We’re sad to see another outstanding beatblogger leaving the industry.
It’s been a rough for years for journalism, and many of the top beatbloggers we have been following have left the industry. People like Kent Fischer and Ed Silverman helped pioneer the practice of beatblogging, but now they have moved on to new, non-journalism careers. Our first leaderboard member this week, Dave Levinthal, was inspired by Kent Fischer and modeled his beatblog after his.
But Levinthal like his inspiration has left journalism.
Dave Levinthal | The Dallas Morning News
- Another great beatblogger, political reporter Dave Levinthal, is leaving newspapers. Thankfully Levinthal will remain in a role as a government watchdog. He is moving on to OpenSecrets.Org as their new communications director.
- From the press release of Levinthal’s hiring, “Through its award-winning, publicly accessible Web site, www.OpenSecrets.org, CRP examines the influence of money on elections and public policy, especially in the U.S. Congress. Levinthal will oversee the center’s original journalism and blogging, and serve as its spokesman to the news media and other organizations that rely on CRP’s research and analysis.”
- I can’t think of anyone else that I would want overseeing online journalism and blogging at a politically-oriented organization than Levinthal. He is one of the best modern political reporters. He combines strong journalism skills with new media skills and should fit in well at OpenSecrets.Org. We’ll have more later this week on Levinthal’s new gig.
- Our previous content on Levinthal: 1) Podcast: Levinthal on starting a beat blog to meet users’ needs, 2) Levinthal shows how link journalism is done, 3) Levinthal makes leaderboard for his innovative coverage of a local election and 4) Levinthal made the leaderboard for hoisting comments.
Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz is taking his link journalism to the next level by incorporating Publish2 into his work flow. This will allow his users to submit their own links to interesting content from around the Web. Together, their link journalism should be very good.
- Ortiz started a Publish2 group for news from around the Web related to state workers. The beauty of a Publish2 group is that Ortiz can allow users of his blog, state workers and other knowledgeable people into his group. Publish2 has a verification process that keeps marketers and spammers out, and that’s a big reason why we like Publis2 for link journalism, as opposed to sites like Delicious. Ortiz can hand select who he wants to let into his Publish2 group, which should help him get the most out of his link journalism efforts.
- One of the things that Ortiz is doing with his link journalism is linking to state worker-related news that isn’t just about Californian state workers. This will allow Ortiz to showcase state workers issue from around the country and compare those to issues facing state workers in California. Ortiz is one of the best reporters on state government in California, but the only way he could tell the larger story of state employees across the country is by linking to the best.
Stimulus Spot Check | ProPublica
- ProPublic was nominated by Ryan Sholin, who said this about the Stimulus Spot Check project, “I’m moderately fascinated by ProPublica’s crowdsourcing process (and platform) for listing, assigning, and gathering information on local stimulus projects.”
- The stimulus is a massive bill with billions of dollars being spent all over the country. Crowdsourcing is the most logical way to track how stimulus spending is going. ProPublica’s Stimulus Spot Check is an interesting case study into how effective crowdsourcing can be. Perhaps more importantly, this project is a great case study into how to build and manage large-scale crowdsourcing efforts.
- ProPublica is looking for users to “help us figure out the status of these projects — whether the project has been started or has been completed, what company got the contract, and how many jobs the company says it retained or created for its stimulus contract. Everyone who contributes will be credited in our story.”
- The project is very young and there aren’t many results yet, but this is a massive crowdsourcing project worth keeping an eye on. As resources continue to be cut at traditional news organizations, harnessing the wisdom and time of the crowd will continue to be more and more important.
Robert Quigley was recently named social media editor at the Austin American-Statesman.
Yes, you read that correctly: a newspaper has a social media editor. And why not? Newspapers have all kinds of editors, but few have a dedicated editorial staffer who focuses solely on social media.
“To me, social media is one of those things where it is no longer a question whether you should, but how you should do it,” Quigley said.
For Quigley, being on social media isn’t something that’s nice to do but optional. He said harnessing social media (and the Web, mobile and any new tools that pop up) is a question of relevancy.
“If we’re going to stay relevant, we need to be everywhere,” he said.
If millions of people are on social media, Quigley said journalists need to be there too. Social media is only going to become more popular and its relevancy will only increase. Ignoring social media may be tantamount to ignoring reality.
In his previous role as Internet Editor, Quigley spent half of his time on social media and the other half on working with the newsroom to make sure the Statesman’s staffers were coordinated and getting content and breaking news online.
“I’ve found a lot of success with social media in the past year,” Quigley said. “The management here recognized that and wanted to advance even further with social media.”
And social media really is a full time job. Papers like the Statesman have scores of reporters and editors using social media and engaging users online. Quigley is now the point man for social media and how journalists should be using it at the Statesman. Perhaps more importantly, Quigley is the point man for experimenting with new technologies.
