1 in 5 journalism students have no interest in journalism

As a journalism educator, I can’t say a recent study came as a real surprise to me, but it is good to have data to back up perceptions.  A group of 11 researchers from eight countries, including the United States, sought to learn about journalism students’ motivations and expectations of their work.  The entire paper published in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator is compelling, but here are some highlights from what 285 U.S. journalism students had to say.

More than half of students entered school with an interest in soft news, about a quarter found hard news most compelling to cover and slightly more than a fifth had no interest in any kind of journalistic work.  Interestingly, students’ interest in producing hard news increased during their time in school, as did the number of students who decided journalism wasn’t right for them at all. (Click on “End” on the graphic to see the change.)

So, why do journalism students sign up for their degree programs? In the U.S., the number one reason is “talent or a liking for writing,” with more than 39 percent weighing in with that response, followed by respect for the profession, a chance to change society and a chance to meet interesting people.

Happily, less than 1 percent of respondents said they were studying journalism because it was “easy to finish,” but 4.3 percent admitted they selected journalism for the “possibility of becoming famous” (sigh).


3 most common journalism ethics questions

Journalists must make tough ethical decisions almost daily.  There are lots of tools to help guide those decisions, including the Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics and one from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).  In addition, SPJ has long had an Ethics Hotline, which fields hundreds of questions each year.

QuillIn Quill magazine, SPJ recently reported three of the most common ethics calls received and their corresponding responses from the society’s experts:

  1. When do I have to attribute information in a story?  If a person needs to question whether they should attribute information to someone or someplace, it’s better to err on the side of caution and attribute.  Attribution is crucial to all media types.

  2. Am I allowed to cover a story about something or someone I’m affiliated with outside of my professional life? In general, journalists shouldn’t write about topics in which they have a vested interest.  Instead, let someone else in the newsroom cover the story.  Or, if a journalist is on the fence, they should explain their involvement in a note or somewhere in the story.

  3. When can I grant anonymity to a source? Anonymity should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances.  In general, it’s used too much in news stories.  Journalists should ask sources who request anonymity about who or where else can provide the information on the record.  When anonymity is granted, the terms should be spelled out about what is expected of each party.

Understanding the issues around attribution is critical in a world where so much information is shared without any sourcing at all.  As journalists continue to try to stake their claims as providers of accurate information, appropriate attribution is essential to that effort.  Source anonymity is related to this issue because it’s the antithesis of attribution, and it requires a tremendous amount of trust between the journalist and the source, not to mention the journalist and the audience.  As the SPJ piece says, this should be reserved for “extraordinary circumstances.”

Finally, with so much more “journalism with a point of view” showing up in the media marketplace, the idea that journalists must be transparent in reporting their relationships to the people and the issues they cover is one that can serve to strengthen the credibility that we need to do our jobs.  If you’re going to write about people you know or ideas or organizations for which you have passion, you have to remember to let your audiences in on it.



Top 5 strategies to create better mobile video

There is plenty being said and written about the explosion in video consumption on mobile devices, but very few local news organizations seem to be producing content specifically for mobile viewing.  Resources are definitely an issue, but the time is coming when reporters may no longer be doing a “Web version” of their stories, rather they will produce a “mobile version” — or maybe both.  So, here are my Top 5 findings from lots of reading about this topic.

  1. Shooting Techniques. Focus on tight and medium shots to ensure that the viewers see the intended subject of the frame. Wide shots make the subject too small for most mobile devices. According to research done at the Reese News Lab at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, visual diversity also becomes a challenge when you can’t incorporate a lot of the environment in a shot.  For example, let’s say you switch from a sound bite that obeys the Rule of Thirds to a shot of a different person that also obeys the rule, the similarity can make the transition jarring. Be conscious of the script so as to make sure similar video portraits won’t be edited back-to-back. Be obvious! On a mobile screen, subtle motion ends up looking a lot like a freeze frame.
  2. Audio Challenges. There are two big issues here: 1) Content produced for mobile needs to “work” without sound and 2) Mobile is more sensitive to sound quality than the desktop or TV. It may sound perfect on a desktop, but if a crossfade is missing or levels are all over the place, the problems are more noticeable on mobile. Consider stacking several of the same audio clips on top of one another to create a richer sound without distorting the levels to the point where you can hear white noise.
  3. Graphics Redo. When it comes to thinking about whether a video works with the sound off, strong visuals really do matter, and that includes graphics. Using images sized for phones is essential to making your content useful to the mobile audience, as outlined by Steve Schwaid at CJ&N. You should consider these questions:
  • Do you have to subtitle the video in order to keep the audience retention high?
  • Do you need to use big fonts?
  • Do you need to use color blocking in order to make words pop and make things stand out?
  • Is there too much information for such a small screen?
Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience like trying to read "an eye chart:" when you look at them on a mobile device.

Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience for viewers that’s like trying to read “an eye chart:” when they look at the content on a mobile device.

  1. Timing. The first :05 are critical. That’s about how long you have to convince someone to stop and watch. (Branded pre-rolls may not be a good idea for this reason.) In general, mobile video producers suggest that shorter is better when it comes to mobile video, but viewing patterns can vary significantly among platforms (YouTube vs. Facebook) and devices (phone vs. tablet), according to some of the things Jigar Mehta, has learned working for the app-based news organization AJ+.
  2. Vertical Viewing. According to analyst Mary Meeker, users use vertically oriented devices nearly 30 percent of the time, up from just 5 percent in 2010. And more than 7 billion videos are viewed each day on Snapchat, which is specifically designed for vertical consumption. In a piece published at Nieman Lab, Mashable’s creative director suggests that, “In terms of quality, and for the content to live on in as many forms as possible, shooting it on at least a 4K camera horizontal has proven to be the most efficient.”  Two more pieces of advice:
  • When shooting interviews, frame the subject in the center of the frame so the video can be easily readjusted to a vertical orientation. (Some video producers are marking their view screens with white tape outlining the various orientations for Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube, so they know what part of the image is in or out of frame for each platform.)
  • Using center-focused shots allows you to adapt graphics to the orientation of multiple video versions.

Of course, this may sound obvious, but checking the video you produce to make sure it looks good on mobile is a must.  And if you shoot a lot of video and you think we’re missing a key point here, please share your ideas.  I’m working on some research with millenials to determine what they want from mobile video providers and will be sure to post the findings here at Advancing the Story.



Social media puts pressure on journalists



It’s one of the finest of lines to follow — be “real,” interesting, personal and engaging on social media, but keep your journalistic principles intact.  Now, research suggests that the pressure to create a personal brand means that many journalists are finding it harder to have a personal identity online.

Communication professor Avery E. Holton of The University of Utah and journalism professor Logan Molyneux of Temple University interviewed 41 reporters and editors from various U.S. publications to write Identity Lost? The Personal Impact of Brand Journalism.”

According to a piece from Journalist’s Resource, the study’s key findings include:

  • Reporters are increasingly focusing their attention on developing their professional identities on social media rather than their personal identities.
  • Reporters have been asked to make changes to the way they present themselves and their content on social media, including adding their news organization’s logo to their social media pages and providing fewer links to news items that were not published by their employers. They also have been asked to help promote events and partnerships that might cast their news agencies in a positive light.
  • Reporters struggle with balancing their professional and personal identities online. They “feel pressure to stake a claim on their beat, develop a presence as an expert in their profession and area of coverage, and act as a representative of the news organization at all times. This leaves little room for aspects of personal identity such as family, faith, or friendship to be shared online.”
  • Many reporters said they see social media as a way to demonstrate that they are true experts in their field or subject area of coverage, which they think helps differentiate them from wire reporters and other reporters who do not have as much experience and subject-area expertise.
  • There still is uncertainty among reporters and editors about acceptable practices on social media, especially as they relate to personal branding and company branding.
  • Reporters are being asked to read and respond to social media posts at all times, which they view as an added burden among a long list of job responsibilities.
  • Editors said that they are sympathetic to the branding-related demands being placed on reporters but feel “hamstrung” by the policies and expectations of their news organizations. Few said they monitor their reporters’ social media activities but acknowledged that their news agencies “made examples out of individuals who were not falling in line.

Clearly, the fact that there is still “uncertainty” about acceptable practices on social media adds a tremendous amount of stress to an already difficult job.



Mobile journalism now easier on Android devices

When I conduct training on using mobile devices as news gathering tools, the room is generally filled with journalists wielding iPhones. However, in a recent podcast produced by journalism.co.uk, some mobile experts are suggesting that 2015 was a game changing year for producing news content with Android devices.

Florian Reichart, the man behind @smartfilming on Twitter, says three developments were particularly significant.

“Probably the three big things that made Android better as an app platform within the last year or months was the arrival of Periscope, FLMiC Pro and the second video track option on the video editing app KineMaster,” says Reichart.

