The difference between a beat reporter and a features writer

Doing acts of journalism to inform a community have always had different approaches. There are those who follow one community closely and those who offer the broader narrative to a wider audience.

In news parlance, it’s the beat reporter and the features writer, and it’s tied to the idea of choosing deeper impact or larger scale. I’ve developed a better understanding of the differences in these specialties over the last few years, in both hiring, following and familiarizing myself with the work of my peers.

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Art with tradition is objective, that without one is subjective

Appreciation for art is meant to be, by today’s focus on accessibility, wholly subjective. Whatever your view of something can be defended as your experience with it.

Over drinks at a Gayborhood bar last month, a primatologist-turned-choreographer shared his view on trying to interject objective reality into art — incorporating technology, data and fact into ‘timed performance art.’ With no art history background or deep cultural experience, I deserve no voice in the conversation, but our chatter did result in me sharing with him something I’ve been mulling since.

My knowledge of the debate on whether art is subjective or objective seems incomplete. As I understand it, there are two very different types of art: that which aims to inspire through an existing tradition and that which aims to explore something new.

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NEast Philly: everything I learned by working on this now-closed hyperlocal news site

The hyperlocal news site NEastPhilly.com that served Northeast Philadelphia for five years stopped publishing in December and was closed by founder Shannon McDonald. During that time, I helped her with strategy, reporting and web work. Since its closing, I’ve wanted to share a few lessons from that time.

Find out why Shannon decided to stop publishing NEast in her own post here. Below, I share what I learned (find other writing here I did about NEast here).

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Journalism isn’t what we should try to save: Philly example

A couple times a year, someone in Philadelphia technology will say to me, what that community really needs to broaden its prominence is “its own Tech Crunch,” a reference to the established and influential tech business blog with Silicon Valley roots. The implication is, with all due respect to the maturity of Technical.ly Philly (relative to our newer, smaller markets) and its readership and regular events, that Philadelphia needs a megaphone to a global audience of investors and talent.

When someone says this, I hide my cringe and instead I politely nod, before changing the subject.

Of course, a statement like that shows a profound lack of understanding of audience, goals and impact in online media. Tech Crunch is established and influential because it covers big, well-funded tech business nationally, not a fledgling community in a non-traditional hub. Technical.ly Philly looks the way it does because of where it is. It doesn’t have national readership because it isn’t national in focus. The people who say “we need a Tech Crunch,” are confusing outcomes and solutions (Silicon Valley was the global tech leader first, then it spawned Tech Crunch, not the other way around).

This is a problem that happens elsewhere.

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9 real ways I use social media to report that won’t bore you

Ten years into the modern social media era can leave even the most reluctant digital reporter bored by tactics for news gathering online. Still, though the source gathering, link sharing and network building are common acts, there are other ways I use these open platforms.

Here are some of those ways.

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Journalism DNA: Is Technical.ly a journalism outlet?

Acts of journalism are challenging and at times infrequent things for local news organizations. Pushing a community and seeking to find outcomes through difficult questions is the best of what media can do. Balancing that with the work tied to creating a sustainable news venture is a consuming one. Here’s where I am in my thinking about that process.

When we launched in 2009 what has since become Technical.ly, we always prepared for a content mixture that would include information and community journalism. We were trained in a newspaper worldview that put a type of ethical paradigm and professional standards that we embraced, even as we challenged its traditions.

Along the way, I found out that I want to build something that could have an impact. Pessimists are nothing but spectators and reporters are almost always pessimists.

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A reporter is only as good as his sources (are organized)

The old saying goes that a reporter is only as good as his sources.

To tell or find a story, one needs to have the resources and access to perspective and insight. In my few years as a journalist, I’ve taken considerable effort to build relationships and gather sources.

That mostly amounted to piles and piles of business cards. Thankfully, two tools have allowed me to take considerable control over that mess.

First, almost since the very beginning of my collecting sources in college, I have obsessively updated my contacts in my Gmail account, including emails, phone numbers, even birthdays and mailing addresses when possible. Taking it further, I include headshots and a description of when I first met the person and what their relevance is, to ease my ability to remember the person.

Second and most recently, with my first smartphone and Macbook following this and this,I’m able to sync those Gmail contacts to my phone, allowing me to have access to those contacts more readily, as I try to develop as many text and Gchat relationships, it’s proven a great tool.

Which is good, because as important as it is to have good sources, it doesn’t matter if you can’t find them.

25 things I learned from the best newspapermen (and women) around

Dallas News reporter John Rosenfield sitting at desk, behind typewriter in Houston, TX in November 1948. Photo by Michael Rougier for Life magazine.

Tradition matters to me.

It gives us culture. It is a way to pay remembrance for those who came before. Yes, it’s a little bit fun.

In the world of news, there is a lot of tradition that needs to be lost. Unquestioned impartiality, balance without real context, an ignorance and distance of what funds it, a rigid belief in a strictly reactionary audience.

But, I’ve always felt, there is lot to be taken in from the past. I’ve been blessed to work alongside some talented and hungry older journalists who have imparted great wisdom on me. I thought some of that tradition was worth sharing as, in my own way, I try to preserve the best of it.

Below, find 25 pieces of advice about being a newsman that I take great value in.

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Nonprofits breaking news about their mission

If you have a mission, nonprofit or otherwise, you ought to have a voice in your mission.

On the Back on My Feet blog, we don’t do enough of it, but when issues surrounding homelessness come up, we are sure to share them with our readers.

So when the very big news of the country’s first national report on homelessness was published and was part of a call to end homelessness in five years, we certainly shared it promptly, following our primary source of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

That happened June 25, so I was certainly interested to see the first mention in Philadelphia of that big report come by way of an editorial from the beleaguered Inquirer on July 5.

That’s a startup nonprofit feeding important industry news to its supporters before news media. Note the obvious trend.

Three most relevant, mentioned and impactful Philadelphia columnists write in a niche

Eighteen months ago, I was searching for the best metro columnist in Philadelphia.

I felt the Inquirer’s Dan Rubin was the nearest in a legacy of citywide voice boxes, telling the broadest and widest ranging stories. Perhaps that’s true.

But it’s been nagging me that outside of some media-focused friends — and even then — I never hear Rubin or his other traditional columnist colleagues with any sort of regularity.

Instead, the columnists whose names I read, hear mentioned and myself reference the most are increasingly niche orientated. They’re not writing about the city, they’re writing about and for a very narrowly focused part of it. These are other critics and writers who have long existed in newspaper parlance, but I believe the increasingly niche-dominated media ecosystem means their voices carry greater power than before.

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