Getting to know sharp minds on the East Coast

Up until September 2006, I spent my entire journalism career on the West Coast, and mostly with very little travel.

I knew journalists and newspaper people throughout California, and because of online e-mail lists and such, I knew a handful of people based in other parts of the U.S.

Frankly, I was largely ignorant of a lot of the good work going on in the Northeast.

In these parts, my co-worker Shannon Dunnigan is a heavyweight, but I knew nothing about her before joining GateHouse.  I’ve also gotten to know Dan Kennedy, Sean Polay, Joe Michaud, Lisa Williams, Bob Kempf and Bill Densmore among many others (I know I’m forgetting several people) since arriving in New York.  Hey, I barely even knew my own boss, Bill Blevins, before coming east.

Not long ago, I got to meet and spend time talking with John Wilpers, whom I’ve discovered in one of the sharper minds in online news.  The other day, I got an e-mail from him indicated he launched a new blog.  As I would expect from Wilpers, the topics are fresh, insightful and on target.

Rockford making great progress with web-first strategy

Part of my job is to travel around the country and visit our newsrooms, where I make a presentation about our online strategy.  The Rockford Register Star is an example of a newsroom that has totally embraced the web.  They produced the video below to incorporate into the GateHouse training program.

Unique job opportunity with GateHouse Media

Here is a chance to do something completely different.

GateHouse Media is looking for two ambitious, entrepreneurial individuals to help us reinvent local journalism.

The ideal candidate:

  • A recent college graduate (or graduating this spring)
  • At least six months experience blogging
  • Capable of shooting and editing his or her own video
  • Ready to do more than sit in an office and make phone calls or pull the latest agenda item from a city council meeting and try to turn it into a story
  • Believes in local news and local community and sees a role for journalism in helping a community communicate and learn about what is happening in that community

In this job, you will have a chance to define a new role for community journalists. You will be doing more than trying to shove five W’s and an H into an inverted pyramid. This job is about figuring out what a community of people really wants from its local community site.

What we’re looking for is people who can work on their own, willing to try new things and not be bound “that’s how it’s always been done.”  You will be expected to be responsible for coming up with new ideas for your site, both in coverage and presentation, and for growing audience.

We will provide you with the technology and tools to get the job done.  We will expect you to grow readership and participation.

Chances are you will be required to relocate.

Applicants should e-mail me at howens -at- gatehouse media (oneword) dot com.

CantonRep does good job with battle of the bands videos

Local music: It’s a logical avenue into reaching a younger audience. It helps reflect what’s really going on in the community you’re sworn to cover. It ads depth of coverage to your

And who doesn’t love a good music video? I’ve long suspected that the reason many reporters get excited about shooting video is they’ve watched a lot of MTV.

But you don’t see many music videos on newspaper sites.

The reason is simple, really. To do music video well takes time, and lots of it, good equipment, and costs can add up quickly, as well as real talent.

What you’re really looking at is significant expense and time away from doing the core business of covering news.

Yeah, but wouldn’t it be fun to make a music video?

The Canton Repository (a GateHouse Media paper) found a great lo-fi approach. During the photo shoot for its upcoming Battle of the Bands (a competition open only to bands comprised of high school students), the Rep filmed band members milling about the newspaper building, and in the photo studio.

The results are simple, elegant and engaging. The keys to success are good editing and well-composed shots of kids aspiring to the spotlight. All the videos are a reminiscent of Hard Day’s Night.

Some of the music ain’t bad, either.

Here’s my favorite:

Ya Dig? by PJ & The Whistlers

It’s good for reporters to get involved in the local discussion communities

Here’s an example of a GateHouse Media reporter who isn’t afraid of the new medium, is entrepreneurial and forward thinking — Jessica Gaspar, a reporter for our weekly in Hennrietta, New York, has started her own section on an independently run town bulletin board.  She calls it Jessica’s Corner.

Jessica uses here posts to ask for story tips, get feedback on articles and promote her own weekly as well as the web site.

Her posts are fun and lively and some of them generate a bit of conversation.  She includes all of her contact information in all of her posts.

Many towns these days have these local bulletin boards that are usually frequented by the biggest news junkies and gossip hounds in town.  It makes a lot of sense for a reporter covering that beat to become part of that community.

If Jessica happens by this blog post maybe she will leave a comment about how this has all worked out for her — the upsides and downsides and what she’s learned.

(via RottenChester)

Video taxonomy new term: Video Illustration

I’m reading an interesting book right now called Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages.

How we label and categorize things is important to how we understand our environment.

Nearly a year ago, Andy Dickinson did a post labeling three types of newspaper video: Disruptive, channel and multimedia. At the time, I suggested “attached video” was a better label than “disruptive,” being that disruption is a strategy not a category.

That post influenced a slide in my internal video training presentation. My three categories of video have been: Attached, story, and webcast.

Attached is that short video meant to embed on a story page. Story video is the full story, no text needed, and webcast is that sort of thing that usually has an anchor/host and covers more than one topic.