“I can spend more time focusing on social media, interacting with the community, finding the best ways to engage our readers and our viewers and to make sure we are staying ahead on technology,” he said.
The Statesman was not one of the first news organizations on Twitter, but it was one of the first news organizations on Twitter that really tried to harness the medium well. From the beginning, Quigley knew he didn’t want the @Statesman Twitter account to just be an RSS feed.
“I noticed that all of my friends on Twitter were sharing links to news,” Quigley said. “And I thought ‘why can’t we guide this conversation?’ I wanted the interaction.”
Quigley uses the @Statesman account to interact with people, hand select interesting stories to share and “basically treat social media with the social part emphasized.” Even though many of his bosses weren’t on Twitter and many didn’t even know what Twitter was, they were supportive of his idea.
“It was pretty successful from the start,” he said.
One of the things Quigley is hoping to spend more time on now is seeing what is coming next.
“I want to find where the new curve is and get in front of it as fast as possible,” he said. “I want to be able to spend my time reading up on everything I can, seeing what non-newspaper industries are doing and what works for them.
- Why did the Statesman originally get into social media?
- How did Quigley first get into Twitter? Why did he become addicted to it?
- What are the biggest positives of social media?
- Are the lines between marketing and editorial blurring?
- How does a journalism student or journalist get a job as a social media editor?
There’s a reason why traditional newspapers have office buildings, and it extends far beyond the practical need to house their contributors.
Offices and face-to-face section meetings create pressure for writers to tap into their beats, pitch stories and complete those stories on time. Online, it’s easy for that pressure to dissipate and for the assignment and completion process to become haphazard. The concept of a controlled assignment desk can easily crumble into the dust.
But it doesn’t have to.
A few sites — like citizen journalism site ibattleboro — are trying different takes on the assignment desk. We like this one. It’s organized by topic of interest and lists specifics events to cover, among other things.
There’s also a list of tips for new citizen reporters at the bottom, featuring such gems as “relax” and “pace yourself.” They’re not particularly revolutionary suggestions, but they do make contributing look as painless as possible for new writers.
The New York Times’s The Local (Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange NJ edition) has an assignment desk of sorts, too. But it’s really just a post telling readers how to email in potential story ideas. Basically, it’s better than nothing but not a hell of a lot better. In fact, quite a lot of clicking around the net has yet to yield an example of an ideal virtual desk.
The time has come to draw out our own ideal Virtual Assignment Desk. Here’s how it could be done:
- The Desk lives in a tab easily visible on the front page of a Web site and is visible in its entirety to all registered contributors. No more of this behind the scenes BS; it’s too easy to lose track of stories that way.
- The editor(s) post stories they need arranged chronologically by due date and contributors sign on for each story. For bigger sites with more sections, the assignment desk should be organized much like the site itself, by section for ease of navigation.
- A notes field allows space for editors, the writer and other contributors alike to make observations, list contacts, pass on tips.
- Aside from the assignment desk main page, a secondary page will be open to pitches from all contributors. From there, editors cull the ones they like and add them to the main desk. Even ideas that aren’t getting much love from editors have a chance because their public airing will give anyone the opportunity to support them. This could be done both through votes and a notes option. We took this one in part from the bug reporting sites of old (and new), which allow contribution from both the users (writers) and the site administrators (editors). Sites like the one for Mozilla’s Firefox have been doing it for a while and to great effect.
- Once a story is completed, it goes into an archive rather than clogging the desk. If a piece is overdue, red caps are in order. If people aren’t getting their stuff in on time, come on, they deserve a tiny bit of semi-public embarrassment, don’t they?
Developing a successful assignment desk online comes down to a few key points:
- Make it public
- Make it specific
- Allow your writers to put in their two cents
Below you’ll find a post I created to go with a beatblogging presentation at the Education Writers Association conference.
For a more in-depth quick start guide on what beatblogging is, how to do it and best practices, check out my post: BCNI Philly: Why beatblog? (and why news should be social)
Best networks for education reporters
- Facebook — Facebook is a no brainer. It originally started as a social network just for college students, then added high school students and now has expanded to allow everyone to join. You’ll find a much higher concentration of college students in particular on Facebook than you will on MySpace. Even many teachers, professors and administrators are joining Facebook these days. It’s the perfect network to find education-related people to interview and even find stories. Every education reporter should at least have a presence on Facebook.
- Twitter — Twitter is a great social network for almost any journalist. In particular, it’s a great tool for crowdsourcing, asking questions and monitoring trends. Check out our screencast on how to use Twitter for reporting and our other screencast on how to use search.twitter.com.
