The human face of journalism at Newtown

By Jessica Driscoll

With troubling imagery of the Newtown shootings on a screen behind him, editor Matt DeRienzo challenged the desensitization of journalists and their stories in his keynote speech Saturday at Keystone Press Awards Banquet.

DeRienzo is the Connecticut-based group editor for Digital First Media and led the company’s coverage of the shooting, which included 100 journalists from DFM newspapers.

The banquet carried a tone just like any other such function, until DeReinzo reached the stage and pictures of distressed Sandy Hook Elementary School families filled the screen. Pictures of weeping mothers, distraught families pressed together and the warmth of hugs amongst communities stopped the cell phones and dinner conversation.

“This is a depressing time,” DeReinzo said in the somber tones of a father who thought of his own young children when reflecting on the shootings.

The emotional effects this event had on the families was evident in the display of pictures, but DeRienzo also pondered the effect on the volunteers, police officers, morticians and journalists.

Many of these responders had seen at least eight or nine caskets sized specifically for little children that morning, DeReinzo recalled. “I imagine the police as they walked into the building seeing pools of blood.”

He described a table of morticians at a hotel bar, unwinding after a terrible day, and a table of equally affected journalists nearby.

Objective journalism is defined as dealing with facts without interpretation or emotion. But how does a journalist remain unemotional covering something like Newtown? he asked.

“When I’m in bed terrible scenes and emotions flood my mind,” DeReinzo said, emotion filling his voice .

It has been five months since the Newtown shootings, and DeReinzo said that he is still angry. The effects of such tragic events are long, many times lifelong.

In addition to the effect on journalists, DeReinzo talked about the effect on journalism when some get it wrong in an effort to be first. The errors of some in Newtown still fuel conspiracy theories and ideological agendas, and some made similar mistakes in Boston.

“I don’t know how much we have learned as journalists,” DeReinzo said, suggesting–  to audience applause — that as a profession journalists should censure publications that get it wrong.

Finally, he asked his audience to consider the effects such terrible news as Newtown have on readers: “Is the desensitization we get as journalists transferring to our audiences?”




Silence that shows support

By Jessica Driscoll

This year, John Dubensky and I were selected as interns for the Pennsylvania Press Conference. The support for the PSNE internships comes directly from the silent auction.

For those who have participated in the silent auction in the past, I want to say thank you. Your support has enabled numerous interns like me to grow from their experiences at the annual conference.

I applied for this position while not entirely sure what all was required or offered. I must confess my work ethis typically consists of diving in head first and never looking back, and that’s exactly what I did.

A few weeks later I got an email stating that I had been accepted for the internship. It was as if this letter was a picture of my dreams coming to reality. This past year of college, my junior year, has been one of just putting myself out there to get experience. But had you told me I would be able to meet editors from newspapers within driving distance from my house – and work with editors one-on-one to enhance my writing – I wouldn’t have believed you.

By this second day of the conference, I already see that I have gained invaluable experience. It has enhanced my writing, networking skills and professional development. I want to say thank you for this opportunity while I have the chance, and ask you to consider supporting future college students like myself by participating this this year’s silent auction.

Realize that this auction not only allows you to reward yourself for all your hard work, but also helps support the dreams of aspiring writers.

There is less than an hour left to snag the best prize of this year’s silent auction. The Steeler’s basket of memorabilia has a current bid of $60 dollars. The Troegs case of beer a bid of $35, and the Randy Bish cartoon photo’s a bid of $50 dollars. To snag your favorite basket and support the PSNE interns, be sure to stop at the registration area before 6:30 to make those last-minute bids.

Marrying Data & Traditional Journalism

By Jessica Driscoll

Panelists of Pennsylvania’s Press Conference session “Deep Dive Reporting” agree that data journalism makes an article more credible.

The Deep Dive Reporting panel was held Saturday, May 18, and focused on a list of benefits to using data journalism.

“We have to marry data and traditional reporting, and our writing will be stronger,” said Matt Stiles, data editor of NPR.

Stiles explained that journalists must use data for four reasons: it’s empirical, it reveals patterns, it empowers our audience, and it gives our products / websites value.

“Your story will be 100 percent more credible with the data than without,” said Andrew McGill, data journalist with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The point of data journalism is not to fill a page with statistics; it’s about finding folks that support your data, stated McGill. HUH?

McGill pointed to his own coverage of student testing in Pennsylvania schools as an example. The interactive reporting online let parents check the data themselves to see if their districts were adequately preparing their children.

Molly Bloom, reporter for StateImpact Ohio, did a similar project on the number of schools in Ohio that have seclusion rooms and misuse them for cruel forms of discipline. Bloom tied these numbers to a first-hand account from a mother whose child developed a staph infection from having sat in their own urine while locked in a seclusion room.