A couple of weeks ago, Victor DeRubeis left a comment on a post highlighting a couple of GateHouse Media videos.

Nice raw video, yes. But where’s the journalism? Where’s the editing? Where’s the context?

And somewhere, though I can’t find the comment now, somebody said of one of our videos that it was nothing more than a moving photo illustration.

That’s the comment that stuck in my head. It’s a V8-moment! The proper term is not “attached video.” It is a “video illustration.”

To me, these comments intended to be criticism are actually high praise. This is exactly what we’re after with quick-production, point-and-shoot video.

Story video may have its time and place, but unlike some, I don’t believe that is the sum and whole of what online video can or should be.

The point of quick-production, reporter-shot video should be to illustrate in a way that words alone cannot. Raw is good. Heavy editing is a waste of time. Context is a distraction. The point is not to capture the whole story. It is to illustrate a story.

That’s not to say that we’re doing all that well at that goal yet, but it’s still a style of newspaper video I believe in passionately. I believe we will learn. I believe we will get better. I’ve seen enough glimpses of how well this can work to believe that as quality and understanding (reporters developing the appropriate sense of when and how to use this type of video), it will prove a very useful tool both journalisticly and strategically.

UPDATE: Andy Dickinson does a nice job of responding to this post.  He clarifys, expands and explains what I’m trying to explain.

York finding success with quick-production video

If there’s one statement I’ve made about video that has drawn the most fire it is that reporter-shot video should take no more an hour to shoot and edit.

For most news videos, any more time than that is just a waste because you’re not going to get enough views from any one video (there are exceptions, of course) to justify the time commitment, especially when you’re talking about reporters who also have print responsibilities.

I think this line of thinking is especially important at small newspapers (the kind I deal with every day) where publishers will NEVER hire a full-time videographer (or at least not until video advertising becomes a major revenue stream).

Andy Dickinson points us to a newspaper web crew in Nebraska that is regularly doing quick-production video and starting to get some traction with the local audience.

Online producer Eric Eckert tells Andy,

This year alone, we (3 staff) have produced over 450 videos which have received over 120,000 views. Most of the videos are, as you stated, 2-3 minutes long. The numbers differ though when you look at how long it takes us to make the videos. We usually spend 10-15 minutes shooting the video and I usually spend 15-30 minutes editing the video. In breaking news situations, like car accidents, we are generally shooting photos as well. We probably average getting a 2-3 minute report and 100 photos onto our site in less than an hour.

And in a follow up, Eric says,

Melanie has been instrumental with helping to get more videos out fast. She takes flack from time-o-time because she might say “uh” here or there, but we generally get the shot done in one take and that’s what we want. Our number one concern is to get the information out there.

Sure, we could spend a day making a report, but when it comes down to it, it looks real, you can tell she’s not robotically reading off a prompter and once again, we can have it online faster.

There are many advantages to putting the emphasis on speed-of-production:

  • You can simply produce more content, and more content feeds the long-tail.
  • More, faster production, means you’re going to learn faster. Learning is still the number one task for all newspaper video producers (remember what Ira Glass says about this?).
  • More video means the audience is learning faster than your site is a go-to place for local video.
  • Speed to publication is exceptionally important to online audience growth.

Eric’s newspaper is the York News Times. There are two interesting things about that. First, the York paper is a GateHouse Media property now; second, while it’s a GateHouse property, we’ve never had a direct discussion with anybody in York about our video strategy. York developed its approach while still owned by Morris. It’s great to see York being successful with its own homegrown strategy.

UPDATE: Good follow-on post from Zac Echola.

Example of capturing breaking news with stills and video

Here’s another example of the advantage of journalists always being armed with video-capable cameras.

There was a dramatic fire in Gloucester, Mass. Saturday morning. GateHouse Media photojournalist Kirk Williamson shot both stills and video (for the video, he used one of the Casio’s we issue).

Story with photos.


Editor Chris Biondi posted this interview with Kirk.

How did you juggle between still and video? What was your thought process? As with all spot news it’s important to shoot the overall as you are going into the scene. This I did with my still cameras, shooting wide with one camera and long with the other. Once the paper and Web site are covered with stills (about 10 minutes in) I pulled out the Casio and started doing video overalls following the same routine. Wide overall, then tight action. In this situation it’s important to follow a pattern and not get all flustered with what is going on. After I had some video I went back to shooting stills and alternated back and forth until I went, looking for different angles, etc.

I would contend that Kirk would have had a lot harder time doing both stills and video if, after taking his stills, he had a complete video camera kit to set up (bigger camera, tripod, lights, mics, etc.). And having all that, there would be a real temptation to turn this into a “visual journalism story,” instead of simply showing what’s going on. And the whole process, including editing, would have taken exponentially longer. For this event, just being able to whip out the Casio and get a few frames to show the fire live-action is all that is needed.

Covering naked and jogging college students is good community journalism

The GateHouse Media paper in Somerville made Romenesko today.

Jim Romenekso’s blog post deals with a story and video about an annual tradition at Tufts University — hundreds of students made naked laps around the quad early in the night (video at the bottom of this post).

