What journalists can learn from CNN’s iReport

CNN’s iReport first launched in 2006 as a way to allow people from all around the world to contribute pictures and video of breaking news stories.

According to the website, here’s how the unit’s producers handle submissions from a reported 750,000 registered members:

iReport receives, on average, 500 iReports a day, and a fraction of those are vetted and approved for CNN’s non-user-generated networks and platforms, which involves fact-checking and verifying the details of a story. When a story is approved, the “Not Vetted for CNN” bar disappears and is replaced by a red “CNN iReport” bug that lets the community know a story has been verified.

Daphne Sashin is an iReport producer who says she isn’t sure citizen journalist is the best term for describing their contributors, because that implies those submitting content are deliberately trying to document the news.

“Most of the time it’s people sharing what they know or they’ve been a witness to news or they’ve had something happen to them, but that doesn’t make them journalists,” Sashin said.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 6.51.39 PMStill, the content has become an important part of the CNN organization’s news strategy.  Recently, Sashin says iReport has been running a lot more personal essays and some have been hugely successful when it comes to driving Web traffic.  She points to a story written by a college student who shared an account of studying abroad in India and experiencing repeated sexual harassment.  The story has driven more than 1.1 million views in a little less than a month.

“First person stories do amazingly well – better than reported stories,” Sashin said.

Now, the iReport team is thinking about how they can replicate that success.

“We’ve looked at using this approach to cover a story.  For example, rather than having someone interview five people about Anthony Weiner’s transgressions, we might find a woman whose husband cheated who might be willing to share that story and write the piece,” said Sashin.  “We’ve also thought about doing an ‘as told to’ to story — it would be in the first person, but for someone who isn’t a writer, that might be the best way to do it, though we haven’t tried that, yet.”

Sashin also says that that photo galleries do really well on the site and she thinks that the future will bring more opportunities to talk with people live on the scene of breaking news stories — “citizen journalists doing live streaming” is the way she describes it.

So, what’s the primary goal of an iReport producer?

“My job is looking for stories that people want to read and share,” Sashin said.

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Reality check needed for journalists on social media

Gannett has a new social media policy for journalists, and though it is similar to those established by many other news outlets, it does serve as a reminder that it’s getting harder than ever for journalists to draw the line between their public and private lives.

Here are some of the policy specifics that target journalists (emphasis added).

  • Be transparent in social media; always make clear that you work for Gannett or for your local Gannett news organization.
  • Consider that the content you post is public and should meet the same standards as information you publish or broadcast on Gannett platforms. Never post anything you would not be willing publish or broadcast.
  • Remember that social networks…Like other forms of public expression – attending political demonstrations, voicing opinions on a talk show, making political campaign contributions – they are subject to the limitations that are placed on newsroom employees through the Principles of Ethical Conduct.
  • Ensure that your public conduct – on and off the job – does not undermine your credibility with the public or Gannett’s standing as a fair and impartial source of news.

There you have it, folks — the message is that you’re always working when you’re using social media.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 4.18.18 PMIf you needed more proof, consider the most recent social media mess involving a Huntsville, Ala. reporter.  Shea Allen of ABC affiliate WAAY was fired after she revealed what the station considered too much information on her personal blog.

What Allens’ experience seems to suggest is that there really is no such thing as “personal social media,” at least for those who plan to work for traditional, corporate-owned news outlets.  For them, social media is not a place to let it all hang out, it’s one more place to work.

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Getting freelance journalism jobs as a new grad

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 1.37.08 PMIn case you didn’t know, freelance journalism jobs are not just for grizzled veterans anymore.

According to the Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communications Graduates, the percentage of those with both full and part-time jobs who also do freelancing is growing.  For the 2012 cohort, 34.7% of full-time employees say they also work freelance and 43.3% of those working part-time do so.

So, what does someone just starting out in the business need to know about freelancing?  Dana Neuts has been a freelancer for 10 years and is an active member of the Freelance Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists.  Here are her Top 5 pieces of advice for new grads or anyone new to the world of freelancing.

1.  Create and use marketing tools.  Those might come in the form of online profiles, business cards, a website or a blog, for example.

2.  Develop a network of contacts, both online and off.  Local editors, online freelance friends, journalism groups like SPJ or PR/comm groups like Media Bistro are some examples.  And look at your contacts in a different way — not only how they can help you, but also how you can help them.  It creates a different dynamic that will serve you well.

