A new career path?

If you’ve heard this once, you’ve heard it a million times. The path to a major market TV job starts in a very small market, where you can learn on the job and make mistakes that won’t kill your career. It’s good advice, but it’s not the only way. Gil Matos is a 2006 graduate of Emerson College who’s already on TV and radio in Boston, covering professional sports from a Latino perspective.

Matos bypassed the traditional route to a big market job by combining several “niche” jobs at small media outlets. He does a twice-weekly talk show in Spanish for a local radio station, writes about sports for a Spanish-language newspaper, and reports in English for a local cable channel.  (He also keeps a blog, but doesn’t update often.)

Thanks to his bilingual ability and multimedia savvy, Matos tells the Boston Globe, he’s had opportunities his peers didn’t.

I have friends who were working [as broadcasters] up in Maine, and they would come down to cover one or two Red Sox games. I get the chance to be there every day if I wanted to,” says Matos, who aspires to be a full-time TV sports anchor. “Covering the pro sports, hopefully, someone from the English side will take notice, and I can make my crossover.”

There’s one big catch in Matos’s story:

His radio and TV stints are part-time, volunteer endeavors. His day job: recruitment coordinator for Hult International Business School in Cambridge. He also bartends on weekends to pay his student loans.

While his dedication and hard work are admirable, you have to wonder how long the outlets Matos is working for will take advantage of his willingness to do it for free, and how long he can keep it up under those conditions.  But if it all pays off in a full-time job, it will have been worth it.


Diversity lacking in sports journalism

It’s the second year for bad news when it comes to the diversity of newspaper sports departments.  According to Editor & Publisher, a survey from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) has found an overwhelming majority of white males behind this country’s sports pages.

“This report shows that in 2008, 94% of the sports editors; 89% of the assistant sports editors; 88% of our columnists; 87% of our reporters; and 89% of our copy editors/designers are white, and those same positions are 94%, 90%, 94%, 91%, and 84% male,” wrote Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES, which is housed at the University of Central Florida.

This is the second year for the study which noted one bright spot – an increase in African-American sports columnists who now make up 10.7% of the field (up from 7.4%).

According to the article, some sports editors blame newspaper downsizing for the problem saying the dot-coms are hiring away women and minorities and then the newspapers are not allowed to fill those open positions. 

If that were the case, wouldn’t it stand to reason that sports departments would have been just filled with women and people of color 10-15 years ago, when sports Web sites were far from a major player and the economics of newspapers were much brighter?

I think there may be quite another reason why sports departments are a nearly all white male club and that probably won’t change as long as the old excuses are allowed to go unchallenged.

Video wins online

A new study says PBS.org has seen its Web traffic grow in part because of “enhancements” to its video offerings. TV Week reports that a Hitwise survey finds PBS.org had more total U.S. visits in the past month than the other broadcast network Web sites. PBS says its traffic overall is up about 25 percent over last year, due in part to improved use of video. (Whether that really makes them number one is debatable. The Washington Post points out that comScore ranks ABC highest for unique visitors.)

But what’s interesting about the growth at PBS is the kind of video they feature online. The network bucks the conventional wisdom that online viewers won’t watch anything that’s more than a few minutes long. “We’ve added many hundreds of hours of full-length video to the site,” Jason Seiken, senior VP of PBS Interactive, said in a statement today. It’s worth exploring why longer video works for them. Is it the quality? The topics and treatment? The heavy-duty on-air promotion of the Web site?

It may also be significant that PBS–which doesn’t rely on advertising in the same way the other networks do–is succeeding online. MediaShift’s Mark Glaser reports that online video ad sales make up only a small fraction of the $21 billion spent on all Web advertising last year. Why?

Many online videos are too short for people to sit through “pre-roll” video ads that play before the content, and people don’t like “overlay ads” that run during videos because they are intrusive. Another barrier for marketers is having to format ads differently for different video-sharing and media sites — not to mention the challenge of gauging how effective the ads actually are.

Glaser’s post, well worth reading, looks at all online video, not just news and information sites, and says the situation may be changing. Taken together, the opportunities for video ads and the PBS results hold lessons for anyone trying to boost Web traffic and get users to watch video online.

Farewell OJR

I’m a little behind on this unfortunate development: the Online Journalism Review is no more. Editor Robert Niles says the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School has decided to pull the plug. While he doesn’t offer much in the way of an explanation, Niles says USC will focus its online efforts for professionals on the Knight Digital Media Center instead. Niles himself has launched his own blog, Sensible Talk, which he calls “a community devoted to media, business, arts and technology criticism.”

I, for one, will miss OJR. It offered insights and examples of good work that are hard to find elsewhere. Sorry to see it go.

Powerful local TV Web sites

A short while ago, we published a post about some of the best newspaper Web sites; now here’s a look at some of the most heavily visited local TV sites.  Broadcasting & Cable reports that newspapers generally dominate local Web traffic, but there are exceptions.

According to “What Local Media Web Sites Earn: 2008 Survey,” recently released by Borrell Associates, sites for stations such as WMUR Manchester, N.H., KTHV Little Rock and KSL Salt Lake City are dramatically outperforming their market’s major newspaper sites in unique visitors.

A total of 14 local TV sites outperform the largest local newspaper in terms of traffic.  The article says the sites have a few things in common:

  • Strong video offerings
  • Innovative interactivity
  • Exhaustive weather coverage

The story goes on to point out the competitive advantage a local TV station’s meteorologists can provide online and the creative ways the most-visited sites are soliciting user-generated content.

More ratings info

Sometime this summer, Nielsen will begin providing information about who is watching what when they’re away from home. For a long time, many in the television industry have complained that they don’t get “credit” for people watching their programming in hotels, bars, gyms, etc.  Now, according to Media Post, the “Nielsen Out-of-Home Report” may be about to change all that.

The data that covers viewing of national broadcast and cable networks will be culled from a panel of 4,700. Panelists will carry cell phones from AT&T that run the software that allows tracking of the exposure to programs (participants receive $50 a month).

At the local level, Nielsen plans to begin in six markets by the end of September.  Those markets include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Denver.

Nielsen estimates that as much as 8% of TV viewing takes place outside the home.

New model for investigative reporting?

Everyone knows that newsrooms have been cutting staff and shrinking their budgets. When there aren’t enough people to get the daily job done, in-depth reporting can suffer. What’s to be done?

Chuck Lewis thinks he has an answer. The founder of the Center for Public Integrity is launching a new “workshop” at American University in Washington to produce “demonstration projects” for investigative journalism. He plans to bring in “all-star” journalists as senior fellows, involve students in reporting and writing stories, and partner with news organizations to disseminate the stories.

What makes it different than anything in the country is that we’re going to look to incubate new models of doing investigative journalism. It’s in great peril at the moment and is in free-fall. This kind of journalism is the most expensive, time-consuming and risky in terms of litigation. This is really extraordinarily ambitious — and some would say foolhardy. I’ve done a lot of work in the non-profit world, and the fact is that we need new models that will help pay for this work. And it might not just be some exciting investigative reporting centers; it might be something better, larger, with greater impact than that.

Lewis talked about his plans with Mark Glaser at MediaShift just as another new reporting model is making its debut. The non-profit Pro Publica project will air its first investigation, a joint effort with 60 Minutes, on CBS Sunday night. Pro Publica reporter Dafna Linzer contributed to the piece about the U-S funded Arabic language channel Al-Hurra, and will publish a separate multipart series on the project’s Web site.

Journalists’ memorial

More than 60 years ago, Edward R. Murrow stood on the rooftop at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London and reported live to American listeners as German planes bombed the city. Now, that rooftop is the site of a stunning new memorial to journalists killed while doing the dangerous job of keeping the public informed.

The International News Safety Institute estimates that 1,000 journalists have died on the job in the past ten years–an average of two per week. Iraq has become one of the most dangerous places on earth for a journalist to work. But there are many more. The BBC recently lost two journalists in Afghanistan and Somalia.

