Category Archives: journalism

Once there were 30-min recipes for dinner; here’s one for social media

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director of NTen and a co-author of Social by Social, kicked off a 4-part discussion of social media practice at this year’s Public Media Development and Marketing Conference (PMDMC), with some advice for goal setting.

Identify the groups within your demographic, she said, and then ask “What do they want?” and “What do YOU want?”

Seems simple enough, but it does involve discovering where in the net universe your groups are hanging out. Add to that the burden of learning how to drive new online tools and figuring out useful analytics. Who has the time?

Amy claims you CAN carve 30 minutes out of a busy workday to engage with others. She says social media tools are just that–tools. They should exist along side other forms of communication you’ve become familiar with, like your email. Her recipe for doing social media daily without scrapping your to-do list: listen first, then engage.

Information overload is a fact of life today, and the tools we use to manage the flow are numerous. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you, but here’s a short list of listening tools to get started. Most webpages have an RSS feed, and blogging sites are searchable. Set up alerts and readers to collect relevant data with services like Netvibes, People Browsr, Nutshell Mail, Radian6, Ice Rocket, Sysomos or Lithium. You can take a look at Amy’s RSS reader on her blog, to get a sense of how it works.

Some other great advice for making social media work for you: pay close attention to analytics you track to see when to change strategy, and be sure to include trends and insights you notice in your internal reports. Add external reporting to your to-do list as well. The people you engage with can also be encouraged by what’s working for you and learn from what isn’t. Once you start interacting with your real audience with the right tools, and at this level, you’ll find that they are as invested in your success as you are.

One last piece of advice: take it easy on the ROI worry. Providing good context for trends in your regular reports will help ease your anxiety and remind  your superiors of what they are really investing in. Share the qualitative side of the numbers by adding anecdotes and identifying your social media influencers, highlighting the ways they share news about you. Remember your people, program and mission and take the time to cultivate real social media relationships, even if only on your lunchbreak!

More resources and references to useful net tools are on Amy’s blog,



Filed under discuss, journalism

Forget hyper-local. Think hyper-accessible.

The realization of why I think community news is important struck me full force as I watched a Youtube video on the 30th anniversary of the first HIV case in the US. I wiped tears from my eyes as the speaker ended his private session in the HIV Story Project booth, gazed at the camera and said, “Thank you for the opportunity to share this.” What occurred to me is obvious–that what matters in local news coverage isn’t the presence of billions of little news sites running school board minutes and local jeweler ads. Community news needs to build community and put to work the growing number of online / social media tools out there to to help people tell each other stories that challenge our assumptions, call each other to action or inform our understanding of how other people live.

In the introduction of Rosensteil & Kovach’s Elements of Journalism, I was surprised to learn that the pre-curser to newspapers was a news ledger, placed at the end of the bar in a public house. Travelers would take the time to add an entry and read what others had posted. Ingenious. That’s technology at work: it’s understood, utilized, accessible and durable. Those books became the journal of record for a community. There were implied guidelines too, such as context and limited space. I’ve never seen one, but I can imagine there were probably hacks or vandals who added noise to the journal, but the technology still proved to be useful. What the video booth and the ledgers have in common is that they are simply the vehicle for one person to get a story to another.

Perhaps as we rethink news models, the focus shouldn’t be so much on geographical, but on creating the kinds of community spaces that will bring people of similar interests together and draw out meaningful stories or inspire meaningful action.

Barb Palser says in the  “Hazards of Hyperlocal” in the American Journalism Review:

Other news organizations have launched and abandoned hyperlocal efforts over the years, some big like the Washington Post, others small and unknown. The managers of these projects tend to leave a common admonition to those who would follow: Hyperlocal is difficult, expensive and not for the faint of heart.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, only 20 percent of American adults reported using digital tools to communicate with their neighbors or stay informed about community issues at least once in the past year. Only one in 10 reported reading a community blog at least once in the past year.

Maybe there’s a larger appetite for neighborhood news than the data suggest. But for people who are accustomed to centering their social interactions and news consumption on their personal interests, the write-ups of town council meetings, local theater events and public works projects typically found on a hyperlocal site might not seem any more relevant than the offerings of a traditional news site.

Yet people are sharing news articles with each other on Twitter and Facebook. They are developing online communication skills, finding communities that appeal to them and exchanging information. News organizations must figure out how to be flexible and foster these new ecosystems while exerting journalistic values on the contributions made by members who claim a stake in the community spaces we create.