Education beatbloggers to follow
- Tawnell Hobbs/Kent Fischer | DISD Blog — The DISD blog won this year’s EWA award for best multimedia education blog and for good reason. It has been the gold standard for education beatblogs the past 1-2 years. Here are just a few of the lessons you can learn from the DISD blog: Fischer’s readers helped him uncover an A1 story, hoisting comments to build a better community, live blogging to help form a closer connection with readers, providing a public service for readers, etc, etc, etc.
- Alexander Russo | District 299 Blog — Russo has a different kind of beatblog. He centers his blog around “hosting the conversation.” The District 299 is a place where people in Chicago can go to discuss education and the Chicago school district. Russo does original reporting, linking to others content and conversation starting.
- Gotham Schools — This non-profit, new media startup is one to watch. They don’t have an institutional memory and aren’t beholden to how things “used to be.” Instead, they can concentrate on transforming education reporting. We’re big fans of their daily link journalism post too.
- Khristopher Brooks — Brooks use of Facebook is one to emulate. He convinced the University of Nebraska to give him a nebraska.edu e-mail address. This allows him to see most students on the Nebraska Facebook network. Brooks does not grab students profile information without prior permission, however, and he mostly uses Facebook to find students who are studying certain majors or taking certain classes. If Brooks is doing a story where he needs to talk to a student about a controversial class, for instance, he can search the Nebraska Facebook network for students in that class, contact them and get interviews. He essentially uses Facebook as a phone book on steroids. Listen to Brooks discuss how Facebook has made his job much easier.
- Be transparent and accessible — Brooks is extremely accessible for Nebraska students because he has put himself on Facebook. If students want to contact him about an issue at Nebraska that he may not know about, they can easily do so via Facebook. It takes far less work on their part to send him a private message via Facebook than it does to hunt down his e-mail address or phone number. The easier you make it for people to contact you, the more likely it is that they will contact you. Get on multiple social networks (with your real name), put a bio and about page on your blog and make sure you have contact info on your blog.
- Be social — This could be as simple as being active in the comments section after stories and blog posts. It also means being an active participant on social networks. If you’re on Twitter, just don’t ask people questions, but answer their questions too. Be social and get to know people. Social media is all about being social. The old way of doing journalism was one-way communication, but today it’s all about two-way communication. Be a part of a conversation.
- Cultivate a community — Being social is the first part of cultivating a community. If you’re lucky enough to be given your own blog, use it to its fullest potential. A blog is a fantastic place to cultivate a community of knowledgeable sources that will send you tips, links and documents. Monica Guzman is the master community cultivator and is someone worth following for ideas on how to build a community.
What makes a good, modern journalist?
It’s no longer about just writing and reporting. Journalism has gone multimedia, and two-way communication is a big part of Web journalism. Defining what a good journalist is today is a lot harder than it was 10 years ago.
Now being a journalist requires a lot more skills. But it’s not just skills and buzzwords that make a good, modern journalist — it’s about putting it all together and making sense of it all.
Stephanie De Pasquale | Quad-City Times
- De Pasquale is one of the most innovative entertainment reporters we have seen. She combines her writing and video backgrounds to make an outstanding blog. Our favorite video feature of hers is Live Sessions, where she brings in local bands to record their music. Local musicians love the chance to get recorded on video and get promotion. This is a feature that causes bands to seek Stephanie out and update her on their latest releases or upcoming performances.
- De Pasquale is an excellent example of running with the opportunities that were presented to her. When she was 19 she couldn’t find a newspaper willing to offer her an internship because she had no experience. But her local NPR station was willing to take her on. From there she had an internship at a TV station. Eventually she was able to land writing internships as well. What at one point must have been frustrating for De Pasquale has turned into a big asset for her. She understands how to shoot and edit video and audio better than most journalists.
- Combine De Pasquale’s writing, video and audio skills together with her social media and blogging skills and you have one modern journalist. And all of her skills work together to form a total package.
- De Pasquale is also a shinning example of how to use MySpace for beatblogging. Having her music player on her MySpace page filled with local musicians and their music is a really nice touch. It’s a very thoughtful way to acknowledge people who help her with her beat.
- For entertainment reporters, MySpace is an absolute must. Virtually every aspiring artist is on MySpace. Plus, many bars and clubs have MySpace pages, but not Web sites. De Pasquale also engages her readers in the comments on her blog and on MySpace.
Nina Simon | Museum 2.0
- Nina has both a strong beatblog and presence on social networks. Specifically, she was nominated for her focused use of Twitter. Many people use Twitter for work, but Simon’s Twitter account never strays far from her beat or purpose of discussing museum exhibits and ways to create more interactive spaces at museums. She can often be found engaging in link journalism and offering up commentary about the links she provides.
- Museum 2.0 differs from most beatblogs in that Simon is not a journalist, nor is she directly practicing journalism. “Museum 2.0 is a design consultancy focused on creating participatory, dynamic, audience-centered museum spaces.I work with museums to design exhibitions, programs, and online experiences that engage visitors as co-creators and community members, not just consumers.”
