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.

Posted in Digital first, Job opportunities, Social media | 1 Comment

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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Journalists: Be humble, be learners, work hard. You don’t have to be an expert at the beginning

When your newsroom wins a prestigious Keystone Press Award, like the John V. Bull Award for freedom of information work, you’re asked to say a few words at the annual awards banquet, attended by several hundred journalists from across the state.

The YDR won the Bull award this year for the third straight time. It’s an honor that recognizes a staffwide commitment to using public records in stories big and small — from how to check whether a licensed professional has been disciplined to campaign finance to examining why York County initially denied a man a request for specific information in 911 logs, something it had been court-ordered to release.

So, about those few words: The YDR asked me to accept the award Saturday night in State College. Editor Jim McClure asked me to post what I said. So here it is, including a quote pulled from Nieman Storyboard. I know that in winning the award, we might be considered experts on public records — but, really, the staff just works its butt off at this, and yeah, we gain knowledge as we go along, but we learn something new every time we use the right-to-know law:

This is, literally, a staff award, so to the judges and to the PNA, thank you on behalf of the YDR.

It’s an honor to be recognized, because we understand how much great journalism is being done by all of you and by a lot of people in your newsrooms.

I’m privileged to work at the YDR, where we have staffers who come in every day wanting to do great work, wanting to be better, wanting to challenge themselves.

And I try to remember that for all the experience we gain, that journalism, as much as anything, is still about knowing what you don’t know.

It’s about having the humility to understand that in some ways, when you take on a new project, you start out by learning.

That’s why I love this quote from writer Susan Orlean, and I hope it reminds us all to be humble learners and to welcome that sense of discovery when we go after the next big story:

Susan Orlean: I enter all my stories as a student. I don’t know anything about anything. I had no expertise. I was a student for the five or six years I was reporting on Rin Tin Tin. I gave myself a seminar, and then there was a significant moment where I felt that I could become a teacher, and I could teach readers what I had learned. That’s the moment I felt that I could write about World War II. I could write about a piece of it in a very intimate way. It’s something that I feel: That model of going into a story as a student frees you out of that notion that you need to go in as an expert.

Thank you.

P.S. Here is what the judges said about the YDR’s public-records work: “News stories, statistical compilations, a ‘how to’ for citizens hunting for information, a total commitment to preserving freedom of the press using examples of its value. Good writing, good reporting, well-edited and, best of all, useful.”

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Using a childhood loss to help others

This photo by Hanover Evening Sun photojournalist Clare Becker will be for sale on Friday, June 6 at York Arts to benefit Olivia's House.

This image by Hanover Evening Sun photojournalist Clare Becker will be for sale on Friday, June 6 at York Arts to benefit Olivia’s House.

Post by Jason Plotkin

She was face down on the floor.

My grandmother had fallen out of bed in the middle of the night. This had been happening so often at the time that she and I would even joke about it. So when I approached to help her up, I was laughing.

She wasn’t.

It’s not an easy situation for anyone to deal with. The death of someone you love is hard enough.

Being the one to find her or him is even harder, especially for a 12-year-old boy.

I didn’t quite know how to process all of this at the time. There were things I knew I needed. Things I didn’t know I needed. But, looking back, there is one thing I wish I had.

I wish I had Olivia’s House.

After my parents divorced when I was 8, I shut down and had a hard time trusting people. My brother and I ended up living at my grandmother’s house with our father.

I didn’t know it at the time, but we both needed each other. I was missing a mother figure, and after my grandfather died years earlier she needed a reason to keep living.

We found each other.

Her unconditional and patient love helped me in ways I didn’t realize until years later.

And after that night when I found her and lost her in the same moment, a place like Olivia’s House could have helped a confused, scared and angry boy.

For those who are not familiar with the organization, Olivia’s House is a grief and loss center for children. Whether that loss is a parent, sibling, friend, grandparent or pet, the center offers a variety of no-cost programs and services to help children work their way through a very difficult time.

I’ve always been a fan of the program. I had covered many stories about Olivia’s House and even volunteered for a few years.

So when an opportunity came up again to help, I jumped all over it.

In a partnership with York Arts and FlipSidePa, I am joining other photojournalists in selling some of our favorite photographs with all proceeds going to Olivia’s House.

The event will be held at CityArt located at 118 W. Philadelphia St. 5-9 p.m. Friday, June 6.

It is part of York’s regular First Friday, and the photographs will be up for sale for the entire week.

For more information about the event, Go here.

And for information about Olivia’s House, check out its website at http://www.oliviashouse.org/

You never know when a child you know may need help from Olivia’s House.

I know I did.

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Anna’s Amazing Race a powerful reminder of what the York community can do

Team America, which consisted of Cayla Snydeman, Pat Bosso, Matt Krebs and Nick Becker took home third place and was also winner of the most spirit award Saturday (photo by April Trotter)

Team America, which consisted of Cayla Snydeman, Pat Bosso, Matt Krebs and Nick Becker took home third place and was also winner of the most spirit award Saturday (photo by April Trotter)

I broke rule No. 1 as a journalist. I got involved.

You see, we’re taught in journalism school to observe the news and report it.
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What does York County want?

Tuesday afternoon, we asked York County on our Facebook page, “FILL IN THE BLANK: I wish York County had _____.”

The commenters by Wednesday morning totaled slightly more than 500. According to Facebook’s analytics, the post reached more than 29,000.

And while these responses may not be statistically significant, they do offer an interesting perspective into what York countians wish the county had. The statistics were tallied by the number of times something was named in the comments.

Highlights include more than 75 votes for a Wegmans, the most of any single item.

Here’s a breakdown of all the topics that received more than 10 votes in the comments as of 7 a.m. today:
Continue reading “What does York County want?” »

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