3.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Pitch stories to new publications, try a style you aren’t familiar with or take a part-time editing gig to pay the bills.  Don’t have experience or clips for a particular beat or genre?  Be up front with your editor — tell him/her, “I haven’t had this type of story published before, but here’s why I know I can do it.  If you give me a chance, I won’t let you down.”

4)  Volunteer.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of volunteering for a local nonprofit or, again, SPJ; you’ll meet people, learn new skills and make lifelong friends.

5)  Believe in yourself.  No one will give you a job or a chance if you don’t believe in yourself. Figure out what you’re good at, hone it, own it and be proud of it. Let that confidence carry you to new opportunities. Attitude is everything. If you don’t have the skills or clips you need but you have the right attitude, people will give you a chance.

So, what kind of money is freelance work bringing in to new grads? Survey says…

In 2012, bachelor’s degree recipients doing freelance work reported earning, on average, $3,000 from that work or other self-employment outside the regular job. That was up from a year earlier. The median salary earned by master’s degree recipients doing freelance work was $5,000, as it had been in 2011. In 2012, 17.6% of the bachelor’s degree recipients overall and 25.9% of the master’s degree recipients reported doing freelance work.

Though it doesn’t look like most new grads are getting rich with freelance work, Beth Wingarner offered this advice and more on the Poynter website for those just starting out.

Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with fellow freelancers has never been easier. Knowing who’s writing, and who they’re writing for, gives you a good sense of which publications are open to taking freelance work. Get to know other freelancers on social networks and, once you’ve built a rapport with them, ask them to introduce you to their editors. While cold-pitching works, your success rate will be much greater with a personal introduction.

For more ideas on how to get into the freelance game, you should also check out SPJ’s freelance directory and online resources.

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Top multimedia journalism skills used on the job

The Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communications Graduates is out, and once again it’s critical reading for anyone looking for a job in the industry.

Here’s a list of some of the key findings as they relate to multimedia skills:

  • Whether you plan to work in journalism or PR, you’re going to need to know how to write for the Web.  Radio employees do the least amount of this with 66.7% of 2012 graduates saying that’s part of the job — daily newspaper employees do the most with 86.8% who are regularly writing for online.
  • Another critically important component of the job for newly employed grads is working with social media.  A whopping 55.5% say that this is part of what they do, 42.1% say they use the Web as a promotional tool in their positions.
  • About a third of employed graduates also say they’re either managing Web operations (35.7%) or creating and using blogs (31.5%).
  • Other key skills include knowing how to produce photos and graphics for the Web with 38.8% of all journalism and mass comm graduates working in communications saying that they use those skills.  A little more than a fifth of graduates say they produce video for the Web (22.5%) or are producing and designing Web pages (21.8%) on the job.

The headline from the survey that’s getting lots of attention is that more journalism and mass comm grads are now getting jobs period — 65.6% reported holding a full-time job roughly six to eight months after graduation — that’s up about 3 percent from 2011.  They’re also making a little more money overall.

Bachelor’s degree recipients who found full-time work earned on average $32,000 in 2012, compared with $31,000 a year earlier. The increase offset the impact of inflation.

But what cNewsroomHireontinues to be disturbing to us at Advancing the Story is that the rates of hiring for minority vs. non-minority students is out of whack. Once again, minority graduates in 2012 had a more difficult time in the job market than did graduates who were not members of racial and ethnic minorities.  Slightly more than 60% of minority graduates found jobs vs. just under 73% of non-minority students were employed full-time.  This discrepancy has become more pronounced rather than less so in the past nine years.

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What works online — tips from a Web producer

Maybe this is merely anecdotal evidence, but it seems like more and more online editors are coming from the newscast producing ranks. Take Renee Johnson, for example, who runs the website for WLOX-TV in Biloxi; the former producer is now running the show online.

She says to drive social, mobile and online traffic, you have to know your market just as well as a good newscast producer does.  She also recommends avoiding making generalizations about what will work online in your market.

“You post Jersey Shore on our site and you’ll get ripped, but Duck Dynasty does well.  Anything about guns, marijuana or religion is going to work, but when it comes to sports — basketball doesn’t engage, football does,” says Johnson.

