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2014 Journalism uh-ohs: News blunders that can teach us lessons

Journalism can be a dirty, even scary, business. In the pursuit of news this past year, reporters have trudged waist-deep through flood waters, been teargassed alongside protestors, gotten arrested, threatened and exposed to frighteningly efficient diseases.

Despite the hardship, many produced trenchant, brilliant accounts of the world around us. They’ve brought to us the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls, the downing of airplanes, and cast a light on racial divisions that continue to rankle American society. Journalists had much to congratulate themselves on in 2014.

Yet, as in any news year, plenty of media blunders were made. While critics and comedians might be damning in their indictments of the Fourth Estate, a grizzled professor and veteran journalist once told me there’s evidence of success in those failures. After all, a little honest introspection never did any self-respecting profession any harm.

And so, here are Kip’s picks for the top journalism bungles of the year:

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Breaking news and digital: How Maclean’s handled the Ottawa shooting

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 1.57.01 PMBreaking news hits. Bullets fly, people are panicked, and your newsroom kicks into high gear. It’s the moment journalists brace themselves for, but will your digital media strategy pan out?

Kiplinger Fellow Sue Allan might have had that thought in October — albeit fleetingly — when an Ottawa gunman went on a killing rampage at the National War Memorial and then opened fire in the nearby Parliament building.

The managing editor of digital for Maclean’s was en route to the magazine’s Ottawa bureau when the shooting began.

“I opened the door to discover my colleagues running out,” she said. “For about 30 seconds, I wondered if I should press ahead with (my) appointment — Maclean’s publisher was in town. (In fact, the meeting did go ahead, just without me.)

The next few minutes were devoted to alerting the Maclean’s newsroom in Toronto and recruiting resources.”

Soon much of the city, including the bureau office, was in lockdown. Sue worked to setup a central contact list of the magazine’s key reporters and editors, as well as at sister radio and TV stations.

“Although our Ottawa building would end up on lockdown into the late evening, my colleagues kept finding a way out to report,” Sue said.

The magazine’s digital coverage centered on its live blog, using ScribbleLive to stream news content and tweets. They also used SoundCloud recordings collected on the scene. Here’s how the Maclean’s staff approached its digital coverage:

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Top 5 Storify tips for journalists

Storify can help manage the firehose of tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts and other social media tidbits that threaten to drown us daily.

The free service allows users to curate public social media content in creative ways to tell stories. For instance, several news organizations used Storify to report on events in Ferguson, Missouri, after a grand jury decided against indicting the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teen. The Mashable story makes terrific use of tweets, photos and videos to put the reader on the ground in the aftermath of the decision.

Mashable Storify

Because all of the content links to its original location (and credits whomever posted it), Storify avoids copyright infringement — whether the Storify is freestanding or embedded on an organization’s website.

At the Kiplinger Program, we strive to #PracticeWhatYouTeach. Here are our Top 5 tips for using Storify effectively:

1. Set up your Storify in advance. 

Whether you’re covering an event or breaking news, save time by setting up a Storify template in advance. Think about how to organize the story. Write explainer text and create links to websites with supplemental information. Find an image that works as a dominant visual. Prominently display the hashtag you’ve decided to use. For our Kiplinger Digital Media Summit, we created a Storify organized by the sessions at our workshop. In advance, we listed the speakers and built links to their LinkedIn profiles for biographical information. Continue reading

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Journalism data always needs context

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No one would ever accuse me of being a data geek, although nearly all of my newspaper stories over 17 years relied on numbers in some way.

I started my career in sports, for goodness sakes. Nothing gets more number-numbing than that.

As a business writer it was hard to write anything that wasn’t data sourced. City government, the courts, investigations — all had their own version of data crunching. I did all that and respected the data.

Data is once again center stage in journalism. It’s a cycle. I remember when data was big in the ‘80s. We called it computer-assisted reporting. Data was treated like the Holy Grail. I looked frequently at the Grail but mostly drank from my comforting Solo cup.

The reality is that data never went completely out of style. Good journalism has never abandoned the value of statistical information, although many times we’ve been asked to treat it as a means to an end, something that pumps up a story, not leads it.

Today, we toss out buzzwords like “analytics” and “metrics” as we strut our spreadsheets back into vogue.

This leads me to a couple of weeks ago when I helped with a data-crunching session for the National Association of Science Writers in Columbus. Kiplinger offers a training session on using Google Fusion Tables to make numbers less intimidating and to show how they can be the perfect instrument to guide reporting. Designed by Director Doug Haddix, a data aficionado, it’s a huge hit in this data-scraping and visualization world.

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‘Dirty Dozen’ digital apps for journalists goes viral

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A packed house at the Dirty Dozen workshop at Excellence in Journalism.

Late last spring when I was brainstorming workshop proposals for Excellence in Journalism 2014, I decided to visit a theme that successful trainers had been drawing from for the past few years.

I admit the plan for Digital Dirty Dozen wasn’t original, just maybe a clever modification on the many sessions I’ve sat through in which digital media experts have shared their favorite apps and programs.

EIJ14, the combined national conventions for the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, would have more than 80 programs, and making the cut requires guile and progressive thinking. Going this route of the tried and true was risky.

But, after sitting though one particular session at another convention where the speaker attempted to show off 100 journalism “must-haves,” I decided that Kiplinger could do this with a little more pizazz and less blitzkrieg.

So, the Digital Dirty Dozen was born. When I told Kiplinger Director Doug Haddix we were on the hook for this if it was accepted, he raised an eyebrow. When we got word it was accepted, both eyebrows were raised. We were both a little skeptical since neither of us had gone this route. But, we were confident we could do it well.

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