Tag Archives: journalism

Why I hate looking back stories –


One thing I’ve always despised as a journalist is the looking back stories we madly produce at the end of each year.

That’s not to say follow up is not important. In our need to fill a very slow news hole during the holidays, we often try to guess at what’s important to revisit and often settle for the easiest to tell.

As my own news tastes change with technology, I find myself tiring of reviews, and I spend more and more time looking for previews.

I can’t be alone in this.

I’ve worked hard the last few years to try to divorce myself from the myopic viewpoint journalists often take. I’ve tried to think in terms of someone from my own generation who is busy beyond words and without time to comb through dozens of news sites each day.

I don’t watch television news, and I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper. I do listen to a lot of public radio, which helps me stay up-to-date on world affairs. Twitter informs me about the rest, including breaking news. And Facebook connects me into other news sources as rated important by my friends and family.

Lately I’ve used a series of news apps to find highly curated articles that I’d have to dig for myself. And again, I can’t be alone in my news consumption habits.

All of this makes me want to reform not how we consume news but how we gather news. In every media format I’ve worked in, newspaper, television and radio, 90 percent of our energy was expended on a traditional format that was shedding viewers and listeners like a bad sitcom.

Thus the looking back stories at the end of each year, which serve only to fill holiday space rather than truly inform the public.

One story that took a long look back at an avalanche that occurred more than a year ago in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, caught my attention. Not because it looked back at something I didn’t know about, but because of the way it looked back. 

Using a slick interface that blends multimedia seamlessly with text, the New York Times has created not just a masterpiece of storytelling, but a massive move forward in the way that stories will likely be consumed on handheld devices in the future. 

Even though the story wasn’t forward looking, the way in which it was told was. 

When I pulled Snowfall up on my iPad on Christmas Day, I couldn’t put the story down. It was too engaging. And even though I had read the prolific news reports a year before, I was completely drawn into the story’s many elements from inline multimedia graphics to videos and the timeline feel of the layout. 

This is my kind of looking back story. 

Now stand in the place where you work –

As a reporter, my desk was a place of refuge after a long day of news gathering. It was a place where I’d sit on the edge of my seat trying to pull magic out of the air and onto the page in the minutes and seconds before my 5 p.m. deadline. It was where I’d make a couple of calls, Google an address and then flee at the earliest opportunity for the adventure that awaited me beyond the newsroom. But in the years since I became a digital manager, then a digital director, and then a digital editor, my forays outside the newsroom lessened.

My time in the saddle increased, and I noticed my back was sore more often, my legs less well trodden and my energy just, well, less. It was a slow process, but more than hating being out of the field, I hated the feeling of sitting all day. I made the request for a standing desk after researching methods of reducing sitting fatigue. I was turned down at first. The HR department wanted a doctor’s note, but the insurance wasn’t good enough for me to go to the doctor to get a note in the first place. My real inspiration was the thriller writer Dana Haynes, who happened to be an editor and my cubical mate at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon many years ago. Dana would work on education stories all day and, so far as I knew, write all night. I remember it taking a long time to get his request. Turns out that property managers don’t much care for infrastructure changes like raising desks. Change is hard. I get it. Aside from the freakishness associated with wanting to stand all day at work and the process of cutting through the red tape involved, the standing at work lifestyle comes with its own sets of challenges. The first week of standing will leave you so sore you’ll wonder why you ever requested such a torture device for something you do 40 + hours a week. The first time you decide to stand in dress shoes all day will build your character and your swear word vocabulary. After you get used to standing all day, your bad habits will start to show up like stains on a white shirt. You’ll slouch too much, you’ll walk away from your desk more often, because you’re not anchored down by gravity as much. Manual tasks like dates entry and line editing are really tough while standing. You have to learn about posture, which in my case, might as well have been a word in a foreign language. To succeed in standing all day, you will need to master good posture, which means you’ll have to have really good self discipline, which means you’ll have to be cognizant of the fact that you’re standing all day. You’ll get funny looks from your co workers. You’ll wish you could just sit down for a day, especially after a particularly taxing hike, a long run, a vigorous bike ride or a late night of imbibing with friends. So why stand? You’ll almost erase any lower back pain associated with sitting all day, you’ll burn more calories than you do sitting. You’ll increase leg strength and lower blood pressure. After a few weeks, you’ll feel energized after lunch rather than feeling like taking a nap. After a few months, you’ll find yourself looking for opportunities to stand in meetings, and when you’ve been sitting in a marathon meeting, you will relish the opportunity to go back to your standing desk. You’ll live longer. And you’ll feel better while you do that. Now you’ll just need to decide if you want to follow R.E.M’s advice and face North. Personally, I face West. Tim

indispensable part ii –

I have worked with people who feel the medium in which they tell their stories is their identity. 

There is nothing wrong with this viewpoint.

It just has a limited lifespan these days,

It was once the case that you could spend your career in one medium, be it print, television or radio. You were born a newspaperman, and you died a newspaper man.