“Sometimes you need to think a little bit about how you want to take data and make it useful,” said Neil Budde, CEO of AxisPhilly. “Don’t just use data to put stuff on the map, but ask what your reader or consumer of this information want to know.”

While many journalists can fear data, panelists explained that the first time is the hardest. Data is all over the web,and  the panelists agreed that starting there is fine.

After moving from scraping the web, McGill said, journalists should always ask for spreadsheets, and learn to use Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access.

“Even if the data only becomes one paragraph of the story, it has more impact,” Budde said.

Capitalize on individuality in your publication’s social media

By John Dubensky

Stephanie Sigafoos, online producer for The Morning Call in Allentown, gets to work very early in the morning. As a result, she’s able to see online traffic grow all day.

In that regard, the effects of social media are tangible: Sigafoos has seen the readership of a story triple after the story has been posted to Facebook.

All in all, it probably does not come as a huge surprise that social media can boost the size of a newspaper’s audience, and as a result news organizations have worked to develop their brand’s name on all kinds of social media platforms.

However, according to the discussion at the “Social Media, Join the Conversation” panel of the 2013 Pennsylvania Press Conference, it’s better to develop the personality of individuals within the organization rather than the organization itself.

“People do not want to follow brands, they want to follow people,” said Mila Sanina, assistant managing editor of Social Media & Engagement for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s important to capitalize on an individual’s personality.”

Sanina explained that by highlighting individuals rather than the publication itself, social media can showcase what talent it has to offer and what kind of people cover the stories in the community.

“We really want to get social media out into the community,” Sigafoos said. “We really get to know our audience and why they’re reading our newspaper, which helps us continue to be a community-based newspaper.”

“Followers do care about the person,” said freelance journalist Ryan Petzar. “They care about who’s behind it, not just the brand. Embrace that, because that’s where social media is headed.”

Despite the emphasis placed on individuality in social media, it was also noted that a centralized effort is also helpful. Sanina suggested that a centralized social media account should act complementary to individual “sister accounts.”

“It’s important to develop a central account,” Sanina said. “That account can bring those sister accounts to a level to develop an individual following and make the community aware that they are out there.”

However, given that social media has only recently begun to integrate into journalism, there are also some concerns regarding social media guidelines. According to Sanina, since most publications do not have specific guidelines regarding their social media, the individual must be careful to act appropriately.

“It’s important to convey to people who are representing your organization to be themselves,” Sanina said. “But they should also be very prudent about how they are conducting themselves. You use your judgment when you write stories and when you edit, so you should use your judgment when you use social media.”

Petzar spoke to the need draft guidelines regarding social media, but he stressed that the rules should not restrict the freedom of social media.

“Let your reporters be themselves on social media,” Petzar said. “Don’t stop innovating just because you’re afraid something bad might happen.”

A Mobile Future

By Jessica Driscoll

The future of journalism is bright, just not on the printed page, agreed the participants in the “Daily Miracle” panel on the the future of news Saturday at the Pennsylvania Press Conference.

“If anyone thinks paper on ink is going win in the end, I think we are kidding ourselves,” said John Luciew, reporter for PennLive.

“I think we are all going to end up here,” he said, his cell phone in the air .“It’s going to be mobile, not even PC.”

Only months ago, January 2013, PennLive’s print sister, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News cut print editions to three days a week to focus more on online reporting.

“It was scary, but we haven’t looked back since,” said Mike Feeley, former managing editor of The Patriot-News, now director of content for PennLive.

“It doesn’t say live for fun, we want it to be live,” Luciew said. “We always want something new coming into the content ‘river.’”

And the direction of that river is still changing.

The Patriot-News is already finding that reader traffic  is moving ahead of websites onto mobile apps.

“We all have to be very aware that 40 percent of our web traffic is mobile,” Feeley said.

Many in journalism predict more newspapers will reduce the number of days in print to focus more on digital in the future.

Just this week, The (Hanover) Evening Sun, a Digital First Media publication in south-central Pennsylvania, announced it would move to fewer print days in 2014.

“By moving to three days a week in print, reporters are freed up to cover news as it happens,” editor Marc Charisse wrote in a column posted Wednesday. “Stories can be reported as they evolve, rather than on the artificial deadlines of a daily newspaper.”

Solution to technology in the courtroom remains unclear

By John Dubensky

When Judge John M. Cleland first met with the press officers who would be assisting him throughout the Jerry Sandusky trial, they told him there were 32 satellite trucks coming and they needed some place to park.

“I’m a country judge,” Cleland responded. “What the hell is a satellite truck?”

