the dawn of desktop publishing. When I ran the Glengarry News, we partnered up with GlenNet to introduce the first web site of any rural newspaper in Eastern Ontario in 1995.

Today I have a desktop computer, a laptop, a two year-old cellphone, an iPhone 4s and a Samsung Android tablet. They’re all loaded with software and apps.

Are they cool? I guess somebody would say that since that word was hijacked to mean anything digital that captures our attention, even for a minute. But few, if anyone, is slowing down to absorb and fully exploit the technology they already have, before they’re urged and then convinced to toss it aside and dive into the latest way to make them a more efficient or entertained human being. All the while, as far as I know, the current definition of cool does not include ending homelessness, First Nation poverty, cancer or world debt.

Unfortunately an ever-growing segment of our economy relies on reinvention, even as the worth of what was reinvented before remains unproven, or inferior. Hello Windows Vista?

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Here’s a snippet from an interview by Ad Age Magazine with Caroline Little, new president and CEO at the Newspaper Association of America, who took over on Sept. 6. Little was previously North America CEO of Guardian News and Media and before that led Washington Post Newsweek Interactive to its first year of profitability.

Ad Age:Declining print circulation is a long-term, ongoing trouble for newspapers. Will those declines ever end and a new normal for print ever emerge? Is that still an important question for publishers and advertisers?

Ms. Little: It continues to be an important question. I don’t think print is going to go away. At the same time I can’t predict when the circulation in print will stop declining. But I think that’s one way of looking at the issue.

“When you look at audiences overall they are phenomenal. If you were to tell me that audiences overall were going down, I’d be really worried. The challenge for us I think is audiences — whether it’s newspapers or music — want their media when they want it and where they want it. They’re not going to be bound by the distribution cycle. The challenge for us to catch up with business models that support that.

I and a lot of people love to read a newspaper in print and online, and that will continue. We will continue to benefit from print. Advertisers certainly do. There’s a lot of data that supports that. We also need to address business models that support a vast number of readers who read our newspapers in all media.”

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Have a look at my blog from yesterday, then check this out. I swear I didn’t know he was in the market!

From the Omaha (Nebraska, U.S.) Herald


“Warren Buffett said he is buying The Omaha World-Herald Co. in a $200 million transaction because well-run newspapers have a future and because Omaha is a “vibrant” community.
He said his hometown paper has been true to its role as a primary source of information for the community.
“I wouldn’t do this if I thought this was doomed to some sort of extinction,” said Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, whose surprise appearance at a meeting of the company’s employee-shareholders at the Holland Performing Arts Center drew a standing ovation. The World-Herald is the last major employee-owned newspaper in the country.”

Now Buffet is an absurdly wealthy man with not too many more years left and he’s working hard to shed himself of his vast fortune. Ensuring his hometown paper’s future might be on his bucket list. But I prefer to believe he sees something that I alluded to yesterday.

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Too many newspapers are giving up on themselves, and as such, are ignoring what is by far their biggest moneymaker: the printed medium.

Revenue is down. Classifieds are nearly gone. Circulation is declining every year. Staffs are shrinking seemingly daily. A small two-inch piece on page 2 of this morning business section reported that Quebecor is planning to lay off 400 employees.

Defeatism is rampant among reporters working in the industry. Publishers are desperate to find digital sales gurus to save their operations.

In the meantime, the presses continue to roll, against the daily crush of negativism. Not surprising, then, that the products coming off them are showing all the imagination and panache of, well, yesterday’s news.

They’ve stopped innovating at the print level. Innovation has been devoted to the digital product, even as the online platform brings in just 10 to 15 per cent of total revenue. The rest comes from print.

And what’s worse, it will, if anything, contribute more  to the self-prophesied demise of paper content than any nerd’s predictions will.

Google Kevin Slimp. This is a guy who is pretty much singlehandedly trying to stop the sheep from rushing to the slaughter house, frantically waving at the herd and yelling “Go this way! There’s another field to graze!”

Kevin is a newspaper consultant who is declaring without embarrassment that the newspaper model is not going the way of the dodo bird. And won’t unless the industry hastens its own demise, as it appears to be doing. He recently won a standing ovation at a recent newspaper conference when he told the crowd: “Newspapers have been telling their readers and advertisers for a while now that newspapers are dieing. Well, the readers and advertisers are starting to believe them.”

Far from hunkering down, newspapers need to hype the “Newspaper Experience.” I can see an ad featuring a guy or gal in their 40s or 50s — you know, the ones with the money — holding a tablet computer and scrinching their eyes. Panel two shows them with a coffee in a Lazyboy. Above each photo, are these captions:

“Eye Strain vs. Eye Gain.”

