Tag Archives: The Patriot-News

Central PA NewsVote has launched

Thanks to all who have contributed your thoughts to the evolution of my new community-directed blog: Central PA NewsVote. It’ll be the keystone of my new job responsibility at The Patriot-News.

The idea started with a blog post in January, and dozens of comments from other journalists and readers really helped me sharpen the idea. Now we release it to the wild.

I’m crazy excited for it, and stubbornly optimistic that it’s going to work. No matter what, I know we’re going to learn a lot from it, and I’ll be sharing the lessons with you here.

I hope you’ll follow along and keep the feedback coming.

7 journalism-related things you may not know about me

I intend to always keep this blog on-topic. I created a side blog in case I felt the need to write about non-journalism stuff, though I haven’t been good about writing in it.

But I’ve been tagged by Sara Bozich to participate in this trendy meme, and I planned to ignore it. Then I thought: Why not keep it on-topic, but still let you all learn a little more about your beloved author?

So here are seven journalism-related things you may not know about me:

1) My passion for journalism was ignited when a news article I wrote for my high school newspaper was censored. It was about condom distribution in schools, and our principal decided that it and another story about birth control options were inappropriate for the audience. Some brought the paper home, and it would be read by smaller children, he argued.

In the process of a lengthy and painful back-and-forth with the school administration, I did a lot of research and thinking about the value of journalism. I wrote a research paper about the chilling effect of the Hazelwood court case on high school journalists (that was the first Web site I ever made, so forgive the crappiness). I learned why journalism matters.

2) At the same time, my high school newspaper was really freaking good. During my senior year we were named the Most Outstanding Newspaper for 2002 by the American Scholastic Press Association. Our state association graded us at 985/1000 (and 5 of those points were deducted because of a printing problem that wasn’t our fault, and I remember disputing the other two deductions, too). One judge wrote that “There is nothing I can think of to improve this paper.”

3) At Penn State, I was widely known as “Dan the Fan.” I wrote a weekly column for Blue, a youth tabloid produced by the Centre Daily Times that was geared toward college students, from the passionate perspective of a blue-blooded football and basketball fan. It was occasionally good, occasionally juvenile. I’m really not too proud of it. The many, many times I had a blank Word document staring at me an hour before deadline made me realize I’m not cut out to be a columnist. I couldn’t keep up with my own demand to be proud of everything I put my name on every single week.

4) I’m very, very critical of my own writing. Whenever I read a story the next morning I usually find a few things that I wish I would have done differently, and this causes me to rarely read my story the next morning. This also makes it very difficult to choose my best clips, because I dwell on that which I could have done better rather than that which I had done well.

5) To counter that negativity: Since I started at The Patriot-News in May 2006, I’ve had the most A1 stories of any reporter on staff outside of the D.C. and Capitol bureaus. Seeing my byline on the front page, unless it’s a story I really like, hasn’t carried any feeling for me in a long time.

6) The most fun I’ve ever had on assignment came during my internship for The Wichita Eagle when I had the honor of chasing tornadoes with staff photographer Travis Heying. We dangerously sped through unmarked country roads and slammed on the brakes when we ended up on a road that was full of cows. The grave disappointment was that I didn’t actually get to see a tornado land — it was forecast to be one of the bigger storms in years, and ended up being very tame — but chasing the clouds that looked like they’d develop into tornadoes was an adrenaline junkie’s dream.

7) I have the second-messiest desk at The Patriot-News, behind only John Luciew, who is running away with the title. I usually have a large stack of newspapers, way too many notebooks, as many as a dozen bottled waters or other soda bottles, a little Dilbert guy, and several Philadelphia and Penn State bobbleheads, including a hilariously misspelled “Donavan McNabb.” The best thing on the wall is easily the New York Post cover featuring a crying little Mets fan from the peak of their wonderful 2007 collapse.

Visual evidence:

Cleaner than usual

Cleaner than usual

How I want to redefine my role, and the reader’s role, in the newspaper

Once the equipment arrives, I’ll be starting in a new position at The Patriot-News as a mobile journalist, or mojo.

What that means is, correctly, still to be determined. We do know it’ll involve video, still photography, print stories and a lot of updates for the Web. We know I’ll have a laptop and an aircard, will file most of my stories from my car and coffee shops, and will aim to be in the office as little as possible.

What we don’t know is exactly what stories I’ll be covering. I’ll be one of three mojos, and the other two will focus more on being first responders to fires, shootings and other cops-related happenings.

Which leaves an interesting question: What exactly is my role going to be? Why am I better off as a mojo instead of going back to the newsroom in a more traditional role?