Throughout the course of the trial, Cleland would have to deal with even more technology inside his courtroom. That technology would eventually cause a problem, which led to the discussion at the “Digital Courtroom” panel of the 2013 Pennsylvania Press Conference.

“What I hoped for, working with the news media, is that the public would receive timely, accurate, and meaningful information,” Cleland said. “But the cooperative relationship broke down at one point over the idea of timely.”

During the Sandusky trial, reporters were permitted to bring electronic equipment into the courtroom, but they were not permitted to broadcast any information from the courtroom. But on the eve of the preliminary hearing, several news outlets filed a motion to be allowed to text and tweet from the courtroom on the grounds that neither action could be considered broadcasting.

“We decided we would allow it to happen,” Cleland said. “As long as there was no simultaneous verbatim reporting of the proceedings.”

Pennsylvania is one of nine states with a complete ban on the recording of criminal proceedings.

Later, those same news outlets filed another motion arguing that the simultaneous verbatim restriction was too vague and unenforceable, and therefore there should be no restrictions at all. Cleland agreed that the rule was too vague, but concluded that there should simply be no communication at all being sent from the courtroom.

Another concern was raised regarding the reporting of the verdict.

“We wanted to avoid a stampede of reporters leaving the courtroom once they knew the verdict,” Cleland said. “So someone from the press suggested I announce when the court was officially adjourned, and after that point it would be allowable to broadcast from the courtroom. It worked beautifully.”

However, this procedure fell apart at Sandusky’s sentencing. Some reports of the sentencing were filed before court adjourned, which led to a snowball effect among the press. Two reporters actually received instructions from editors during the hearing to report what was going on or they would risk losing their jobs. In the end there were at least 33 violations of the restriction on courtroom broadcasting, though Cleland concluded that he could not practically cite 33 reporters and news organizations for contempt and ultimately did nothing.

“I felt for sure no reporter would just ignore a court order,” Cleland said. “It turns out I was wrong. It was frankly disheartening to me to see the procedure suggested by the press itself to fall apart at the sentencing.”

As a result, Cleland forbade the press from bringing any kind of electronic device into the courtroom during later proceedings.

Still, the judge insisted the majority of the trial was marked by media cooperation.

Cleland said he believes the Sandusky trial will not work as a case study or precedent because of how unique of a situation it was.

“This is going to be a prickly subject moving forward,” said Matt Moore, Pennsylvania News Editor for the Associated Press. “At this point it’s pretty much up to the judge’s whim.”

Moore described how nerve wracking the coverage of the Sandusky trial was since the press had to wait until they were officially allowed to send out information. This was especially difficult because of the large amount of interest involved with the Penn State scandal. However, Moore insisted that it’s just part of the job.

“We live in an age of unlimited communication,” Moore said. “Whether or not the courtroom can handle this remains to be seen.”

Broadcasters must be able to write for the eye as well as for the ear

By John Dubensky

The Internet is not the same as radio or television. This may seem like a given, but in the broadcasting business it’s crucial to remember when developing online articles. A broadcast transcript should not be posted online, unedited, as an article.

The subtleties of successfully converting a story from one medium to the other were explored during the “From the Air to the Web” panel discussion of the 2013 Pennsylvania Press Conference.

According to Mark Nootbaar, senior news editor at Pittsburgh’s NPR news station 90.5 WESA, inefficient writing of online articles is becoming an issue in broadcasting. Both radio and television stations will take the transcripts of their reporters’ stories and copy and paste them to the web.

“We might not make the best web copy ever,” Nootbaar said. “But just posting a transcript is deadly.”

Nootbaar explained that a good broadcast does not always make a good web copy.

“It makes for really boring reading,” said Nootbaar. “It’s written well, but it’s not written right. You even see this at the network level: even at PBS, half of their online stuff is just verbatim from whatever they filmed or recorded.”

Nootbaar stressed that an efficient conversion from broadcast to web copy does not require an extensive amount of work: After a good lead has been developed, most of the story is just copied and pasted, albeit with a few rearrangements here and there.

“Some people say that they don’t have enough time,” Nootbaar said. “They say all they can do is copy and paste the raw transcript. But it really doesn’t take that much extra work.”

Michael Sedor, managing sports producer for the PA Media Group (which runs and central PA’s The Patriot News) , explained how important the article headline becomes in relation to web traffic and drawing in readers.

“You have one method of grabbing the reader’s attention,” Sedor said. “And that is the headline. You need to imagine what people are searching for, and you have to be compelling.”

Sedor elaborated by describing how the best headlines combine technical necessities – such as keywords for search engines – with creativity.

“All of my reporters are trained on writing headlines,” Sedor said. “The headline ultimately determines if the reader is going to click on the link and read the story.”