Hyping the dizzying and noisey world of online medium is what newspapers need to do, and attack with the kind of vigour that led the Globe and Mail to a brave new design a few years ago. Whether you liked the redesign or not, the Globe was refusing to give up on print, and sought to market that “Eye Gain” that so many believe is futile.

Even newspaper associations have dropped their conference emphasis on the improvement of the print product. I get daily invitations to participate in another one-hour webinar on social media or website coding. And though I just gave one myself on the benefits of Facebook for small town reporters, I made it clear to my participants that all and any activity should have one purpose: to build and enhance the quality of their newspaper.

But that’s just me. There are many bigger brains than mine out there burning up neurons preaching the New Language. And they have many converts.

Maybe they’re right, but I bet they aren’t. People aren’t machines, and most of them are showing persistence at sticking with what they like, against a digital wasteland. That’s why movie theatres, bowling alleys and pool rooms are still around. Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, knows that. Newspaper CEOs, publishers and investors should too.


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This is a pasted discussion I participated in on a LinkedIn forum. The question isn’t mine, but I weighed in on the discussion at the end. It continues. 

“My research sources for magazine articles sometimes ask if they can read the article before I submit it. How do you handle this request? I understand why they ask, but it feels a little invasive. “

Harriet Cooper • I had to interview someone suggested by the magazine I was writing for. I sent the interviewee excerpts of the paragraphs that concerned him and his quotes. He asked if I would highlight something, gave me a little more info, and since it made sense in terms of the article, I did. I did not send him the final draft. I also explained that some of the information he gave me would simply be background info for the article and not quoted.
In the months between the writing and the publishing, he started to worry about the article and wanted to see the entire article. I spoke to the editor who came back with a resounding no. I explained the policy to him and said that the final article would read very closely to what he had already seen. After a couple of emails, he was satisfied.

When the article came out, he wrote to say he was very happy with it.

Lubna Kably • When I was a journalist and covered tax technical subjects, even as I was qualified to write on tax, I generally did get quotes rechecked if the matter was sensitive/complex. If required, I also had certain paragraphs checked for accuracy by reading out the same to the contact.
It will all depend on the situation, but it is wise never to share the draft article, as you would also have quoted competing sources and this can spark off an unwarranted scene, of you made Mr XYZ look better than me, etc etc.
Further, check out if your magazine has a policy against non sharing of the draft article. Most publications do. This will enable you to cite an official reason for not sharing the draft article.

Ian Graham • I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why. I suppose a refusal makes sense if your aim was to trip up a politician, celeb or other professional talker. But if you’re trying to write a factual piece, especially on a subject of which you have rather limited knowledge, why not let the interviewee check it before publication? It may improve the product, and it will certainly provide you with a cast-iron defence if ever the piece turns out to be factually wrong. Also, specialists are not necessarily good communicators. If you have to polish the quotes a little, it does no harm to let them know in advance what you decided that they meant! Finally, if you want to build a relationship of trust with a source, it’s a good idea to work with them on a piece, if they want to, rather than telling them that what they are going to say in print is none of their business. Otherwise, they are less likely to be available for interview next time around. And they are certainly less likely to provide you with background documents, tip-offs and so on.
The main risks are that someone will want to add extra wordage and that the job will take you longer to finish than would otherwise have been the case. If somebody asks to read a piece, I make it quite clear that it has been written to length – i.e. if they want anything put in, something else will have to come out. That in itself discourages any time-wasters. I also point out that I have a strict deadline to meet. I insist that, if they have any suggestions, they should not change the text but should phone me by a precise time. If I do not hear from them by then, I will assume that everything is correct. If they do phone back with substantive comments, I will try to take all or some of them into account, but I reserve the right to craft the final text as I see fit.
In practice, the great majority of interviewees don’t want to see a piece before publication. Of those who do, most either never get back or send a short, often complimentary, OK. The few who do phone back almost always say something that is worth listening to.

Eva Schweitzer • I sometimes send single quotes to a source to make sure that numbers and other factual stuff is correct (or read them over the phone to them), but not the whole article. But that applies only to actual experts, not to politicians or celebrities.
I did have some odd experiences, though. I once did a story about a movie studio and I asked their press department for a statement. They demanded to read beforehand how they would be represented in the story, and I said no. So they “threatened” to retract their statement. So, you have to ask PR people for a statement to cover your behind, but you are not obliged to roll out a red carpet for them. Either they deliver it in a timely and uncomplicated matter, or they are out of luck.

