What I found on Page One

For the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” – Marshall McLuhan

It begins with paper –gigantic rolls that filter through large machine at alarming rates. Pumping out news at what we used to believe was a fast rate.

But now we don’t need paper. Now we don’t need large machines. A device the size of your palm sends out worldwide messages.

So does news remain the same?

Page One: Inside the New York Times roots itself around this issue – speaking of the NY Times as news itself. To mimic the belief that mainstream media (old media as us younglings say) is somehow more viable – more credible – than any new age medium. And that somehow “news papers are special,” – meaning they can exist forever based on the simple fact that they are an institution.

But institutions crumble when they don’t change.

While watching the film, I thought about a rhetoric class I took this spring. We discussed media theory, in this wonderful time when “old” media is finally confronting its bastard child, “new” media. But, from what I remember – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

The content of old media is new media  

In the scene where David Carr debates the founder of Newser, he drives home his point by snipping out all the content Newser borrows from mainstream media. Many online “news” sites that aren’t branches of a particular media outlet, are mere aggregates of already published works. From blog posts to the NY Times front page, these sites take what’s out there and change the message to suit the medium.

The big scoop is that all content from “old” media is essentially repackaged in “new” media. Consider what it must have been like when radio came onto the scene. Well it was broadcast right in your living room! Who can stop the media now when they could invade the home so easily!

All that changed was the means by which news was disseminated.

 By taking the same stories, radio sold a different version of the same content. In much the same way, Vice was taking what CNN was already producing as content – and made it accessible to a new audience. But does accessible substitute credible? Once again, the medium plays a significant role. CNN established itself as a credible journalism force, to the point where its average viewership age is 49. By pushing the envelope on what television news can show, Vice brings a very new approach to news – show what the viewers want to see.

The medium is the message

If anything, Page One exemplifies this notion. A newspaper sends a certain type of message – that the news is in-depth,written in long form (by today’s standards), an editor has slaved over details,  and with the push of a printing button – all is consolidated as fact.

But Judith Miller and Jason Blair tainted that message. The medium itself was put under scrutiny and labelled unreliable when its content was flawed. If an online news source makes an error, spelling or factual, the ramifications are different. It is news pushed out to feed the mouths of the information eaters, and so what is there’s a bit too much salt. Online news can be changed within the ten minutes it takes for one to discover the error.  As an interview in the film said, “there is a cost for bad stories” – does that still exist when news seems to be everywhere?

Consider this: people tweet lies about celebrities dying in car crashes. Does this ruin the reliability of twitter in the context of real news events such as the Egyptian revolution?

The medium shapes our experience

If one reads a tweet about a natural disaster, the memory of the events always includes the medium. I remember when the Japan earthquake happened – I followed the feed on my phone and looked at images taken by those five feet away from the rushing water. Not the so-called “best, most impactful” (edited) image on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

Another profound example of medium imposing itself in history is WikiLeaks and the Pentagon Papers. What made those war reports so scary, so powerful? They were printed on paper; they were released with much delay. They were not accessible. What happens when Julian Assange decides that this should not be the case – that everyone has a right to information? The best way to send that message is with a medium built of quick dissemination to (essentially) the entire world – the web. Is the pen really mightier than the mouse? The Pentagon Papers will be remembered for its publication in print, while WikiLeaks will remain a testament to the citizen-power of the Internet.

Where’s my by-line?

This film affirmed that “news is not dying.” If anything, the western world is a giant information hog – wanting to know more and more each day. Taking up large amounts of data. Whether or not the information is considered relevant or important is another matter. If Gawker wants to play in the Feedback Loop, where it recycles what people are already talking about, then the NY Times still has its place. It would be a sore loss when investigative journalism dies – because what will really be disseminated that’s truly news? If news becomes too much of ratings play – or the race for most unique views – what happens to journalism and telling unheard stories?

 I liked, in a strange way, when Assange said “journalism is just a tool.” It leaves me thinking that perhaps all that will change is the toolbox.  Just as a stove sits comfortably in the kitchen with a microwave; so too will newspapers find their place in a world of new media.

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Throwing a Pitch

I like to tell stories –that’s no surprise. But one of the challenges I face this year is pitching them.

Pitching stories is an important part of journalism. News releases and editors help to pass on stories, and work as a starting point; but there comes a time when a journalist has to step up to the mound and pitch. You know, stop being lazy. Finding an issue, forming an angle, contacting sources – no matter the medium, stories have to come from somewhere.

I’m not sure why I have difficulty here, as I’ve pitched stories to the school paper and during my time at the Brandon Sun. Currently, my journalism class is working with Canstar community newspapers, in where we have to pitch our stories. So I’ve decided to break down, for me and you, ways to go about finding – and making – news.

