Remember Pass: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep

donna-mandl
The York Daily Record’s Donna Mandl demonstrates that she learned the lessons of how to use a fire extinguisher.

A dozen or more staff members at the York Daily Record/Sunday News and the York Newspaper Co. soaked in some fire extinguisher training recently.

West Manchester Fire Department officials provided an overview of the different types of fires in homes and business. And they passed on the fire extinguisher mantra PASS – Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep – that sticks with you.

Good stuff. And it also gave our journalists a chance to chat with West Manchester Township Fire Chief David Nichols.

That was a two-fer, an hour well spent.


Remember: PASS – Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep.

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Readership of hyperlocal or community news, by whatever name, grows at York Daily Record

Someone with great foresight at the York Daily Record decided in the 1980s that what is called hyperlocal news – community news about neighborhood happenings and personal achievements – should remain in the newspaper. Continue reading “Readership of hyperlocal or community news, by whatever name, grows at York Daily Record” »

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Selling papers a form of bias?

My recent posts about journalistic bias provoked a fair amount of response, including several who commented that media is biased in favor of selling papers — or more likely these days, moving the needle that tracks online readers.

I think that notion is overstated, but also at least partially defensible. I have to admit I’m biased in favor of keeping my job, which depends on getting people to read media content. But beyond such pecuniary concerns, an unread publication informs no one, so if we don’t make our stories compelling, if we don’t show readers why they need to invest time in our prose and pictures, then we aren’t really doing our job.

But there are, of course, limits to such dramatic tactics. People catch on to bait-and-switch pretty quickly, so if your story doesn’t deliver what the headline promises, you can be sure readers will stop believing your promises. And the dramatic elements of the story have to stay true to the facts. The old saying is that too much fact-checking has ruined plenty of good stories, but bad facts in bad stories will ruin your reputation as well as your stories.

When people used to accuse me of “trying to sell papers” — not that there’s anything wrong with that — I used to point out that they probably already bought the paper before reading the story they had issues with. We aren’t trying to sell papers, I would say, though we are out to sell stories — sell our readers on why they should care.

These days,  instead of captive audiences reading self-contained newspapers, we must attract online browsers who can click away from our reporting any second. Each story these days must stand on its own, or probably never get read.

That’s a challenge to be a better reporter, and to use all these new tools to give audiences compelling coverage. But it also should be a reminder that some stories need to be told, whether or not they’ll ever make the day’s most-popular list.

 

 

 

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Bias in the eye of the beholder

Discussion of the coverage of Ferguson provoked a number of comments on my Facebook page  regarding media bias, and while I have to agree there is “bias” in reporting, it’s usually not the kind people mean when they use the word.

Despite what some people think, I’ve never encountered a newsroom discussion of how to slant an article along ideological lines. If anything, the discussion will center around how to anticipate reader reaction to stories likely to provoke ideological response. People think we support the Democrat? Then we’d better make sure Republican responses get plenty of ink. We know that if readers don’t think we’re being fair, we have little chance of informing them.

But that’s not to say media bias doesn’t exist. Bias is part of the human condition, after all. We all like stories of the little guy struggling against the big machine. And we are — rightly, I think — always suspicious of official pronouncements and conventional wisdom. Reporters, though, by training and inclination, know enough to set aside their  own opinions while reporting. If anything, I think there’s a tendency for journalists to go out of their way to be fair to the side they think is in the wrong. Certainly, as an editor, I always challenge them to do so.

Media bias, I believe, is a more subtle matter of how we are trained to write and report. Stories need a focus, most often a single individual, and it’s always debatable how much you can generalize from a single instance. In Ferguson, critics say we are generalizing where we shouldn’t, that we are covering the story differently than if Michael Brown had been white.

I don’t buy it. Police shootings are news, no matter what races are involved. And so are protests. Ferguson is big news, not because of who was shot, but because of  the reaction to shooting. And we need to ask ourselves if Ferguson is representative of bigger issues — whether they be a growing divide between police and citizenry or the opportunism of  a relative handful of protesters.

Those issues are touched upon in an excellent thought piece in the Washington Post.  Closer to home, we’ve asked local law enforcement what lessons they draw from the far-away streets of Missouri.

Yes, you can choose to ignore the coverage, dismissing it as media bias. But what does that say about your own biases? The issues of freedom, equality and security raised by Ferguson have always been central to the American experience, and always will be. Ignore them — or wish them away as slanted coverage — at your own risk.

 

 

 

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The challenge of Ferguson

CHARISSEMARC-COLSIG3c

 

A recent Rasmussen survey on Ferguson and its coverage poses a real challenge for those of us in the “mainstream” media.