- Simon does a fantastic job of writing about what she helps create and writing about exhibits that others create and what works or doesn’t work with those exhibits. She posts about research into how people interact with social media, innovative exhibits and the lessons that can be learned from them and the business models of museums.
- Her advice to museums is also good advice for journalists, “I believe that every museum can grow its audience as long as it is willing to grow with that audience by taking risks, trying new things, and communicating openly.”
Amber Smith | The Syracuse Post-Standard
- Smith made the Leaderboard this week for crowdsourcing on her blog and on Twitter. Need to write a piece that requires feedback from people? Blogs and social media are an excellent way to do that.
- Smith has a simple question she needs help answering, “So, what’s your reward? How do you treat yourself after a good run? Do you have a special feast? Do you reward yourself with new running gear when you hit a milestone?”
- Before blogs and social media, this would have been a much more time consuming task. Smith would have probably had to go out to an area where there were lots of runners and tried to get their attention. She would have had to go the runners and try to bug them to answer her question. Instead, she can now use her blog and Twitter accounts to get runners to come to her. While she waits for the responses to come in, she can work on other stories.
- This is a simple instance of where beatblogging makes a journalist much more efficient. When people come to you with information, it makes your job a lot easier.
This week’s Leaderboard focuses on crowdsourcing and interacting with readers.
A beat blog is a great way to find out what people are thinking, and unlike the print edition that may run a few thoughts from readers, a beat blog can allow anyone to comment. Plus, users can interact with each other, share links and debate topics.
A beat blog is also a great way to ask readers what they would like you to cover. Want to know what your readers think? Ask them.
Jon Ortiz | Sacramento Bee
- Ortiz is using his blog to crowd source opinions on what it’s like to be back after a day of being furloughed. Due to the budget crisis in California, it’s mandatory for state workers to take several furlough days. Ortiz wants to know what morale is like now that furloughs have officially begun.
- This blog post has been a sounding board for state workers who were furloughed. The post itself is interesting because of all the comments that users have left. It doesn’t take a lot of effort for Ortiz to ask a simple question about morale, but this post has yielded a lot of good information.
- The post will also help Ortiz create more content. He can take the best comments and make a new blog post or print story with them. He can also ask in a few weeks how morale is after employees receive their first reduced paychecks. He can then compare and contrast comments left this week with comments left after employees receive their smaller paychecks.
- A beat blog makes it much easier for a reporter to write stories like these. Before the Web, Ortiz could have contacted a few state workers and used their opinions for stories. After the story was published, additional state workers could write in. But with Ortiz’s beat blog, anyone can comment, and this post has led to a wide swatch of state workers form different departments commenting on how morale is.
- People are much more willing to share their stories when we make it easy for them. It’s much easier to leave a comment after a blog post than it is to find a newspaper’s number, call the newspaper and try to get a hold of an individual reporter.
John A. Bryne | BusinessWeek
- “What’s Your Story Idea?” gives BusinessWeek.com readers the chance to have a direct impact on the publication’s coverage. Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne reviews reader comments and then assigns them to journalists. When the story goes live, the reader gets the credit.
- Each week at least one story pitched by a reader is assigned to a BusinessWeek staffer.
- Bryne also provides feedback to stories pitched by users, “As Editor-in-Chief of BusinessWeek.com, I’ll respond to your suggestions just as I do to my own reporters. ‘Tom, that’s a brilliant and original idea with importance significance to our readers.’ Or, ‘Frank, I’ve read that story a hundred times. What can you possibly add that’s new?'”
- This feature is not only good for unearthing new and interesting story assignments, but it’s also a good way to get user feedback on existing content. Is BusinessWeek covering the stories that its readers are interested in? Why not just ask?
- This sums up what BusinessWeek and Bryne are trying to accomplish: “User engagement. That’s what we believe in.” User engagement is a must to succeed on the Web.
Gene Sloan | USA Today
- Sloan is live blogging all week from the Carnival Fantasy cruise. His live blogging is cool enough, but Sloan is also engaging users in the comments section after his posts and answering questions.
- Sloan is living blogging this week so he can report on, “What’s it like to sail on one of the refurbished Fantasy Class ships? I’ll be on board the Fantasy for the next five days as it cruises to Mexico, posting my impressions and answering your questions (leave them in the comment area below).”
- As he leaves impressions throughout the day, users have been leaving comments and asking questions. Sloan has been responding to their questions and trying out some of their suggestions (which activities to try, what to eat, etc).
- Before the Web and live blogging, Sloan could have ridden a cruise ship for a week and written a story about his experiences. Now he can post updates and photos throughout the course of his trip and interact with users along the way. The ability for users to leave comments and suggestions makes this form of journalism much more interactive and engaging for users.