One difference between producing a newscast and producing for social media is that you want people to do more than view your content.

“The share is what you really want people to do.”Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 1.51.26 PM

Johnson is good at spotting what will engage people, including a story about a local county adding armed officers in all of its school buildings. Not only did it get shared more than 100 times with more than 600 likes, it generated more than 70 comments.  With such a hot button topic involving guns and schools, some of those comments were fairly intense.

“You want the community police itself; I try not to comment a lot,” Johnson said. “Though I will go in to post if someone is presenting wrong information.”

Johnson says mobile traffic has become increasingly important to the operation with an average of about 100,000 visits a day through mobile and about 60,000 going directly to the website.

She posts every local story WLOX produces to Facebook and Twitter, as well as what she calls “talkers” and significant breaking news, even if it’s from well out of the market.  However, Johnson says you can post too often, so she uses a scheduling tool to make sure that she doesn’t post more than once every 15 minutes on a routine news day.

“My biggest challenge is that everybody wants everything out as quickly as possible and that leads to small errors. But those small errors can ruin our credibility; people love to jump on your mistakes.”

The other challenge is for Johnson and the station to keep up with all the new digital tools that seem to crop up weekly, if not more often.

“It’s gotten to the point where I just try to pick one and do it well; I spend the time it takes to develop it. It’s all about expectation setting; it’s better to limit the ways you’re going to communicate with your audience and to do those well.”

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How CBS Newspath finds good stories

One of the toughest part of a journalist’s job is coming up with a good story to tell every day, but what if you had to find stories that would work across the entire country?  That’s the job of those working for CBS Newspath, the news service that the network provides to its affiliates.

Journalism student Brandon Rook spent his summer working as intern for Newspath and found out how the producers and managers determine what stories they will cover, as well as what stories they won’t.

The strategies seems to be somewhat universal, whether you’re working for the network or for a station in North Platte, Nebraska. The focus is on coming up with news that people are or will be talking about and stories that affect a majority of people.

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Journalist’s Dilemma: Combining personal and professional social media

“It is a great Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.46.06 PMway for people in the news to develop relationships with their viewers,” says WTVA-TV anchor/reporter, C.J. LeMaster, who has one of the biggest social media followings at his station in Tupelo, Miss.

LeMaster says he doesn’t try to tell his 24oo Twitter followers what they should think, rather he just wants to inform them. In his view, a news figure should never tweet political or controversial opinions.

However, LeMaster is not afraid to let his viewers know something about his life off the air.  Jeff Cutler, who conducts social media workshops for the Society of Professional Journalists, says this combination is not unusual for someone in news.

“He is using it as a personal Twitter stream with some news tossed in and pushing folks to his Facebook page for work stuff,” said Cutler.

One of the reasons LeMaster may feel comfortable combining the personal and the professional into one stream is that he says he takes his time to make sure that his tweets are appropriate for everyone.  He says if there’s ever a doubt in your mind about whether you should post or tweet, you probably shouldn’t.

At WJTV-TV in Jackson, anchor Erin Pickens is not quite as comfortable sharing her off-camera life with the public.  She maintains four social media accounts, two on Facebook and two on Twitter. One set of these accounts is for personal use, and the others are set up for work.  Cutler is not surprised.

“Personal vs. business is a funny thing. I find that most women keep their stuff professional across the board and have a private Facebook page for family and close friends. They also often — about half the time — have a personal Twitter that’s locked or no personal Twitter at all,” Cutler said.  “Guys are much less protective of their info. The ones who know what they’re doing set up a Facebook Page and then just have one Twitter address for both personal and private.”

Pickens has about 600 friends on her personal Facebook account and 700 on her personal Twitter. Those numbers are quite different from her professional accounts where her Facebook tops out at almost 2,500 friends, but her professional Twitter stream has just a little more than 100 followers.  Pickens says that she does not actively try to build her social media audience but knows she “should do a better job.”

“I believe social media has enhanced our business, especially now that more people have embraced it,” says Pickens.

Cutler suggests that LeMaster, and especially Pickens, should take some time to evaluate what they want social media to do for them.  He also has a couple more recommendations for journalists trying to build social media audience.