According to the survey earlier this month, a majority of those surveyed think the media would have been less interested in a white teenager, rather than a black one, had been shot by police. At total of 35 percent said the media did a good or excellent job on the story, while 23 percent said we did a poor job.

I’d like to know what folks think the media did right in covering the story, and where people think we need to improve. Unfortunately, I suspect many of those opinions have more to do with people’s ideological preconceptions than they do with actual coverage. Still, that poses a challenge to those of us tasked with informing the citizenry, at least those of us without an ax to grind.

Democrats and adults not affiliated with either major political party were twice as likely as Republicans to think most police officers are racist, Rasmussen reported. Republicans felt more strongly than Democrats  and unaffiliateds  that the Ferguson incident would have gotten less coverage if the shooter was black and the victim was white.

Yes, I suspect we all bring our biases to bear on stories, whether we intend to or not. But the police actions in Ferguson, and the reactions nationwide, deserve a more thoughtful response than dismissing them as media bias. We should be talking about the militarization of our police, their training and the situation in our cities that have brought us to this point of confrontation.

It’s too important a topic to write off as media machinations — and too for us to shrug at public perceptions without asking how we might better bridge that divide.

 

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Should Foley video be shown?

CHARISSEMARC-COLSIG3cIt’s a discussion no one really wants to have, about a video no one really wants to watch.
But of course we had to talk about the graphic murder — I hesitate to dignify such barbarity with the word execution — of American journalist James Foley.

Maybe not the sort of thing that should populate the viewer of the YDR website, but I disagree with those who say it shouldn’t be shown in public.
Censorship only strengthens the message of those we seek to silence — implies their words and deeds have a power of which we are afraid.
That video, I believe, speaks for itself, and there’s no better way to counter such barbarity than to depict if in all its uncensored ugliness. There is no doubt watching those chilling moments who is the enemy of God and humanity.
Beyond the fate of James Foley, we journalists must always wrestle with the question of how much to show of any terrible scene, of where the line lies between truth and exploitation. So it’s good, if painful, to have these newsroom discussions.
To do so, I think, honors Foley, who dedicated his life to facing often dangerous and horrifying truths.

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If the media is a mirror, then what does it reflect?

CHARISSEMARC-COLSIG3cI have always believed that if readers could be flies on the newsroom wall, most would come away with a higher opinion of journalism. They would see we talk about ethics, fairness and the best way to alert and inform readers of the news they need and want.

At the same time, I’d like to see greater dialogue between readers and journalists on why we do what we do and how we do it. Communication is always a two-way street, and understanding their perceptions can only make us more effective communicators.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently, for example, of readers unliking us on occasion for certain coverage decisions. That should never be an excuse for not covering the news, but it is a real challenge to do a better job reaching across ideological and cultural lines.

YDR Insider, I believe, is the place to foster that dialogue, to discuss the important issues inside journalism, to answer reader questions and explore ways to make us all better citizens and more effective communicators.

I see the whole staff as having a role, but am offering to be point person on this effort — maintaining and contributing to the blog and encouraging wider staff participation. I look forward to discussing this further, if you like, and answering any questions you might have.

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Job opportunity: Join breaking news desk at York Daily Record

Here at the York Daily Record/Sunday News, we’re looking to hire a couple of positions, including on our breaking news desk. I recently took over as Breaking News Editor, and hiring is one my first and most important tasks. I’ve been part of the hiring process for multiple positions in three other departments in the newsroom, and it always brings some important questions to the forefront, such as:

  1. What are the goals of this department and position?
  2. How does the position fit into the structure of the newsroom?
  3. What does a person in the position do on a daily basis, and should that change?  How?
  4. Who is your ideal candidate? What skills do they have? Not just technical skills, but also higher-level skills such as news judgment, leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking.

Hiring becomes an opportunity to rewrite job descriptions, consider schedules and adjust goals if needed.