In an interview on BBC World News last night, global head of news Richard Sambrook said journalists are being targeted in hot spots around the world as never before. Journalists used to declare their status as members of the press as a form of protection, he said. Now, journalists are being targeted because of the job they do. “Because groups can get their own story out [on the Internet] they see a journalist who wants to file a balanced story as a threat,” Sambrooke said.

The memorial, a 32-foot high cone of glass and steel, will be lit up every night at 10, shining a beam of light up to one kilometer into the sky. Sambrook says it will help journalists “remind people that without freedom of the press there would be no freedom at all.”

Remembering Russert

Journalists everywhere are mourning the loss of NBC’s Tim Russert, one of the really good guys in the TV news business. Full disclosure: Tim was my husband’s boss. He wasn’t just a tenacious questioner as moderator of Meet the Press. He wasn’t just a great communicator, able to convey a story’s significance in a few, well-chosen words. Tim set a standard for everyone who worked with him, and not just in the way he pursued the news. He was a straight-shooter on and off the air, and a caring human being. As Variety’s story puts it:

The keys to Russert’s success, as many who knew him said, were his almost-superhuman work ethic, his passion for politics, his training in Jesuit schools and law school and his enduring embrace of his working-class roots.

Tim didn’t just appear to be a regular guy, he was a regular guy who carried his love for his hometown, Buffalo, NY, with him wherever he went. He’s going to be impossible to replace. While speculation already has started about who will take over Meet the Press, and who might become the new bureau chief, there’s no sign that NBC will make a rushed decision. For now, the thinking is about Russert. A public wake is schedule on Tuesday at St. Alban’s School in Washington. A private service for NBC employees only (no spouses, even) will be held on Wednesday. We’ll all miss you, Tim.

Tornado damage map

Des Moines Register tornado mapAfter a tornado wiped out a third of a nearby town on Memorial Day, the Des Moines Register created an interactive map on its Web site that lets users “see the breathtaking scope of the disaster house-by-house, with photos and stories from the survivors.” The map is color-coded to show the level of damage, and overlaid with icons that link to photos, video and stories.

The newspaper asked people in Parkersburg to submit stories and photos. Many sent in “before” pictures of what their homes looked like before the tornado hit. They’re posted alongside photos of what was left after the storm.

The stories are short vignettes–some from readers themselves–about how they survived the storm, how their neighbors helped, and what they plan to do now. As Angela Grant points out over at News Videographer, it’s an “awesome way to serve the community with multimedia.”

The full package goes even deeper, linking to slide shows, 360-degree panoramas and and existing features on the site.  The paper’s Iowa Tornado Tracker is a Google map mash-up showing the location of every tornado in Iowa since 1976.   Each pushpin on the map gives details on the storm and has a link inviting readers to “Click here to tell your story.”  There’s also a link to information on how to help tornado victims, but unfortunately, it’s not working at the moment.

UPDATE: The Register received an honorable mention for this project in the prestigious Knight-Batten award competition.  At a National Press Club symposium honoring the winners, managing editor Randy Brubaker said the multimedia feature was designed to “blend information with emotional impact.”

With TV news or still photos in the paper you see one or two houses, or aerials, but when you can look at before/after pictures, house by house, you can almost see your house. One of these houses is like yours and you can begin to understand what it does to your life.

One of the most riveting segments in the feature is a brief video from the surveillance cameras at First State Bank that somehow survived the storm.  You can see the tornado slam into the building; the exterior camera captured the storm peeling the roof off a neighboring house.

It’s not just amazing video; it’s a testament to how multimedia has changed the reporting process, especially for newspaper reporters.  Brubaker told me his 5-person reporting team was briefed in advance to make sure to ask everyone they met in Parkersburg if they had any video.  That preparation definitely paid off in a spectacular “get.”

So add this suggestion to your tool bag when you set off to cover a natural disaster: Don’t just ask for home video.  Go after footage from robo-cameras installed everywhere from banks to convenience stores to schools.  You never know what you might find.