  • If you are using multiple accounts, remember not to double post everything you share.  It’s silly to see a Facebook status update like “Follow me on Twitter” showing up in a Twitter feed.
  • Flesh out your social media bios.  You want people to know what type of content they will get if they follow you.  Add a second link to your bio, if you can; Cutler recommends LinkedIn.

LeMaster admits there is a downside to doing social media well.  At times he feels “too connected” and obligated to act as a news source for his followers, but he says, social media’s benefit of building trust between the journalist and the audience is too important to give up.

University of Mississippi journalism students Anne-Conner Dickerson and Poinesha Barnes contributed to this post.

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How reporters use mobile newsgathering

Rachel Beech of WDAMThink Web first. A sign with those three simple words hangs in the Raycom-owned WDAM-TV newsroom in Hattiesburg, Miss. The idea is to remind reporters, producers and everyone else to push to Web, and smartphones make that job much easier.

Reporter Rachel Beech is perhaps the best example of someone who thinks Web first, and by extension, she goes mobile. A quick look at her Facebook posts (which she has automatically linked to her Twitter account) shows that she is always plugged in- and so are her followers.

“My online presence is important, because I see great value in communicating with others while keeping them informed about happenings around the Pine Belt,” says Beech. “People want an accessible avenue for information, and there’s no better place to access info than the Web.”

A “star moment”for Beech came during a mayoral election uproar, which has just recently gone to trial. With this constant coverage, Beech has learned the importance of not only immediate updates but also updates that are factual.

“Receiving information straight from the source quickly is critical,” she says, “and I try to do that as soon as news breaks.”

Her live updates boost her online presence, and she says it could not be done without having that mobile access in the field. “After receiving info, I relay it to the public- straight from my iPhone- as efficiently and objectively as possible.”

Here’s what the expectations are for making mobile newsgathering part of the reporter’s day:

  • Each reporter is supplied with a smartphone and is expected to use that for reporting in the field. As a reporter rushes out the door, equipment and coffee in hand, they are (or at least should be!) sending out a tweet and posting to Facebook to let their followers know what they are covering. While on the scene, several social media updates are expected, which should include both pictures and video. The quality of camera in the phones is high enough to allow the use of pictures and videos on the Web, as well as in television cut-ins.
  • Pictures are sent with a two paragraph story summary that is immediately posted to the Web, Twitter and Facebook. In addition, the reporter also sends back a 10-second tease that is used as a cut-in prior to the newscast. This is also posted to the Web. While the reporter is in the field, the Web producer back at the station is posting the content. But when a reporter returns, it is his or her responsibility to post a Web story along with a video to the website.

The goal is to create a news organization that keeps viewers in mind, every minute of the day.

WDAM-TV reporter Margaret Ann Morgan contributed this post.

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Be a tease! The job of a news promotion producer

When it comes to teaching broadcast journalism, most schools tend to focus on reporting.  Sure they teach video skills, too, and a few also prepare newscast producers, but there are many other jobs at TV news stations that rarely get a mention.  One of those jobs is that of a news promotion producer.

“It’s fast-paced and ever changing without the stress created by live news coverage,” says Joe Doolittle, a promotion producer for WJTV in Jackson, Miss.

Doolittle describes his job as promoting the station’s brand and its newscasts, 10-to-30 seconds at a time.

“It fulfills a creative desire that you can’t get in traditional news jobs.  You get to have more fun — it’s a different side of news.”

To work as a promotion producer, Doolittle says you have to know your market well so you can figure out what stories will grab and hold the audience’s attention.

“Most promos run during commercial breaks when people aren’t really watching,” says Doolittle.  That pushes promotion producers hard to come up with innovative ways to “sell” stories, but it also creates some challenges.

“It’s hard to avoid giving away too much of the story, and then there’s the fear of over-selling it.”

So, what skills does a good promotion producer need?  In addition to creativity, writing, shooting and editing, Doolittle says a knowledge of social media has become critical for success on the job.

“You have to know what makes people click or share.”

Beyond journalism courses, Doolittle suggests anyone interested in news promotions should also pick up some marketing or advertising classes.

“I took one marketing class; I never even thought about news promotions as a job.”

Now that he’s got it, Doolittle is a happy man.

“It’s nice to have a job I genuinely enjoy and one that challenges me, keeps me on my toes and is fulfilling.”

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