In looking at hiring for the breaking news desk, I saw an interesting job ad shared on social media. The Washington Post, looking for a social media editor, got a lot of attention for its ad. Some of the attention was for a line, since removed, that many considered ageist. But people also grasped that the ad was clear and well-written, going as far as to say things like:

Here at the YDR, it struck some of us that the type of candidate the Post is looking for is similar to what we’re looking for in a web producer for the breaking news desk. The ad articulates key points about, among other things:

  1. The position working in cooperation with every part of the operation (“Social Media touches every point along the chain of our operations — from news gathering to community building to discovery — and the editor works at the tip of the spear for those efforts.”
  2. The need for news judgment and good decision-making under the pressure of breaking news (“Strong news judgement and a quick metabolism for processing information are vital.”
  3. Understanding the different social platforms and how to use them. (“You should know when and how to amplify something and when to let a story play out by itself. You should have a deep knowledge of how to optimize both content and technology for each individual social platform.”
  4. Being a student of the latest thinking. (“…we want you to be comfortable sorting through emerging best practices, passing fads, and calcifying conventional wisdom.”
  5. Understanding metrics and measuring audience. (“We require experience using analytics to track audience growth and engagement across social platforms”)

We pride ourselves in keeping in tune with the latest technology and best practices, and figuring out how to integrate them into our journalism. And it’s satisfying in a way that the description of the Washington Post’s ideal candidate for a social media candidate is similar to what we’re looking for in a candidate for a similar type of position. It doesn’t mean we think everything the Post does will be right and should be copied, but it’s one of the many barometers that can tell us we’re doing something right.

It comes down to culture — having a culture that includes a willingness to change, a culture where people try new things without a fear of failure, a culture where leadership qualities are sought at all levels, and (of course) a culture where the core values of journalism and serving the community come first. Not all new tools will work out. That’s OK. That’s how experimentation works, and right now, journalism is in an ever-evolving state of experimentation.

Below is a job ad for the breaking news desk at the York Daily Record. If you think you’re the right candidate and interested in joining our team, contact me at meyer@ydr.com, or through Twitter or LinkedIn. Or, if you think you know someone who would be a great fit, pass this along to them.

Breaking news web producer

The York Daily Record’s breaking news desk is smack in the middle of the newsroom — a physical reminder of the vital role this team plays. The web producers in this department take a leading role in the presentation, dissemination and promotion of our journalism. They become assigning editors at times, deploying reporters and photographers, and in some cases do the reporting themselves. They are multitasking geniuses, keeping web, mobile and social media platforms up-to-date and remaining engaged with the community we serve across those platforms. They juggle multiple news websites, mobile platforms and social media accounts across a five-county region in south central Pennsylvania. They stay calm, working quickly and intelligently amid chaos. They strive to turn every news story into a robust digital experience. They experiment, adding new tools to their toolbox without fear of failure.

To be a top contender for the breaking news desk, you should have a track record of strong news judgment and making snap decisions. You should be a problem-solver who can think critically and confidently find solutions on your own. You need to be comfortable directing reporters and photographers, and in some cases editors from other departments. You should know how to craft a headline that’s appropriate for the platform and understand how to use social media for promotion and conversation. You should always be a student of new ideas in digital journalism, evangelizing the latest best practices in the newsroom. We encourage experimentation and learn from failure — moving on when a tool is not worth using or a practice does not show results. With that in mind, you should understand how to use metrics to track what’s working and what’s not.

This position requires early morning or late night and weekend work. Applicants should send a cover letter, resume, references and any appropriate links to Breaking News Editor Matt Eyer at meyer@ydr.com. EOE.

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Jason Plotkin’s photos capture Best of Show in AP contest

paul

 The YDR’s Jason Plotkin followed York countian Paul Miller’s recovery after his near-fatal bout with Streptococcus Pneumoniae. His photographs captured “Best of Show” in Pennsylvania Associated Press Awards competition recently. 

“The hands and heart of Paul Miller,” a photo essay by the York Daily Record’s Jason Plotkin won Best of Show in Associated Press Managing Editors Association competition.

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Still for sale

Post by Jason Plotkin

Here are some of the images still for sale at YorkArts located at 118 West Philadelphia that benefit Olivia's House

Here are some of the images still for sale at YorkArts located at 118 West Philadelphia that benefit Olivia’s House

It was a great start. So far this week, the photojournalists from the York Daily Record and Hanover Evening Sun have sold six images from the gallery show with 100% of the proceeds going to Olivia’s House, a grief center for children. But there are still 15 images left. Some of those photographs that are printed on either canvas wrap, metal or mounted, can be seen in the image above, or you can see all of the images by going to this photo gallery.

In addition to the kickoff of the fund raiser, I got to spend time with some of the kids who have benefitted from the program when we hung out taking photographs at Central Market. To see some of the impressive photos they took, check out this photo gallery.

To see and purchase one of the images still left, you can visit CityArts at 118 West Philadelphia Street tonight from 4-6pm for a Happy Hour or go to the gallery either Thursday or Saturday, from 10-2.

If that doesn’t work out, you can contact me directly at jplotkin@ydr.com or contact Cindi Greco, the Audience Development Manager at the YNC at cgreco@mediaonepa.com

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