Chicago Tribune Story Idea Survey: Good Idea, Poorly Executed

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 8:  Flags wave in the wind ...
(Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that it has halted a “short-lived research project in which the Chicago Tribune solicited responses from current and former subscribers to descriptions of Tribune stories before they had been published.”

The project — a collaboration between the paper’s editorial and marketing departments — was stopped because reporters raised journalistic concerns. Originally it had only surveyed selected “would-be readers” about general topics and previous Tribune coverage. But in the last two weeks, participants had begun being surveyed about their preferences on synopses of stories currently in the works.

In all, 55 reporters and editors voiced their complaint in a letter to Tribune editor Gerould Kern and managing editor Jane Hirt. The letter “expressed concern that providing story information to those outside the newsroom prior to publication seemed ‘to break the bond between reporters and editors in a fundamental way.'”

Here’s more detail about how the research was conducted: “Surveys were sent by e-mail to around 9,000 would-be readers on two occasions. About 500 responded to each, indicating which of 10 story ideas they preferred. Kern said the stories ‘tended to be news features,’ and the results never made it to him or had any impact in how stories were handled.”

I can understand the reporters’ complaint if their story ideas were shared outside the newsroom without their prior knowledge and consent. However, if that consent can be obtained, I personally think this type of research could be surprisingly useful. Especially if the people being surveyed truly represent younger people (i.e., the news organization’s future market) as well as demographics that historically have not been well served by the news organization…

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HuffPost’s citizen journalism standards: links required (News orgs, take a hint)

huffpostLast week the Huffington Post posted its standards for citizen journalism. It’s a pretty short, basic list — just six requirements — that reads like journalism 101.

However, many news organizations still could take a lesson from the second item on HuffPost‘s list:

2. Do research and include links to back it up. Whether you are referencing a quote, statistic, or specific event, you should include a link that supports your statement. If you’re not sure, it’s better to lean on the cautious side. More links enhance the piece and let readers know where you’re coming from.”

It amazes me how often I still see mainstream news stories which completely lack links, or which ghettoize links in a box in a sidebar or at the bottom of the story…

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Government 2.0: More Transparency Online

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp

Several planners of the recent Government 2.0 camp (By Patrick at work, via Flickr)

There is a movement afoot among government employees to use “social media tools and Web 2.0 technologies to create a more effective, efficient and collaborative U.S. government on all levels.” It’s called Government 2.0, and it could end up being very useful for journalists, citizens, and government officials and employees.

Members of this movement held a lively and productive unconference, Government 2.0 camp, in late March in Washington, D.C. The Twitter stream for the hashtags #gov20camp and #gov20 are still going strong.

Personally, I find this movement remarkable and encouraging. One of the great difficulties citizens encounter in learning about or interacting with their government has been the top-down, silo-focused, and generally tight-lipped or obfuscatory approach typical of government communication…

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NYTimes.com: Source documents, please?

Today the New York Times published on its site this story by Gardiner Harris: Research Center Tied to Drug Company.

Public documents are the crux of this corruption story — specifically, “e-mails and internal documents from Johnson & Johnson made public in a court filing.”

The article included lots of detailed background on this complex case. However, it failed to supply or link to the source documents — or even cite the case (court, case name, docket number) in a way that would allow interested people to find the documents on their own.

I see this a lot, and it confounds me. Here, the New York Times evidently believes its readers are savvy enough to understand the risks of commercial interests undermining scientific research and — in this case — possibly putting kids’ physical and mental health at risk.

…But they expect me to just take their word about what those documents said? They don’t think I’d care to see the original context in which the statements they quoted were made? They don’t even think I might want to be able to look up the documents, or follow the case?

Obviously, the New York Times has these documents. Also, these documents are public information — so you don’t have to worry about breaking copyright or confidentiality. So why didn’t the Times simply present them?…

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Working with Journalists: What’s in It for Geeks?

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, and there are some comments over there. I’m reposting this here because, frankly, this site poses fewer hurdles to commenters, and I’d like to get some diverse discussion happening.

Earlier this week I wrote about the internal and external obstacles journalism schools face when trying to achieve collaboration with other academic departments (such as computer science). That spurred a pretty interesting discussion in the comments.

This discussion got me thinking: Right now, it’s becoming obvious to many journalists that our field sorely needs lots of top-notch, creative technologists. Developers for whom software is a medium, and an art form. Developers with a deep passion for information, credibility, fairness, usefulness, and free speech.

However, my impression is that, so far, it’s not nearly so obvious to most “geeks” (and I use that term with the utmost affection and respect, as do many geeks themselves) how they might benefit from collaborating with journalists, j-schools, and news organizations.

So if journalists need geeks, but right now they don’t need (or even necessarily want) us as much, the question becomes: What’s in this for the geeks? Why might they want to work with us? Where’s their incentive?… Continue reading

Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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