The giants of print ruled the news world like the tyrant lizard king ruled the Cretaceous Period. And this is not to say that the great news people are going extinct, it’s to say that much like T.Rex, they are facing an extinction event.

Rapid evolution, which still is more of a mythological ideology than a practice, is the only way that news can survive this cataclysm.

Information is slopping over the news wall like an overflowing toilet these days.  The population is increasing, everything is going viral. Information is omnipresent. 

In an effort to fill what is perceived to be a growing news hole, media organizations and journalists are tying one hand behind their back and jumping into the fray in an effort to inform an already over-informed populace. 

And yet the audience with a billion information choices lacks for real content. When a hobbyist Tweeting the local police scanner inadvertently breaks the news, media organizations scramble for the truth like carrion vultures on a carcass. And an already-informed populace goes about their busy lives. A journalist gets laid off, and another devil gets its horns. Melodramatic much?

One of my favorite journalists, G.K. Chesterton, once wrote: “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” 

As a media organization, you can be just another voice in the cacophony, or you can stand out like a salmon jumping through a wall of white water to clear a hurdle in the stream. 

While too many are focusing on finding a new way to make money out of journalism, too few are looking at new ways to do journalism to meet the needs of the average viewer, listener, reader. 

They are becoming heavier, louder, more expensive and less indispensable today. 

But Mitt Romney is wrong. Corporations are not people. Media companies are not people. To turn a ship of that size, a massive enterprise made up of thousands of individual entities, into something indispensable is impossible on a grand scale.

Becoming indispensable today is on the micro level, not the macro level. It requires an infection that transforms one journalist at a time. Building a digital empire cannot be achieved without digital building blocks. 

Indispensability depends on individual transformation of each element of a media company. Producers, editors, writers, directors, reporters, anchors, hosts, copy editors, designers, photographers and artists each need to jump into the digital stream building their own tool sets and therefore contributing to the flow.

Thus connected, a media outlet may not only plug in to the digital mainframe, they may innovate within the construct as well as outside of it. 

If only a handful of people are digitally trained, they act as a support mechanism that will eventually have to break off to survive. 

True digital integration can only be achieved when the entire company is infected, at which point shoaling becomes possible. This is the art of coordinated movement among a large group of fish with little to no obvious communication.  

This flexibility and nimbleness is what will allow a news organization to become completely responsive, innovative and ultimately indispensable.


Here’s Why Journalism really is the Best Job Ever

No disrespect to Jeff Bercovici, but his article, “Forget That Survey. Here’s Why Journalism Is the Best Job Ever” made me throw up a little in my mouth.

Being a newspaper, magazine or television reporter IS worse than being a waiter or waitress and just a wee bit better than being an oil rig worker.

And don’t you forget it.

The last thing we want is journalism being so cool only the elite can get in or so ironic that only hipsters want in.

Journalism is hard, low-paying work made for those of us with just enough personality disorder to ask questions no one else would dare. With little to no personal life to take us away from it and without regard to the proverbial ladder climbing of traditional workforce.

Bercovici’s list starts with:

You’re always learning

I learned everything I would learn about journalism in the first 10 days as a cub reporter. That’s about all the time they’ll let you make the mistakes you cannot afford to make as a journalist.

It’s truly a sink or swim career, and if you swim, it’s 90 percent instinct, 5 percent skepticism and 5 percent alcohol by volume that keeps you afloat.

Continuing education? Yes. But the best journalists I’ve worked with know it, and they’re just looking for a few more inches or 30 seconds more to prove it.

You get paid to read a lot

I worked with a reporter who used to come in and pour himself a big cup of coffee and read through our newspaper. The rest of us were combing through blogs, Twitter and Facebook for leads, sources and to make sure there were no tagged pictures of us from the night before. Of course you get paid to read a lot. You read 10 times more than you write. You read so much your eyes bleed.

You get paid to meet interesting people

Perhaps the understatement of the article. If you consider city managers who embezzle money and sexually harass staffers interesting, well then daily journalism is just chock full of interesting characters. Yes, there are the occasional celebrities playing the county fair circuit, but a county commissioner with an ax to grind is far more interesting than a washed up country star who is about to squeeze out an extra 15 minutes on a reality show. 

You get to meet celebrities

See above.

Maybe you get to enjoy a little celebrity

It takes a hell of an ego to do the stuff that journalists do every day. My favorites keep their awards (like toy soldiers) on their desk. Like notches on the bed post, 97, 98, 99, 02, 04, 05, best writing, best feature, best story, best photo, Pulitzer, Murrow. Lets just say journalists are not likely to inherit the earth.

All that “stress?” It’s called excitement

Actually, it’s stress. Pure, unadulterated, sweat-stained stress. It’s trying to maintain a semblance of the coverage before layoffs decimated newsrooms over the last 5 years. It’s stress from trying to keep up with every vertical invented to create the illusion of new revenue. It’s stress from two cultures sharing the same space, virtually at odds and ultimately trying to achieve the same purpose while working to destroy one another. What’s the definition of insanity again?

