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.

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

Rework: the best of a business book from the founders of 37signals

With 100 simple rules they attribute to their success organized in a dozen chapters spread across fewer than 300 short pages, the founders of web firm 37signals aim to affect any organization or business culture with Rework, their management style book that was released in March.

It has gotten quite a bit of attention — and high praise from some noteworthy authors — so my reading it comes a bit late, so instead I wanted to share what I most took away from it.

Because of its comprehensible and digestible format, I tore through the fast and compelling book. While much of the book was either reinforcing or contained perspective I hope to take away, I thought enough of their rules were valuable enough that sharing my favorites here would be served well.

See my favorite items below as just a primer, go pick up the book. I can’t highlight enough that what I share below are but a small percentage of the insight offered in the book and even those I do share are just the skeletons of ideas.

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Why mobile matters

Most usually, when I’m speaking on an issue related to media convergence or the future of news or other fun related topics, the subject of mobile technology comes up.

In poorer rural and urban communities where the first wave of household IT infrastructure passed by, the notion that smart phones and other Web-capable handheld devices — which are cheaper, more ubiquitous and often more socially and culturally prized than a home PC — just may transform the so-called digital divide is hot conversation.

But it’s worth revisiting the depths of why that is.

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Lessons I’ve learned on writing better ledes

Beginnings say as much about who begins them as they do about what they begin.

Journalists and writers, of professional kind or independent and online, take very seriously the ledes they produce and how others see them.

It’s very likely that I have had harsher scrutiny for ledes I’ve written than for anything else, and it’s even more likely you’ve found the same. Thusly, I’ve gotten lots of lede lessons through the years, particularly those with a bite or two that are worth sharing.

Below, lessons I’ve learned about crafting a strong lede. Share your own, so I can add to this list.

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News forms of the future

pumpkin_pieWe may lose someday newspapers in their traditional form, but we’re seeing a flourishing of alternatives fill those lost pieces of pie.

Some are more skeptical of how quickly we’ll be able to bring back the creation of that news, but through variation, experimentation and loyalty, it my well be done.

I very much see a future of journalism handled by an endless collection of small niche, targeted news sites, big investigative work done by nonprofits and foundation-funded, independents, in addition to a  handful of big news organizations finding their own niche — the NPR network and modified newspaper businesses like the New York Times owning international, the Wall Street Journal owning business (though they’re competing), USA Today and the Washington Post focusing on the national.

Below, I offer a hastily put together, rough breakdown of that.

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I love strikethrough text

I love what should be the new world of corrections.

Bow to the all-mighty strikethrough text. If someone calls you out on an error, fix it and fix it fast, but keep the mistake in with the cross out, so you don’t hide the mistake.

This shows transparency, a story’s growth and, really, keeps you, the reporter, more motivated to get it right the first time.

Print journalists take seriously the notion that what goes on the page stays on the page, but often hid behind a correction running later, smaller and being ignored. The Web combines the best — we stand by what we publish because we won’t erase a mistake.

I love the use of letting your readers kno when a story is ‘Updated’ and listing those changes at top or the bottom of the story for all your readers to see.

Transparency cannot be lost, and, like attribution, it doesn’t have to be.

Bloggers need to respect old media

Updated 3:17 p.m. April 23, 2009

I was in Baltimore this weekend, which is fitting, considering some of the news that came out of the Charm City last week.

From Wired magazine blog Epicenter:

The Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun issued Jeff Quiton of Inside Charm City a cease-and-desist letter claiming that Quinton has been republishing “substantial portions” of The Sun’s content, and because the infringement was willful, Quinton could face up to $150,000 per violation in addition to lawyers fees.

The Sun took issue with Quiton copying large portions of their stories, though the suit added they don’t have a problem with a headline and a graf being used by bloggers if links are included.

It’s another case of old media taking on new media. And I am completely on the side of old media on this one.

Continue reading Bloggers need to respect old media