Saturday, June 21, 2008

Letter of recommendation

Dear (recruiter/hiring manager/grant reviewer):

I'd like to recommend ________ for your opening.

She's young, diverse, tough, talented and laid off from the newspaper industry, a business both she and I love.

She seems to have moved through with lightning speed the grief and anger of losing her job to thinking about her next steps. I'd like to help her. I'm sure she can help you.

She wants another job in the newspaper industry. I'm not so sure that's her best move.

At the moment, for her, I'm sure she feels like the timing stinks and that she's unlucky after making all the right moves early in her career.
From my perspective on the other side of 28 years in this business, I'm thinking she's lucky.

Others have lost their jobs after 10, or 20, or 30 years in this business, and some of those have managed to bargain for what they care about more than anything: a continued voice in an industry designed to make a difference for society. Many of them will continue to write or edit, and have their work appear in newspapers and their websites on a contract basis.

This oh-so-young journalist can be in a different place.

By taking a step back and thinking deeply about why she loves newspapers, she can broaden her options. While both of us would love for her to land at another newspaper, we know that move could just delay the inevitable: another round of cuts, later, and being in "the last-in, first-out position" once again. I know another journalist in that position, one who landed a spot at our paper after a layoff at another, only to be in yet another city, with yet another new mortgage, facing yet another career move, while raising a young family.

My hopes for this young journalist are different.

In many ways, she's so like me, 28 years ago. She's from a background that encourages hard work and education for success. She's entered the work world at a time of massive change when only the strong succeed. I know she will.

In 1981, I put on my gray Reagan dress-for-success suit, degree and internships in hand. I was ready to go anywhere and do (almost) anything for a job at a daily paper. I'd rejected the higher-paying public relations after falling in love at my school newspaper with the people, the power and the willingness to try to right wrongs. I found that daily job. Now, I know that newspapers aren't the only places that offer that environment.

Sometimes these days, newspapers feel more like morgues.

For this young journalist at this time, she can share a resume that demonstrates an ability to learn all kinds of information software, and to use it to tell stories. No matter the medium. No matter the tool. No matter the information. I know she burns with the same motivations I have: to work with smart, fun people, to work in a business that's trying to make life better for others, and to learn new stuff.

As this young journalist moves forward, she'll learn more about what it takes. I hope it won't take her 28 years.

She'll learn that being tough, fast, strong, smart and confident are not always enough. She'll learn that strong communication, good teams, friends and family help one make better stuff, and she'll learn that the balance of personal and professional realms is the toughest job, especially for women.

She'll learn that being among those affected by massive social change gives one a chance to reinvent oneself, before too much of life's commitments anchor her down.

And she'll learn it's OK to cry.

She might learn that newspapers aren't the only place she can make a difference.
I hope she lands at a newspaper, and I hope she has the long, rewarding career that I've enjoyed.

But if she finds another place with smart, funny, driven, passionate colleagues, all with a goal of changing the world, I know she'll be OK and she'll make a difference.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Sometimes, you just have to "see" a story to get an idea of its scope. Merging video, text, photos and graphics gives such a richer story than just reading an article or watching a video. proved the power of this with its "13 Seconds in August" project looking at the I-35 collapse.

Now, the folks at have shown us -- in ways made possible only by using the power of the Web -- the terrible damage to a town destroyed by a ferocious tornado. The Des Moines team has assembled graphics, photos, data and stories into an amazingly interactive package that's worthy of emulation.

Charles Apple, at, quotes the Registor's data editor, James Wilkerson, about how the project came together:

For base data about the properties, I scraped the county assessor’s web site using a perl script and put the results in a spreadsheet. There were about a thousand records for Parkersburg.

One of our graphics people, Kelli Morris, walked the route of the storm, taking pictures and talking to survivors. She then used the property spreadsheet to link to “after” pictures and built a library of survivor stories from her data and stories we published. We later went through all of the properties for which Kelli had pictures and downloaded the “before” photo from the assessor’s web site.

A parcel map shapefile was not available in a timely and affordable manner. So another graphics person — Craig Johnson — built his by hand. He then built the Flash display using some dummy xml data. Putting Kelli’s spreadsheet in mySQL, I built an xml page in php, which was used to fuel the final display.

The end product is something I believe is truly unique and visually powerful. It also shows what can be accomplished by graphics folks who understand how to use data and think ahead about how to best weave it into their work.

Wonderful example of the power of merging data and multimedia.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Connecting the dots

The lead story in The Observer today was a good old-fashioned pork-barrel project with a new twist. The Associated Press Managing Editors Association created a project to train reporters in how to use new online research tools through the Sunlight Foundation. The Observer's McClatchy's Lisa Zagaroli participated and reported on government pork projects in North Carolina.
It's a step forward for the group of newspaper leaders, especially since the Sunlight Foundation is led and funded by new media people: Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, and Pierre Omidyar, founder of EBay.
We live in interesting times.
And a second connect-the-dot: The Observer's Forrest Brown spoke Saturday in Greensboro for the Society of Professional Journalists' Citizen Journalism Academy, about reporting and writing basics. I haven't talked with him about it yet, but have it on strong (Twitterfriend) authority that he was good and funny. I can't wait to hear more.
So connect the dots, and think about the nonprofit, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation's mission. They seek to use:
“new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing, and thus help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. We are unique in that technology and the power of the Internet are at the core of every one of our efforts."

And another thing: A relationship button?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mass Comm law 101

Remember that journalism law class you took? When was that? Where was that?
Ryan Teague Beckwith of Raleigh's Under the Dome offers a shop to get a tuneup.