Romenesko’s primary link to a blog post by a Jay Fizgerald, a blogger for a a rival newspaper site, I mention that because I find it terribly interesting that Fitzgerald seems comfortable snarking at our web policies while lacking enough savvy to link to the story on the site.

Dan Kennedy, a generally reasonable, savvy and experienced media commentator and journalism professor in Boston is more pointed in his criticism (seemingly calling me out along the way to weigh in myself, which is fine by me).

Still, posting pictures of drunken* students running around in their birthday suits is not the sort of thing a community newspaper ought to be doing. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

*(Are they drunk at this stage of the evening? How do we know? The run is pre-D.J.-hosted party.)

As for me, I think one of the reasons quality journalism is in retreat these days is because we haven’t spent enough time and effort truly covering our communities. We spend way too much time on he-said, she-said local political scandals and deadly dull town council meetings and not enough time really showing what people in our communities are doing.

We certainly don’t cover enough events attended by young people, unless those young people happen to be singing in the choir or collecting dimes to earn a Rotary trip to Ethiopia.

All of that, of course, is good important community news, but that isn’t all there is, and our failure to cover the rest is a big part of why we’re losing readership, especially among younger audiences, who are getting more and more accustomed to the uncensored web.

(The underlying point here, in case it isn’t obvious, is that audience=revenue, and newspapers are declining on both counts, and it takes revenue, and lots of it, to pay for the kind of journalism us ink-stained types love.)

This is no time for community journalism to be squeamish — and keep in mind, we’re talking about a video that shows, essentially, nothing. What it does capture is the spirit of the moment. What it does record for posterity is a real event, in a real community, that is seemingly important to a lot of people in that community.

Isn’t that an essential part of journalism’s role, even if offends some people’s sensibilities, even some of the participants (read the comments on the story)?

Should journalists really be in the role of hiding the truth of what really goes on in a community? I feel like that is what Dan Kennedy is suggesting.

To me, this story and this video (and it really isn’t much of a story without the video) are fundamentally good journalism because they capture some societal reality. In fact, the reactions to the video support that assertion — just read the 100+ comments on the story, or the comments on YouTube or on Dan Kennedy’s blog — the video is forcing some real debate about the state of our society, including journalism’s role in society. I think that debate is both healthy for the community and healthy for journalism. And it doesn’t happen, sometimes, unless reporters and editors are willing to take some chances and do some things that people in the community would rather they not do.

What ever happened to no fear, no favor in journalism?

There’s also a Facebook protest group now, which is highly amusing. Think about it — group of students throw privacy concerns to the wind by running around naked in public (even posting pictures to Flickr), and then get upset when that event is covered by a media outlet. How ironic.

And think of all the media coverage there has been recently about how open many students are on MySpace and Facebook about their private lives (example).

Obviously, these people are operating at a level that embraces some sort of double standard — as in, we can post our own drunken, irreverent pictures for all the world to see on the Web, but don’t let “the media” post anything about our shenanigans. Is that a double standard journalists should accept, meaning ignore, or cover it as part of a journalistic obligation to correctly reflect what’s going on in society?

One thing about GateHouse Media is that it is blessed with many great editors. One of them is Greg Reibman, the editor-in-chief ultimately responsible for coverage in Somerville. He left this comment on Kennedy’s post:

Ever since Community Newspaper Company was formed, the rub has been that a giant corporation was going to take unique papers and turn them into cookie cutter clones. Instead, we have scores of unique community publications and a management which recognizes that different communities have different standards.

None of this is meant to suggest that I think this story is bold journalism or making a strong social statement.

We covered it because it was fun — and funny — which I believe is the same reason why all those Tufts kids have been taking off all their clothes and running around in public for the past five years.

Yes, it is a fun story, but it also accurately reflects an element of what is going on in that community, and that deserves, to me, serious consideration by a news organization — and serious consideration means accurately covering the event. I would argue that video gives us a unique power to provide that accuracy that mere text doesn’t capture.

These are turbulent and fast-moving times — times that are comparable to the introduction of moveable type, when first-ever communication among a more more greatly dispersed strata of society forced rapid societal changes, even toppling church hierarchies and governments. It is in that context I say again, this is no time for journalism to become squeamish.

We must cover our communities as we really find them. We must use all available tools to reflect those communities back to our friends and neighbors in those communities. And then we must host the discussions that those reports encourage.

Good journalism, as always, and to again repeat myself, requires no fear and no favor.

UPDATE: Jay snarks back very nicely.

… it seems Howard Owens is upset with me for actually getting the Somerville Journal’s side in a very small controversy over its written and video coverage of the Tufts Naked Quad Run … I also know how to link to stories and posts on the Internet. I can even do Google searches. See my combined talents here and here and here. … Now that is snark. …

P.S. – I didn’t mind the Journal’s coverage. I also like what WickedLocal is doing on the web in general, though I could do without the hair-trigger self-righteousness at the slightest whiff of controversy. …

Here’s the controversial video: