Delivery with energy

If your narration sounds flat and your stand-ups lack spark, maybe you need a little extra energy before recording your track or going on camera. KSTP reporter-photographer John Gross, who also shoots for NFL films, shared a routine at a recent NPPA workshop that he promises works better than a cup of coffee:


Online journalist survey highlights

A new survey from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Online News Association may be a bit of a good news/bad news situation.

The good news is that 82% of online journalists are at least somewhat confident that the industry will find a way to make news on the Web profitable.  However, a large majority felt that online advertising would be the path to success and in the weeks since the survey was conducted, the growth in online ads has been slowing considerably.

The survey also indicated where online journalists believe their sites have been successful, as well as  opportunities for growth and improvement.

When asked what online journalism is “doing especially well these days,” more named aspects of technology like using advancements well (31%) or speed (30%) than named reporting skills like improving storytelling (16%) or exploiting the potential for greater depth (12%).

And there was real concern about the impact the Web is having on the core values of journalism, though those working in legacy media were more worried about the direction journalism is headed than the online journalists as a whole.

Where is journalism headed?

The biggest changes, the respondents said, were a loosening of standards (45%), more outside voices (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%).

More outside voices was seen as both a negative and a positive — negative because it dilluted the power of traditional journalism and positive because it offers the news audience more perspectives on an issue.  And speed was considered both a good and a bad thing since spped can sometimes translate into inaccuracy.

And online journalists don’t yet seem to be capitalizing fully on the opportunities the Web provides.

Among the ONA respondents, though, website home pages still dominate. Three-quarters of them said their site’s home page is “essential to getting their content to users.” This is nearly three times the number that named e-mail alerts (26%) and RSS (26%), both of which are also considered passé forms by many inside the technology industry. Just 9% considered posting to social media sites essential. Postings on the increasingly popular YouTube were named essential by a mere 4%. And four times as many (18%) said YouTube postings were not at all important. 

All this seems to suggest that those getting into online journalism today have a chance to make a real difference by promoting in-depth and innovative reporting and by pushing their employers to go beyond the Web site walls to reach audience.


Tips for shooting breaking news

When all heck is breaking loose, how do photojournalists know what to shoot and for how long? WBFF’s Darren Durlach, the 2009 NPPA TV photographer of the year, has his own way of staying focused on a spot news assignment: he talks to himself.

Now that he’s won the most prestigious TV photojournalism award there is, Durlach might be forgiven for thinking he’s all that. But he doesn’t. “If mistakes were cool, I’d be Miles Davis,” he says. “I look at my stories the next day with a clear mind and always see things I should have done better.” His response: “Make a mental note and move on.”

One reason Durlach has done so well at a young age is that he doesn’t think of himself as “just” a photographer. He may stand behind the camera, but he also asks questions and gathers information. “To excel in this craft, you must not be afraid to fully immerse yourself in the story and be involved in every part of the process,” he says.

Durlach’s winning entry in the POY competition demonstrates his range, from breaking news to longer turn features. “Superior shooting and editing, strong commitment, strong inspirational character and emotion,” is how one judge described “Shane’s Story.” Watch the entire entry, and pay particular attention to the way Durlach has planned his shots so he can edit for eye movement in the piece, “Ghosts of the Civil War.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Three steps to good audio

One sure fire way to ruin a stunning slide show is to pair it with muddy audio. Capturing good audio isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little effort. Thanks to our friends at the Mobile Journalism Coalition, you can learn to improve your audio recordings in three quick steps:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Not every audio recorder allows you to adjust input levels, but you can always follow the other two tips: wear headphones and make sure you position your mic correctly. Doing just those two things will improve the quality of the sound you gather and the stories you tell with it.

Advice for journalism job hunters

This week Poynter Online hosted a live chat, “What do college journalism students need to learn?”  The discussion included educators, journalism practitioners, students and industry watchers.  One of the topics was job hunting for journalists – specifically students, but some of the advice is likely relevant to anyone with journalism skills who is searching for work.

One of the biggest takeaways:  begin to brand yourself.

“Don’t wait for somebody to give you a job. Study personal branding, pick a niche, and go for it,” commented Terry Heaton, who writes a blog on new media issues.  Heaton and others believe there are plenty of opportunities for individual journalists to create their own niche-oriented online sites, focused on issues or topics about which they are personally passionate.

Barbara Iverson of Columbia College Chicago wrote,  “Use a blog to find and establish your voice, and then ask to get paid for what you do.”

Several people wrote about the concept of “entrepreneurial journalism,” suggesting that both current and aspiring journalists need to work toward creating their own jobs.  That effort might include developing business skills and determining how they might apply their journalistic values outside of newsrooms in innovative ways.

Some advice was directed specifically at students who have recently graduated and who have been unable to find work:

  • Get a job outside of journalism that permits you to use your journalism skills and then do freelance journalism on the side until the job market gets better.
  • If you can’t get paid work in journalism, continue to keep your portfolio fresh by offering to produce content for news outlets that are open to “user-generated content.”