To me, the opportunity to take this blank piece of paper and figure out the answer is tremendously exciting. It’s an opportunity to discover a more efficient reporting model that pumps great stories into the print edition, while simultaneously feeding my need to discover building blocks to future news models.

And I think I’ve got an idea that will do both.

If I can sell my editors on the concept, I would be the author and community manager of a new blog. My stated goal will be to have at least one originally reported story per day, usually some combination of text, photography and video. Sometimes it’ll be a three-minute video with 200-word text, sometimes it could be a great photo with 800-word text.

The stories I’m looking for are next-door slices of life that are usually the first to go because of shrinking staffs. A new museum exhibit, an innovative classroom project, a personality profile, a soup kitchen gearing up for a busy time, a little-known hiking trail, a new business opening, etc.

If you check this new blog every day, you will always learn about one new wrinkle in your community. That’s a wonderful promise for a news site to make.

That’s the content. But the fun part is who decides what that content will be.

Every day I’ll solicit story ideas from my readers via comments on the blog. At the end of the day, I’ll post their story ideas in poll form, and my readers will vote on which one they want me to cover tomorrow. And that’s the one I’ll do.

I’ll no longer have an assignment editor. The collective community will be my assignment editor. What a strange concept: Asking our readers what stories they want, then giving it to them! Yes, we’d maintain veto power for outlandish stories (write about why councilman Jones sux!!!) and needs of the newsroom (if no one’s around to cover a court case), but we’d try to limit that as much as possible.

By forcing myself to write one story per day, I’m creating a reliable pipeline of stories that can be repurposed for the print product (this is where you should pay attention, my skeptical editors). No matter how cool it may be on the Web, and whether or not it succeeds in being an important step in our future, at the very least it’s producing a lot of stories for print in an efficient way.

I could also produce some great long-term enterprise through this, while packaging it in a completely new way. I think of a story I did last year in which I occasionally followed a four-year-old around for six months while I documented her transition to a new school. What if I took a video each time, wrote a short story each time, teased to the long-form print story that would eventually come each time? It’d be great to watch the process, and would build a lot of anticipation for the final project.

As for the form of the blog: Very conversational, with a persistent focus on cultivating user participation. Lots of voice, personality, maybe even wit if I’m lucky. Every day I would also offer a bevy of links: The day’s best content from The Patriot-News, interesting posts from local bloggers, thought-provoking material from around the Web, maybe even some funny videos. It would rely on a totally new skill set for journalists, one in which I practiced somewhat at my now-defunct Ning site, the Hershey Home. It’s a skill set I’d love to have a part in figuring out and teaching to other journalists.

For the reader, it’s an unprecedented amount of access to the pages of The Patriot-News. If you called up now and told an editor about the science project your child is doing, you probably wouldn’t get very far. Make that same pitch to the readers of this blog, and make it a convincing argument, and that project will be in the paper. It could be a rewarding feeling to think that you’re actually playing a legitimate part in the news.

For journalism’s future, the goal of this blog will be to foster a self-sustaining, invested community around it. We’ll implement rules aimed on creating that culture (which could be several blog posts in itself), both through the level of conversation and making clear what kind of story pitches we’re looking for.

Community-building is a skill we must, must, must master in many forms, and we’re not spending enough time practicing it. Even if it doesn’t succeed, it’s the kind of trial balloon we need to be sending out, and it comes at little to no cost.

I have my own reservations about the idea, of course, but I’d really like to hear what you all think. if you’ve heard of similar ideas at other papers, if you have any recommendations for improvement, if you’ve found any trouble spots, etc., anything would be appreciated. I’d like to allow for a day or two of comments before I e-mail a link to this entry to my editors, so your feedback could be very valuable.

UPDATE 1: I forgot to make one important point: By virtue of me taking my time to do these slice-of-life stories, that allows all the other reporters to pass their slice-of-life stories off to me and opens up time for them to do the meaty enterprise that we really need to be producing.

UPDATE 2: Wondering if it would be a trademark infringement to use the tagline: “You Decide. We Report.”

UPDATE 3: Jeff McCloud makes an important point in the comments section about ceding editorial control. He writes:

I like the idea. I just wouldn’t want to be framed in to always writing what the majority of your blog readers want. I think you need to reserve your news judgment for yourself and your editors. Of course, the rub is in the balance of that and making readers happy to know they are participating. The rub is also in making sure that readers feel they don’t “own” you and your assignments.

And I respond:

Jeff, your point about reserving news judgment is an important one and probably the trickiest thing to balance here. I think that’s likely to be developed as the process goes along. My feeling, though, is that editorial judgment is best exercised not by yanking control from the readers after it’s promised to them, but by story placement in the physical newspaper. If my readers led me to a great story, editors will see that and put it on A1. Total waste of time, and it’s relegated to B10. I just fear nullifying the entire concept if we say “You have total control…unless we don’t like your idea.” That’s kind of what the current model says.

Now if it turns out all the story ideas are bad, bad, bad, we’ll re-evaluate. As of now, I’ve got faith in the readers.

UPDATE 4: Colin Lenton weighs in via Twitter:

@bydanielvictor nice that youre excited for new role, but why do the work of 3 by yourself? won’t you diminish quality by doing too much?

And I respond:

@colinmlenton Time is probably 2nd-biggest concern. I don’t think it has to be the work of 3, though. I’ll know if I’m stretching too thin.

Colin also expanded his thoughts in the comments section, wondering whether this is the best use of staff time.

UPDATE 5: Via the comments, Daniel Klotz wonders:

I’d like to know more about how you would plan to handle more “hard news,” political, and investigative stories. You’ll get people asking you to report on things they believe are under-reported, and often those stories have a (local) political bent. How will you proceed if that’s what you’re given, rather than a more human-interest topic?

So I say:

I think my moderation skills will have to make it clear that it’s not what we’re looking for. I anticipate cutting-and-pasting the same kind of disclaimer on each entry, clearly stating the purpose of what I’m doing and what stories we’re searching for. And if I’m going to put it in poll form, there’s a little bit of active selection involved on my end.

UPDATE 6: I’ve had to work on some of those pesky newspaper stories today, so I haven’t had a chance to go through most of today’s comments to respond or highlight them. But Meranda Watling offers this interesting idea via Gmail chat:

I can’t remember if I read it somewhere or someone told me but I remember hearing about an editor who would hold office hours kind of at a local cafe.

You could try something like that as a complement.
Posting well you’ll be in certain areas and encouraging readers to come visit, tip you off to ideas.

Ten tips to make the most of a newspaper internship

This is my favorite time of the year in the newsroom: The annual march of the interns.

In my newsroom, we have four in the various departments, and it’s so much fun having them around. They bring a lively approach to their writing, they haven’t had all the hope squeezed out of them yet, and they make me desperately miss college. Good times.

Having gone through three internships myself from 2003 to 2005 (Centre Daily Times, The (Harrisburg, Pa.) Patriot-News, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle), here are some tips to make the most of your summers:

  1. Don’t try to play journalistic dress-up with your writing. Sometimes I see young writers write in the boring style they think newspapers require, and they squelch the youthful approach that newsrooms desperately need. The most important story I wrote as an intern was one of my shortest, but it was the point when I realized I could have fun with my writing. That, more than anything, has carried me to this day.
  2. Find a reporter or two who seem receptive to helping you out, and incessantly bug them the entire summer about anything and everything. You don’t need to impress other reporters; they’re not the ones who will write your recommendations. Ask them the dumb questions you’re afraid to ask your editors out of fear they’ll think less of you.
  3. Speaking of dumb questions, never fail to ask them. Both editors and reporters know you’re inexperienced, and they’ll be understanding if you don’t know something seemingly basic. They’ll be glad you asked, rather than pretending you know and getting caught on it later.
  4. Remember that editors are looking for good stories, but it’s your attitude and behavior that matter when trying to make a lasting impression that will pay off in your recommendation.
  5. Demand as many stories as they’re willing to give you. When I was an intern at The Patriot-News, the managing editor was once dumbfounded when I walked into her office and asked for something to do, because my assignment editor hadn’t yet come in for the day. Someone would come begging for more work to do? She just couldn’t believe it, and gave me an A1 story as payment.
  6. Come up with two or three enterprise stories on your own. Editors love this kind of initiative, and they often produce the best clips.
  7. Leave your comfort zone. I never liked cops reporting, but The Wichita Eagle made me do it for six weeks, and it was hugely important to my development.
  8. Accept that you’re going to screw up. Everyone does, and it doesn’t mean you suck. It means you’re learning.
  9. If you’re at a paper near where you live or go to school, don’t leave the summer without creating a reliable pipeline to your editors. Ask them what you can write when you go back to school.
  10. Have fun. And I don’t just mean that in the carpe diem kind of way — people love having you around because you bring some much-needed enthusiasm to the newsroom. When you’re having fun, the people around you will have more fun, too. And creating connections to your future colleagues is an important part of the experience.

UPDATE (10:47 a.m. 05/31): This one occurred to me while I was in the grocery store, and deserves its placement as 11:

11. Go buy a bunch of candy. Put it in a jar in a visible spot on your desk below a sign declaring “FREE CANDY.” Your fellow reporters love candy, and you’ll probably squeeze a lot of interesting conversations out of them as they come to you for their sugar fix.