Periscope is, of course, a live video streaming mobile app that allows you to broadcast directly to the world through Twitter.  FiLMiC Pro has long been regarded one of the top high def video video production apps, but it has only recently been made available for Android.   KineMaster has been on the market for awhile, but the multi-track option added this past year has made the app much more useful to journalists.

Podcast host Catalina Albeanu also mentioned an app called Legend that lets you create text-based animations.  I’m looking forward to checking it out as a tool to add a stronger visual element to video stories that require full-screen graphics.  The app gives you the option to download what you create as an MP4, which should make it possible for you to add that element into whatever story you are producing in the field.   You can also share these animations on Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Facebook.

If you’ve used Legend or have another graphics app solution we should know about, please feel free to share your what you’ve learned.



5 tips to get you noticed by employers on LinkedIn

The job hunt is already underway for soon-to-be December grads from journalism schools, so now’s the time to beef up those resume materials.

Sean Callahan, senior manager for content marketing at LinkedIn, says there are a few things you can do to make your profile stand out from the rest.

  1.  Add a professional photo.  Callahan says profiles with pics get 14 times the views of those without.  Unfortunately, that means you need to lose the selfie and get the highest quality picture possible.
  2. Write an attention grabbing headline under your name.  “Explain what it is that you do or you want to do,” says Callahan.  “Show your passion and the value you will bring to some organization.”
  3. Draft a compelling summary.  It should be at least 40 words and you should be thinking about “keywords not buzzwords” says Callahan.  If you’re looking for a job as a multimedia reporter, be sure you use the words “multimedia” and “reporter” in the summary.
  4. Detail your work experience.  Yes, this can be tedious, but users who fill this section out vs. simply uploading a resume get 12 times the views of those that don’t, according to Callahan.
  5. Add examples of your work.  LinkedIn now allows you to add photos, videos and documents, so take advantage of that option.

And one of the best ways to get noticed on LinkedIn is to publish there says Callahan.  “Share your knowledge, your perspective on what you care about and generate a status update.”

He pointed to one college student named Tai Tran who published a piece on LinkedIn about the failed #RaceTogether Starbucks campaign.  That post got him noticed and eventually got him a job in digital marketing at Apple.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.08.55 PM




Investigative journalist shares tips for tough interviews

You don’t have to be an investigative reporter to find yourself asking tough questions, but you can likely learn something from the way WFTV investigative reporter Christopher Heath does his job.

Heath, who has been at the Orlando station since 2013, says one thing you have to be prepared for is the non-answer.

“When faced with an interview subject who won’t respond to your question, ask it again, and again and again.  Play dumb if you have to and say, ‘I’m not understanding…,'” said Heath.

In a story about a local business incubator getting additional money from the city, though the group already owes taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, Heath used another technique for what he calls “the dodge.”

“Get your question on the air,” Heath said. “Be willing to point out the dodge and share how many times you asked the question.”


When it comes to holding public officials accountable, Heath has this advice.

“Ask for interviews early, ask in writing and then document every attempt. You can also ask if there is a written statement option.”

If that doesn’t get you what you need, you may have to push harder.

“Ask for the official’s public schedule; this will terrify them because they know it’s me getting him in the hallway or after a meeting,” Heath said.  “Or look at the schedule for public meetings, and no, that’s not an ambush.  If I go to their house or church, it might be, but at a city council meeting, it’s never an ambush.”

Heath says it’s important for every reporter to know his or her rights when it comes to public records or laws governing access to meetings and documents.  He also suggests having a public records request form ready to go at a moment’s notice, so you don’t have to scramble to get that prepared.  Finally, he recommends demonstrating what happens behind the scenes to the audience.

“Process is part of the story; show your work.”


What it takes to anchor TV news

GadsdenFor many TV journalists, moving into a spot on the anchor desk is a dream come true.   Today, Ginger Gadsden is living that dream at WKMG in Orlando, but she says the reality is that anchoring is also hard work.

“It’s so much more than reading the news; you think you have people catering to you, that you’re always dressed to the nines, but not really,” Gadsden says.

Here’s what she thinks anyone looking for an anchor job needs to know.

