Gird yourself, I’m about to attack a Canadian journalism institution: The National Newspaper Awards.
It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this post. No, scratch that. This has been years in the making.
I need to begin by stating that I recognize the importance of the NNAs – some have dubbed them “Canada’s Pulitzer Prize” (this kind of identifying through comparison with our American neighbours makes me cringe.)
Three of my colleagues were recognized for their journalistic excellence at this year’s NNAs, an achievement that has made everyone in the newsroom proud.
But journalistic excellence doesn’t occur solely in print form.
On Wednesday, CNN’s John King reported that a ‘dark-skinned male’ had been indentified, then arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings.
But over the next 90 minutes, King’s credibility – and the credibility of CNN – took a major hit.
I created this storify of how the race to be first, and the decision to report information from anonymous sources on live cable news affected CNN’s coverage and credibility in the days after the attack.
Read the Storify here (sorry, WordPress won’t let me embed it – grrrr)
I’ve spent the past four months researching community newsrooms and citizen journalism while a journalist-in-residence as a Michener-Deacon Fellow at Carleton University – and loved every minute of teaching and research.
But now my time is up. At the beginning of May, I’ll be moving on to my next challenge in the Ottawa Citizen newsroom. Bring on the adrenaline rush of daily news.
As this fellowship draws to a close, I’ve come to the following conclusions about community newsrooms:
The Globe and Mail was one of the first – if not the very first – major news organization in North America to recognize the importance of engaging with its community when it created a newsroom position for someone whose focus was just that.
Mathew Ingram, who became the Globe’s first Communities Editor in late 2008, said he’s “pretty sure it was the first social media editor type job” in the continent.
“At least I haven’t come across a mention of anyone who had one earlier than that. And when the New York Times got one, [Former Communities Editor Jennifer Preston] called me for advice,” said Ingram, who is now a senior writer for Gigaom.
The Globe’s connection to its community continues to run deep. The national news organization now has three communities editors: one in embedded in the newsroom’s Business, News and Features sections.
This is modeled after The Guardian’s newsroom, Jen MacMillan, the Globe’s Senior Communities Editor explained.
“First we had Mathew, one person in the role with fantastic ideas,” MacMillan said in an interview. “It’s great to see how the newsroom evolved.”
Indeed, the twitter account that Ingram set up for @globeandmail now has more than 213,000 followers (and growing), as well as smaller accounts for individual sections; its Facebook page has more than 68,000 fans; and its Instagram account is growing by leaps and bounds.
The NewsVroom goes everywhere, allowing the Daily Record in Pennsylvania to connect with its community.
Sometimes, you make a connection with your readers one person at a time – and that’s just fine by Parker, the Daily Record’s Managing Editor.
The Daily Record serves York County, Pennsylvania, an expansive region that includes 72 municipalities (with a population of about 400,000 people) and the City of York, with a population of 35,000 people.
Knowing that his readership was so spread out, Parker knew a traditional community newsroom wasn’t going to work.
People around in the region aren’t likely to travel to the Daily News’ relatively remote location in an industrial area of York, Parker said.
The NewsVroom functions as much as marketing tool as it does a mobile reporting unit. Parker is clear with his staff that the van doesn’t belong to the newsroom alone – it belongs to everyone.
The NewsVroom is at a high school football game every Friday night of the season. GametimePA’s Editor Elizabeth Jones manages all sports events.
Parker’s marketing team sets up what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” with tables and tents, and invites people to come see his news organization’s iPad app and how it works. Read the rest of this entry »
Matt DeRienzo has welcomed the community into his newsroom, unlocking the doors and letting them walk right in.
This hasn’t led to any security concerns, and he has only had to call the police once – when he spotted “a kid watching porn on one of our computers, and refused to leave,” DeRienzo said. (I was lucky enough to join some journalists from the Cape Cod Times for a tour of his Newsroom Café in Torrington, Connecticut in March.)
Opening the doors means learning a lot about your community, he explained. He’s had a homeless man come in to use Google earth on one of the public computers to find a place to sleep.
When some of his staff complained about the homeless using the space in the winter, DeRienzo said he pushed back. “I will address the issue if there is a smell, but not the fact there is a homeless person here.”
Besides, he added “it’s noisiest when my kids are here.”
DeRienzo opened the Register Citizen‘s News Café in December, 2010. To do this, he moved his newsroom to a new location (an abandoned ball bearing and sewing machine parts factory) in downtown Torrington, with an eye to a place that could host a space “for coffee and pastries.”
In this setting, the front door is unlocked, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. There is no reception or security desk. But it is one of three locations in town with free wifi.
The public can – and has – walked in and talked to a reporter about a story. Sometimes this is a good thing, DeRienzo said, it can result in story leads. Other times, people have to be reminded they’ve made their point, and that reporters have a job to do.