Tag Archives: Media

Why I’m beatblogging: It helps the print product, too

As one of the 13 reporters in Jay Rosen and David Cohn‘s beatblogging.org project, I’ve read a lot of response to the concept.

The Journalism Iconoclast is behind the concept, calling you an idiot if you’re a sports reporter who isn’t on the train.

In a comment on one of Cohn’s posts on Wired Journalists, Maurreen Skowran wrote: “The beats that aren’t local or regional have potential, but they are the minority.”

I strongly disagree. I set up a social network — the Hershey Home — based on a small, local beat. And frankly, I don’t see why any small-town reporter who possesses the necessary computer skills wouldn’t do that same, no matter how many stories you have to write per week.

Here’s the point most often missed: Successful beatblogging saves, not costs, reporters their time. In a fraction of the time and effort, it accomplishes all these goals that any reporter would share:

  • It can drastically increase your quantity of sources
  • It can drastically increase the diversity of your sources
  • It can positively develop your relationship with sources
  • It allows you to stay in constant contact with those sources without picking up the phone and calling them individually
  • It encourages those sources to share story ideas or current happenings
  • It can lead you into background or context to your stories you wouldn’t otherwise know about

Along with these additional benefits that the new-media types love:

  • It encourages a sense of community
  • It gets information to people in the form that they choose
  • It allows for a depth that the print product can’t achieve
  • It makes the news a conversation instead of a declaration

Now if that all were to come at the expense of the print product, we could have a cost/benefit discussion. But it simply doesn’t. A reporter can spend 15-20 minutes per day leading the discussion, then sit back and let the community do everything else for you. They’re happy to be participating, you’re happy to hear from them.

I had 30 residents sign up for my network within two weeks. It’s had its difficulties, which David Cohn is dutifully reporting on beatblogging.org, but it’s also early.

There are many different methods to beatblogging, and I’ll have plenty more to say about it. But I strongly believe this project will make my print product better — to me, the new media benefits are actually secondary.

How bloggers are Moneyballing newspapers into competitive balance

moneyball.jpgIf you’ve never read Moneyball, do it. Even if you’re not a baseball fan — if you’re reading it correctly, it’s more of a business book than a baseball book.

The book in a rough summary: The Oakland A’s are a low-budget Major League Baseball team trying to compete with teams that have much, much higher payrolls. To make up the difference, the A’s general manager has to find the undervalued traits in players, enabling him to buy low-cost players who actually outproduce the high-cost players on the richer teams.

He relies on statistical analysis to find these overlooked players, with on-base percentage the biggest overlooked factor. By targeting players who fit his criteria, which often went directly against how baseball teams have been run for years, he’s able to stay competitive with his wealthy competitors despite an enormous economic disadvantage.

Sound familar to journalists? It should. We’re the Yankees.

So what’s the undervalued trait that bloggers — the A’s — have leveraged to sometimes put themselves at the level of professional journalists?


Every blogger has it, and it shows. They enthusiastically spend much of their time reading about their subject. They spend their free time interacting with others who share their passion. They bathe in information that matters to them.

A large percentage of journalists, meanwhile, hate their jobs. Those who don’t probably only hate half of their jobs. Even the I-was-born-for-this reporters out there get plenty of assignments they’d love to push aside.

In this category, bloggers have elbowed their way into a tremendous advantage. I’ve learned far more about my Philadelphia Phillies by reading The Good Phight and Phuture Phillies than I ever could from reading the sports pages of any Pennsylvania newspaper. Frankly, it’s not even close. Phuture Phillies in particular goes into a depth no newspaper could accomplish, and there’s a large community of grateful Phans who follow it. I’m one of them — I have no need to ever read a story about the Phillies in my own newspaper when I have those blogs in my Google Reader. The whole premise that newspapers need to be saved falls apart when these blogs are whooping up on newspapers the way they are.

Journalists, meanwhile, are taught to suffocate our passion. It creates lifeless writing, and sometimes lazy reporting. The best journalists can’t be suffocated, or were lucky to be put in a position where their passion is just too strong.

Journalists shouldn’t be passionate about Hillary Clinton or the Philadelphia Phillies — but they should be passionate about politics or sports. I can think of a number of reporters who fit this description.