“But I’ve never pitched a story before”: you’ve got it

We pitch ideas every day.

Want to go see the Da Vinci exhibition? How about we schedule a meeting for tomorrow? What about eating at a new sushi place? Sure, these examples are rudimentary, but the basic notion of forming a “suggestion” is there.

Suggesting stories should start as a question. Talk to yourself, but bouncing ideas off others is good practise – especially for future story meetings.

What do I want to hear about? How do people in my community feel about [blank]? Just what is that mystery construction project all about? Asking simple questions can lead to the heart of a (potential) story, but it can’t just be about anything.

“Can I write about my pet rock?”: seven news makers

If it bleeds, it leads – and certainly in Winnipeg, crime stories grab headlines (unless it’s political parley time).  But it’s not all about guts and gory.

In PR, we learned how to get a media outlet to cover your story – using one (or more) of seven elements to “hook ’em.” Now that I’m studying journalism, these elements still apply when deciding if something is “newsworthy” or not.

1. Timely: this is very important for news – if it could be told any other time, what’s the point?
2. Prominence: this I consider to represent “importance to audience.” If the story doesn’t hold much sway for readers, it’ll be tucked on page 11 (if you’re lucky.) If you can make it mean something for the audience, you’ve got a strong start.
3. Local: people want to hear news about/from home. A crime spree in the neighbourhood, a new business in the community, or a 10-year-old performing on stage with Lady GaGa – local is focal.  
4. Novelty: another story about corn mazes? But this one is shaped like the Jet’s logo! Combine things that do not typically go together – why do you think the media is eating up “politicians who use social media”?
5. Human Interest: the name says it all – people love hearing about warm fuzzies.
6. Conflict: just like the recipe for a great plot, a dash of conflict makes people want more.
7. Impacts a large number of people – or a small number in a large way: of course, this is what gets readers reading – things that matter to them. Give the reader a stake in the story.

“Okay I can pitch – but now what?”: final steps

Ultimately pitching a story – and what to pitch – is affected by these factors:

Media outlet: each one is different, thus requirements for journalists vary. For our college paper, many story ideas are generated by the editors (although pitches are encouraged). CJOB radio has daily story meetings where reporters pitch their stories. The level varies, but knowing how to (and what makes a) pitch is a great asset.

Audience: we can all lose sight of our audience from time to time. If the media outlet speaks to a 55 plus audience, pitch stories and angles that work for that reader. Being too different can lead to an unpublished story, and a waste of time.

Time of year: as we’re in the midst of a provincial election, pitching a related story is good – because it will incorporate many of the aforementioned news makers. During Christmas, find human interest pieces. Knowing what works at different times of the year will help focus your pitch, and provides a good starting place.

You: if you work at it, trying to find new angles to old stories and good angles for new ones, will make pitching stories second nature. It is up to you to expand your skills as a journalist. Pitching a story can also mean writing about things that interest you, a nice change from assigned work.

Have any tips for how to pitch stories? Leave a comment below on The Feed.

Snail (E)mail

Why certain things are best left old school

It’s a fundamental of journalism: interviewing. Every quoted source in a story was once interviewed – or at least asked a question – by someone. The best quotes come from interviews where the subject speaks naturally. By “naturally” I mean that the answers are in the moment, authentic, so that one can actually picture a human being speaking. 

The best way to ensure this: interview in person.

For most stories, it is a given that the interview will happen on site – in person. But often times, when doing a feature for example, the interview needs to be set-up. I was advised to always try to go somewhere to interview. Whether it’s their favourite coffee shop, place of work, or home.  It adds another layer to your story, and hopefully creates a casual atmosphere. Also, the subject may feel better knowing that the journalist they spoke to, understands them clearly. Of course, this approach will not work for every interview.

While most of my first interviews were conducted in person, it soon became apparent that this type of interview is a luxury. Not only are you as a journalist expected to accomplish more than one thing a day, and the excuse “he wasn’t available” doesn’t cut it at deadline; the interview subject also leads a busy life. Even if the source if close, say from the same province as you– good luck making it home for dinner.

Phone interviews are the next best thing, because they still offer the ability to have a conversation. Working in a city like Winnipeg often means calling out to larger cities for news on big stories. Most of my freelance work is for trade magazines out west. All of the subjects live in other cities, with different time zones. It is still possible to have a meaningful interview, ripe with great quotes and information, across the telephone wire.

But try getting a hold of a company owner and you’ll be tied up in secretary phone-tag. Journalists deal with a company’s PR when it comes to talking about a story. For those who don’t know, the PR person writes the CEO’s quote in the company’s news release. It was in my PR class where I learned that writing a quote that appears to be natural and spoken, is one of the hardest parts of writing an effective news release.