For those students with a semester or more left of school, there are additional suggestions:

  • Join campus and pre-professional organizations.  Select minors, second majors, study-abroad, research and other experiences that will make you more attractive to employers and grad programs.
  • Get not just one internship, but two – one with a traditional news outlet and another with a watchdog group, a library, an advertising agency – any organization that might  expand your knowledge base, skills and employment opportunities.

Northwestern University’s Rich Gordon made this point to summarize the discussion:

What I say is that while there are fewer jobs in the places that have traditionally hired our students, there is an amazing array of new job possibilities that require journalism skills. If you are interested in journalism because you want a steady job with one company until you retire, this isn’t the right time for you to get into the business. But if you are a good writer, a good thinker, and savvy about digital possibilities, there has never been a more exciting time to study journalism and apply what you learned in j-school.

Online résumés

If you’re looking for work in journalism, it helps to be able to showcase your skills. We’ve long advocated creating a multimedia portfolio online, usually on your own personal blog, to let potential employers see what you can do . But now there’s a new tool that makes this easy, and it’s free.

visualcvgelbVisualCV provides a simple template you can rearrange to your liking. You can embed online videos and link to story examples. You can share your CV widely or use privacy setting to restrict who can see it. And there’s a built-in “convert to PDF” function, so it’s easy to print out a good-looking copy. Cool.

Handling rejection

Looking for work almost inevitably means facing rejection, especially in this economy. No matter how good you are, you’re not going to get every job you apply for. In the old days, it could be depressing to watch the rejection letters pile up. These days, you’re lucky if you even get a letter. How can you keep from becoming discouraged?

KSTP’s John Gross says the answer is to focus on your goals, not your problems. He’s been in the TV news business for more than 40 years as a sports photographer and feature reporter and has  national Emmys to show for it. But he also knows a little bit about failure.

Speaking at the NPPA Northern Short Course last weekend, Gross recalled the experience of being fired from a Detroit station at age 46 and having an agent refuse to even look at his tape because, she said, he was too old to be hired. So he sent out his own tapes–78 of them–before being offered a job in Ft. Wayne as a news photographer for $8 an hour. He took it, he says, because he wanted so badly to do what he loves. “If you look at your problems, they get bigger,” Gross says. Keep your eye on the goal, he advises, because “you get what you look for.”

Keeping a positive attitude isn’t easy, of course, but you can pick up a few tips on how to do it from people who face rejection daily–sales people. Jennifer Krinsky, a recruiter for Porter Group, tells the Washington Post, “Rejection is the price you pay for success.” How does she handle it? By not taking it personally and not dwelling on it. Yes, there are times when it really hurts. On those occasions, Krinsky says, she allows herself a “two-minute pity party” and then moves on. Sounds like good advice.

Visualizing survey results

Surveys often lead to fascinating stories, but the data behind them can be hard to convey in an interesting way. The recent Pew Forum report on religion in American life is a classic example. pew-religion1

The survey found that more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their daily lives, attend religious services regularly and pray every day, but that a majority of Americans are not dogmatic about their beliefs. The report included a chart (left) showing how people of different faiths interpret their religion’s teachings.  Useful information but dull as dishwater.

USA Today took the same information and made it both attractive and interactive online.


Not only can you compare responses from different faith groups, you can sort the results to make the comparisons even  clearer at a glance. Every major question in the survey has been illustrated this way, giving users the opportunity to explore the answers that interest them most. Nice work!

Next Generation training

Can young people be trained to produce multimedia journalism in just one week? Absolutely, says NPR veteran Doug Mitchell.  He should know. He’s done it.

In the mid-1990s, Mitchell launched a project he called Next Generation Radio, organizing boot camps for would-be public radio journalists and helping NPR interns produce stories for Intern Edition. Writing about his experience on, Mitchell says what worked best was keeping the groups small, pairing learners with professional mentors, and requiring them to produce a product on deadline.

Can any station groom its own new journalists this way? Yes, Mitchell says, but it takes some investment.

Appoint a leader from the staff and make shepherding an intern program part of their job, NOT in addition to their job, but part of their weekly 40 hours. I can tell you that if you don’t have a staff member with laser focus nurturing the people and the program, it’s going to fail. Second, be sure to choose someone who wants to do it. This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard a few horror stories. Or, if you are the leader, and passionate about it, carve it into your own duties. Seek advice by getting out of the station and talking with others.

Mitchell is now involved in a new online training venture,, from the National Black Programming Consortium. It’s good to see he’s still teaching so we can keep learning from him.

Data mapping made easy

Maps are a great way to make data come to life but if you don’t have the right information in the right form, creating a map can be a pain. The good news is that there are easy-to-use online tools that make map creation a snap.

Assuming your spreadsheet includes geographic information like street address, city and state, the free online tool will add latitudes and longitudes, and pinpoint those locations on a Yahoo! map. You can then copy and paste the results back into a spreadsheet, import them into a database, or save them as a KML file to use for 3D mapping with Google Earth. But if all you want is the Yahoo! map, you can save it directly to the Web.  Simple, eh?

If you want to do more with the data, Finder! makes it relatively easy to upload and share in different formats. You have to create an account to use the site, but it’s free.

Happy mapping!