  • You have a responsibility to be prepared. “That doesn’t mean you just know your scripts,” says Gadsden, “it means that you know extra tidbits about every story that will be a live shot – enough so that if you are tossing to it, you lose the live shot and the producer says, ‘Stretch,’ in your ear, you know enough to tap dance for 10 or 15 seconds.”
  • Know about everything that is in the story. “You are the gatekeeper; if it comes out of your mouth, it is your responsibility.  Recently, after the China market took a big fall, there was a script in the show that said the U.S. stock market had fallen to its lowest levels since the start of the Great Depression.  If I had not looked at it ahead of time and had just read it cold, who looks like the idiot?  Not the writer – me!”
  • Don’t be too proud. “If you don’t know something, ask.  Don’t let pride stop you from finding out what you need to know.  I always say I would rather look like an idiot in front of the 50 people in the newsroom than look like a moron on the air.”

Gadsden also says that the best anchors don’t go it alone.

“Sometimes you shine by letting others look good; be a generous person on the anchor desk,” she says.  “Don’t be anchor hog and a know-it-all.  You’re part of a team, you’re sharing the anchor desk.  Don’t be the person who has to have the last word; when everyone is talking then no one is heard.”

Finally, what’s the best preparation for anchoring?

“If you do weather first, you can do everything.  You have to adlib everything – no scripts, it’s just you talking to the audience.”


Social first is smart strategy for promoting TV stories

Full disclosure:  I believe Boyd Huppert from KARE 11 in Minneapolis may be one of the best TV storytellers ever.  So, when he says it’s time for TV folks to rethink the value of social media, we should listen.

“I’ve been a reporter for 31 years, and the only audience measurement we had for most of that time was ratings; we checked the overnights,” says Boyd.  “It really didn’t tell us how individuals connected to content in the newscast, and I can’t connect with a ratings point.”

Huppert says reading and interacting with audience comments and posts has changed the way he views content and how to get more audience to see his stories.

The start of his new way of thinking came after his story about the friendship between a man in his 90s and the little boy who lived next door went viral.

But Boyd says the success of the original “Emmett and Erling” story wasn’t quite enough to change his attitude.  When a chance came to cover the friends again, Huppert decided to simply post a picture on Facebook.

“That photo was shared 4100 times, but I didn’t cover it; I made a mistake,” Huppert says.  “I wasn’t listening to our viewers, but I know better now.”

He went on to do another story about this pair that was aired in NBC Nightly News, and more importantly, shared on the NBC Facebook page.

“That story was shared 245,000, more than 10 million views,” he says.  “Therein lies the power of something I didn’t have any use for earlier in my career—generating content that is shareable.”

Huppert says about a quarter of the revenue generated by his stories comes from clicks. Now, he has a Facebook strategy for promoting his stories.  For example, a post about a piece he did on a group of kids who took it upon themselves to stop the bullying of a special needs child in their class was already shared by more than 1400 people before the story even aired.

“Teases don’t work on Facebook, they work on Twitter, says Huppert.  “If you say something like ‘You won’t  believe what happened…,’ no one would share that, it’s a commercial.  I’ve found that I need to write a narrative paragraph.

Huppert admits that goes against what TV reporters have been told to do “avoid giving the story away,” but he says he has proof that it generates on-air audience. For the bullying story, the key demos went from a .9 from the lead-in to a 4.9 at the start of the newscast and a 5.0 in the quarter hour where his story aired.

“If you’re going to tease, you have to deliver, but we’ve always earned our audience by the stories that we do.”




Creating stronger audio for your TV stories

Turns out you can learn a lot about creating better TV stories from a guy who focuses on audio.  Adam Ragusea teaches at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism and hosts a podcast called The Pub.  He presented at the Excellence in Journalism Conference on a topic he wrote about for Current.org — “Why You’re Doing Audio Levels Wrong and Why It Really Does Matter.”

When you’re trying to create sound consistency in a story that has a number of audio clips of varying levels, you need to normalize that audio as part of the mixing process.

“Mixing is the art of making all the bits and pieces of an audio composition sound right relative to each other,” said Ragusea.

The embedded tutorial provides an excellent overview of how to do a better job of normalizing audio in Adobe Premiere Pro.

But Ragusea says too many people stop with the mixing process and don’t go on to the mastering stage.

“Mastering is the art of making the mixed piece sound right relative to all the other audio in the universe,” he says, and that’s where dynamic range compression comes in. “Dynamic range compression is electronic or digital processing that automatically boosts quiet sounds and lowers loud sounds.”

So, how do you do it?  Here’s another tutorial that may help.

American Public Media engineer Rob Byers says voice levels should generally be around -15 dBFS, and nothing should ever go higher than -3.

All of this matters to those in TV because, as the saying goes — if you have great video and lousy audio, you end up with a lousy story.