I mention this because a news release style quote is what you’ll when resorting to your last option: an e-mail interview.  

Pros

  1. Fast, efficient way to send questions
  2. Especially for long-distance
  3. The subject writes it
  4. A great way to ask for clarification on a matter without being tied up on the phone.

Cons

  1. The response may not be fast
  2. The subject writes it; and (usually) not the way they normally speak
  3. Just who the hell did write it?
  4. Follow-up questions don’t stand a chance: sending another set of questions in response to the answers leaves both parties confused.
  5. Questions may not be understood. The subject may answer something in the wrong context. This could be bad news for both parties.
  6. The subject has (sometimes) thought too long about the questions – the response is calculated and robotic.
  7. If the subject spells a word wrong, or auto correct changes a word – it’s done. That is what goes into the story. On the other side, your question may be altered by auto-correct.
  8. The subject is known only to you as an e-mail address. If the interview is for a feature, this leaves you with little interesting observations to add to the article.

For a feature profile on a hair stylist, I would talk about his style, what his hair looks like, how he sits. For my article on drag queen families I wrote a lot about the club where they performed, the interaction between them and others at the club. The nuances that make a story. I will go on the record and say an e-mail interviewee never goes into the detail you want. Partly because what you are “looking for” only comes out in the conversation and environment.

So use e-mail cautiously and make sure to understand its limitations. We are not restricted; technology like Skype is a possibility for long distance interviews.  Or Face Time available on Apple products. But while we wait for everyone to turn the page slowly (grease your fingers people!), it’s best to stick with keeping it old school.  

Have any interviewing tips or stories? Share it with The Feed below

Journalism say what?

This is my catch 22.

I’m studying journalism, I feel this tingling-in-my-toes excitement about it, but how do I even explain what it is? When I tell people that I’m studying journalism, their definitions vary in a polarizing fashion.

“Oh yeah, print or television?”

Not one person I mention this to (outside of the media circle) has commented on the expansion of journalism. The glaring fact that there is no new journalist versed in only one medium. It’s career suicide.

Journalism has grown by whittling down word count – our hunger for quick stories at the tips of our fingers has placed a demand on newsrooms. Short and sweet and ’aplenty.  Web video and Twitter feeds have opened up new avenues for the basic building block of journalism – story telling.

Story telling with pressure: journalists are responsible for the news. Pardon me for being grandiose – but history itself is modeled by the stories of the time. A person is behind each story – from the community knitting club to the Egyptian revolution – in every format. And what about that story attributed to someone from The Associated Press? One can become jaded into thinking that these stories just write themselves without considering that every word was placed there. Every vowel bought. And while the world of journalism expands with multimedia, it does not mean “anyone with a cellphone” can do the job.

We tell stories; while the kid with the iPhone-at-the-right-time moment helps to supplement the telling. I don’t mean to lessen the importance of being an active participant in the world around you; rather, point out that there is a learned form to journalism. But not necessarily a formula.

Journalism differs among individuals due to their writing style. And let’s not forget, every journalist is a writer whether the news is published in written or broadcast format. Aside from universals such as covering the facts, remaining balanced, and (hopefully) ethical; a journalist puts his or her stamp on every sentence, radio broadcast, b-roll and blog.

Journalism is at the heart of our world perspective. The adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” will always remain. Whether it remains a literal hand-held pen is another story.

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Daniella will be blogging about journalism related topics for class, and editing topics on her new blog Edit Dip.

Mile High Dreams

They say yes ma’m
please ma’m
– take your seat
No ma’m
Can’t ma’m
would you like fish or meat?

They pander and fawn
over every last whim
“Which religion are you?”
(Each one gets a hymn)

They work up high
in narrow aisles of space
with hundreds of customers
a taxing array of tastes

They smile and nod
like good people do
but once you arrive
they happily – in every language –
Shoo.

What’s their life like?
how does one change?
From a beautiful servant
(who helps the deranged)
to a mother,
a friend,
or perhaps someone engaged.

Do they think of ovens
Did I leave it on in Dubai?
or do they pine over lovers
and unfed pets –
who “now here lie”

Who do they miss
when house is not a home
when days and nights are spent
in an airborne aluminum dome

Do they envy passengers
who at screens stare blank
hoping, wishing, sighing
they had enough in the bank

To vacation on a cruise
(of course nothing to do with air)
where they can frolic on sand
without a bun in their hair

But alas
they must return to their seats
the turbulence shaking awake dreams
while altitude swells their feet.

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