Journalists Get Around

Conferences in Puerto Rico and Austin? It beats conferences in Portland and Seattle or pretty much anywhere in the Midwest, but seriously, who among us didn’t get into journalism for that international assignment, the war reporting, the travel writing? The reality is quite the opposite, but the opportunities are not all gone the way of the buffalo. I once spent a week in Yellowstone National Park in winter to write about the impact of snow machines on the park. I paid my own way, shot all my own photos and wrote three stories for the paper I worked for. It was totally worth it. A young reporter I currently work with just went to Afghanistan for a week to cover Alaskan troops stationed there. The days of blank-check travel are over. But a reporter who refuses to accept the limitations will find much shoe leather and plenty of road miles if not air mileage.

And then there’s the matter of self expression

If the appeal of journalism is getting to use the word “I” today, then we’re in some real trouble. Bercovici says, “Have I convinced you that journalism is the only real career choice for curious, restless semi-narcissists like me?” That’s pretty much anyone on Facebook these days. In this UGC world of iReports, journalism is an open door for the innovators, the thinkers, the relentlessly curious, the willingly overworked, the consciously objective, the ego-worthy writers and broadcasters willing to face the eggs and tomatoes of an altogether uncaring audience, who, like a child, does not know what’s good for it were it not for us.

Starting Something – Else

I didn’t want to save journalism until I knew it was dying.

Maybe a Florence Nightingale syndrome or something much worse.

I should’ve listened to the great prophet Hunter S. Thompson or G.K. Chesterton before him.

I liked the idealism of it all. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent in a rough place. Eventually I’d be bureau chief. My kids would go to the English or the French school. My wife would have a book club with ladies wearing ḥijābs and gossiping about their husbands and the little freedoms. I would guide the daily coverage of the struggle. Whatever struggle currently defined the greater human struggle

Today I work at a standing desk in a second-floor office I share with two of my employees at a television station in Anchorage, Alaska. I stare at three screens all day, my phone, my iPad and my laptop.

Like a child trying to fit a triangle block into a square hole, I spend a lot of time squeezing, pushing, pulling, begging, pleading and crying.

I’ve been a city, county, state, health courts, mobile, video and digital journalist, back when beats were beats.

I like to think that the foreign correspondent pathway closed a long time before I decided to become a journalist. The Times and the Post both started closing bureaus before I even graduated from j-school.

In my second year, I cultivated a source in the Oregon National Guard, then readying for deployment to Afghanistan. I worked my way up to a proposed embed with the guard only to have it ripped away from me by a senior reporter.

You learn hard lessons easily in this line of work.

I reported from Cuba on the day Castro stepped down and from India after the Mumbai hotel bombing.

Other than an internship at the Kyiv Post during the lead-up to the Orange Revolution, these constitute the closest I’ve come to realizing my journalistic dreams.

But dreams have a funny way of playing out.

Missed opportunities lead to new jobs and new adventures. The green valleys of my Oregon youth gave way to the Rocky Mountains and stories from the plains of eastern Montana and deep in the wintry solitude of Yellowstone National Park. I spent the night on a mountain side next to a photographer as we tried to capture the life of a Mexican shepherd hired to tend the sheep eating noxious weeds for the city of Missoula. I documented a damn taken out, freeing the waters of the Blackfoot and the Clark Fork to merge naturally for the first time in 100 years.

I got laid off.

I covered the election of the first ever female write-in candidate for senate, a 2,000 mile snow machine race that Sarah Palin’s husband Todd nearly won. I interviewed Sarah Palin, and race officials took my kicker quote and made it in to a bumper sticker you’ll see mostly on the bumpers of trucks in Wasilla, Alaska.

I covered ice crabbing on the frozen Bering Sea, the Iditarod dog sled race, the release of a rehabilitated snowy owl on the tundra outside of Barrow. I went shark fishing for work in Cordova, flew over Arctic sea ice on the Chukchi with the Alaska National Guard in a C-130.

I helped Santa Claus deliver presents to children in the Arctic Circle town of Allakaket, and I watched the northern lights with 30 Japanese tourists at Chena Hot Springs trying to stay warm at 35 below zero.

I flew in the last commercial Grumman Goose to cover the largest fish processing plant in North America in the Aleutian Island community of Akutan.

How do you look back over that short list of things done and not appreciate the diametrically different blessings of dreams and reality.

My greater point here is that when you start out to do a thing, you often do it differently than you intended. It may look nothing like you intended, in fact, but it is a thing.

I suppose at this point I should probably get around to saving journalism.

Or maybe I’ll just read more Hunter S. Thompson and G.K. Chesterton.


The Village of Allakaket at 50 degrees below zero

Going back to what?

Going back to what?