Now, here’s the interesting post script when it comes to Moneyball: Since the book came out, even the high-budget teams are mimicking its tactics. Most teams are using sophisticated statistical analysis, and most have accepted the gospel of on-base percentage.

So it’s time for journalists to behave like those other MLB teams and catch up to the bloggers on passion.  Institute a “20 percent time” philosophy in newsrooms to get more interesting stories in the paper. If necessary, restructure beats so reporters have an interest in what they’re writing about. Ask job applicants what they’d most like to write about, and make a serious effort to connect the two once they’re hired.

Are there other “Moneyball factors” I’m missing?

I’m not dead yet. I don’t want to go on the cart.

grimreaper.gifIn a significant portion of the journalism blogging community, I’ve witnessed the following themes emerge:

  • We’re all going to die. We’re all going to freaking die.
  • There are two types of reporters: Those who “get it,” and those who “just don’t get it.” If you don’t know what you’re getting, then you clearly don’t get it.
  • Those who “just don’t get it” need to hurry up and “get it,” or we’re all going to die.

And then there are all of those journalists who aren’t blogging, but are complaining just as loudly about how the Internet is messing everything up.

It’s more of a spectrum than a dichotomy, of course, but no matter where you fall there’s a lot of negativity. We’re awfully short on working together, though, and it’s getting pretty nasty out there.

So I’m hoping to join the many blogs I’ve read that are somewhere between the bunkers.

I’m totally down with new media skills — I use Facebook and MySpace as reporting tools on a consistent basis (example here), and I’ll write plenty about my Hershey Home site that I set up as part of Jay Rosen and David Cohn‘s beatblogging.org project. I fully understand how a loaded RSS reader is essential in keeping me on top of my community and the larger culture. I’m trying to improve my audio and video skills.

But I don’t look down upon reporters who didn’t understand a word in that last paragraph, yet could report and write me under the table. There’s a place for them, too.

I would never claim to have any grand visions about how we can cure newspapers’ economic woes, how to pull life-sustaining profits from our Web sites or otherwise save this struggling industry.

My focus is smaller: The simple ways that any reporter can make journalism better, including but not limited to Internet skills.

CLIPS: Droves of reporters put Amish in spotlight they usually shun (10/03/06)

Of The Patriot-News

NICKEL MINES — John Fisher, who the hundreds of journalists here knew was Amish because he was wearing a straw hat, was fielding questions from the
Baltimore Sun and New York Daily News when his cell phone appeared to ring.

He excused himself and left the reporters searching for more straw hats and bonnets to interview. Later, he told The Patriot-News he would sometimes pretend to get a call to get away from the bothersome questions of reporters.

“There’s about 250 too many,” he said when asked what he thought about the national media attention in the small town.

“I know it’s news,” said Sam Fisher, who manages Nickel Mines Auction House, where police and the media set up a home base, “but it’s something like overkill. It’s frustrating, let’s just put it that way.”

Those who dared to walk by the throngs of journalists wearing anything but professional garb were quickly snapped up for interviews, sometimes with dozens of news organizations at once. An Amish woman named Irene, who did not give reporters her last name, had six microphones in front of her as she explained her religious beliefs.

Several photographers snapped photos when a horse-drawn buggy drove by.

The Lancaster and Harrisburg media were on scene, but so were reporters from Montreal, the United Kingdom, Russia and Japan. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News followed the story all day. ABC recorded a “Good Morning America” segment.

More than 50 trucks with satellites atop their roofs filled the roadsides and nearby parking lots. Television reporters spoke in front of a long line of cameras, with a country hillside or the distant schoolhouse as backgrounds.

Sam Fisher said the reporters usually were polite. He minded only when they stuck cameras in his face, he said.

Jacob King, who is Amish, wore a stoic face as he took questions from several reporters.

“Does it make you more distrustful of outsiders?”

“Do you think there should be more security in the school?”

“Would you have ever expected something like this to happen?”

“Does it make you angry?”

He offered short responses to each question. For the final question, a reporter asked: “To people who are completely unfamiliar with your lifestyle, what do you want them to know about your community?”

King replied: “That we’re like everyone else.”