Bendix Anderson • Ian Graham wrote: “I know most journalists and editors are against doing this, but I’ve never really understood why.”
I had some bad experiences: A finance company found lots of what they called “inaccuracies” in one story. For example, they wanted to be referred to as “the fastest in the business.”
Another called me up to say she was sorry but she, the PR person, had to kill my story. The one I’d already written. Because I focused on one regional vice president and the other regional vice presidents were jealous.This company was an important source and I didn’t want to poison the relationship. But the request was totally unacceptable. Better to avoid these kinds of problems…

Eva Schweitzer • Bendix, what are you doing? If a company wants to be referred to as “the fastest in the business” they should place an ad. This is not what newspaper stories are for.
Also, a PR person cannot “kill a story”. Only editors can kill stories. Tell her she is out of line, and then go ahead publish the story. She can only sue you for libel, and that is very difficult and rarely happens. No offense, but you don’t sound like a reporter to begin with.

Randy B. Hecht • There can be times when you serve the story by running quotes–or in rare cases the entire article–past the source pre-publication.
For example, I once wrote an article about steps that unmarried couples can take to protect themselves with regard to end-of-life and estate planning. I interviewed two lawyers for the piece, and at the end of the interview they asked me to send the finished article to them for factual review. They are members of the bar in a handful of US states and knew the information they’d provided was accurate in those states, but they wanted to circulate the article within their firm in case the law differed significantly in other states. They agreed, on tape, not to ask for editorial revisions of the article. They just wanted to be sure they were providing our readers with consistently sound legal counsel.
That’s a valid reason to review the article with the source. It serves the interests of the magazine and its readers, not the publicity aims of the source.
But absent a compelling reason like that, it’s poor practice and opens writers up to the kind of abuse Bendix describes above, where the writer allows himself to be manipulated by or put in the service of the source.
I’d have had a field day with the PR person who called to kill my story. I’d have congratulated her on her purchase of the magazine, reminded her of the 100% kill fee clause in my contract, and asked her how soon I could expect her check. Then I’d have run my article as it was written. Once you’ve agreed to be interviewed and I’ve gotten you on tape, you’re in unless I decide you’re not in anymore. That’s the way it works.

Joe Banks • We’ve got to get past this idea that we hide everything before publication of a story, no matter the circumstances. The exception is when we’re trying to scoop a competitor. We are now well ensconced in a time when daily reporters are expected to tweet their facts throughout the day, building up to a story that will appear on the late version of the website, then in the next morning’s print edition. And I’ve come to see that is is okay to email ONLY the portion of the story that includes the source making the inquiry. Very occassionally, the source requests a change in what they said, and if I agree, I make the change. I only do this if the story is non-controversial. If it is, I won’t send it ahead of time.

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The Ottawa Sun routinely jams sharp sticks in the eyes of public sector unions so when I saw them do it again through an ill-researched editorial, I was tempted to let it go.

I waited a day and changed my mind. So I wrote a short letter to the editor. I am a member of OPSEU but have never been its apologist, and am often healthily skeptical of its claims, having sat on the opposite side of the bargaining table during my publisher days. But the Sun’s far-right agenda was too lazy to ignore.

Interestingly, SunMedia is a unionized company, whose editorial and support staff are represented by the CEP, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union of Canada (the same union I tangled with in the 90s). Their members got 2 % raises in each of the years between 2007 and 2010 according to the collective agreement listed at http://www.song.on.ca/files/OttawaSunJan12007-Dec312010.pdf . In the next agreement, which expires in September 2012, they bargained to no increase in the first year, one per cent in the second and 1.5 in the third. Members receive $250 in lieu of the second-year increase being retroactive.

But back to my letter. They didn’t print it, so here it is below. Self-explanatory I think.

It’s a rare day when your Toronto-based editorial writer does
not, with predictable tedium, put a crusading boot to public sector unionized
workers, and he did it again in the Oct. 16 issue. He writes both the NDP and
Conservatives “risk becoming McGuinty’s rubber stamp whenever he wants to throw more of our money at public sector unionized workers.”

This is a tired theme and worse, it’s wrong.  Across the province, the average overall increase in public sector wages July, the last reported tally, was 1.2 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent in the private sector. The month before, public employees got 1.3 per cent compared to 1.8 per cent in the same month by private sector. These numbers are easily obtained at the website http://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/lr/pdf/cbh2011-07.pdf
and your editorial writer should know that.

I hope SunMedia’s unionized employees take note.

Joe Banks,

Osgoode, Ontario. K0A-2W0


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