1 Comment

Filed under journalism

How to Grow NPR: Longer Roots

From the two decades I spent living in the Bronx, I know it to be true what Karen Everhart says in her article, “Study sees growth if NPR loosens up, sounds less elite” in

The researchers found that barriers to entry for public radio listenership are rooted in what they called “accessibility”— listeners’ perceptions of the NPR brand, their ability to relate to the content…

I became an NPR listener at the young age of 23. I was just settling in to the Bronx from Seattle, and I had little in common with WNYC’s morning news host, Steve Post. Yet one early morning in July of 1992, at home with my 18 month old and surrounded by freshly opened moving boxes, I flipped on the radio to hear, “It’s already 85 degrees in disgusting New York City.” This struck a chord in me as I struggled to acclimate to my new home. I let out a laugh, glad to know someone in New York didn’t take things so seriously, and I became a public radio fan.

I had no clue then, as a young mom lost in a concrete jungle, that I would someday sit in a producer seat in a public radio station. In fact, at first a lot about public radio annoyed me. I never listened to pledge drives. I became angry and embarrassed once when a DJ on my local college/NPR station, WFUV, called their early folk/singer-songwriter music programming (which would later become their bread and butter) the “indigenous music of white people.” I didn’t have the patience to focus on mid-day news shows, as I was often interrupted by toddler demands for apple juice and attention. But I never missed Steve’s  morning satire, which went perfectly with my coffee.

My kids were a little older when Starbucks, another business that had to deal with perceptions of elitism, came to New York. It was a breath of espresso-infused air for my husband and I, who had grown accustomed to good coffee in Seattle. No, really. That’s not a cliche. Quickly the green siren signs popped up everywhere in Manhattan, and finally, one appeared on Fordham Road in the Bronx. What a treat. Now we could enjoy good coffee near home. But that shop didn’t last long on Fordham Road, despite the morning Manhattan-bound traffic and the youth Bible study that took over one corner. The reality of economics–the Bustelo drinkers were not gonna drop $3.50 on a cup of coffee–won out and another affordable fashion store filled the gap.

Quoted in a presentation on the study is a young adult Latino user of new media: “NPR, I feel, is mostly for educated adults from middle class and up. That is my impression.”

Pay attention here, all of you NPR peeps who so badly want diversity among your audience. This Latino young adult, if he’s like any I know, wouldn’t have had a problem slipping in the adjective “white” if that’s what was really going through his head. Rather, he chose “educated” and “middle class”.  If I were to interpret this comment, based upon my experience living in the Bronx for almost two decades, what I think he’s saying is: “Why should we pay attention to what you think is news or culture when we don’t have access to your schools, your housing, your jobs or your government?  We don’t matter when it comes to affecting change.”

I had a chance once to talk to a group of young adults who represented many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I wasn’t giving a lecture. I was sitting among them as a fellow student, a returning adult student, defending my comment that they should vote. Not one of them believed they had any political influence, yet when I told them a story of state and local government officials choosing our district as a site for the creation of a water filtering plant, in part because it was an area of such poor voter turnout, I got their attention. For the first time, they realized that their action and their inaction would affect them directly.

I’ve watched people who don’t believe they have a voice–my neighbors and friends–create their own spheres of influence in order to cope with the belief that they are powerless. Where there was little education or opportunity to be creative, time and money were devoted to creating status, through pure white sneakers, immaculate Timberlands, pagers, cellphones, 2″nails, knock-off handbags, bandannas, guns. Not coffee. Not a subscription to the New York Times. For God’s sake, not a public radio tote bag.

The study — shaped in part by Station Resource Group’s Grow the Audience project — sought to define the best prospects for expanding public radio’s news audiences.

Ok, it’s understandable that the study would frame the task at hand this way, given the economic climate we’re in, but what if we flipped it? Instead of figuring out how to make a public radio listenership larger and more colorful, what if we sought growth by expanding our news coverage? What if more producers of public media began by believing people like my neighbors in the Bronx are the public and we already work for them? What if we actually visualized them mailing in their tax checks, or paying that sales tax, and understood that they already support us? Would we then notice new ways in which our work could empower those who don’t believe they have a voice? Could we report to a larger public, earn their trust and then look for growth?

I agree with Margaret Low Smith, VP of NPRs programming, when she acknowledges, “it’s critical that people at the editorial table reflect a range of economic positions in life, a range of political views and a range of color.”  It’s why I keep trying to sit at that table. Yes, I’m white, but diversity comes in many, many flavors. I also appreciate her stating that, “Now NPR seeks to diversify its audience base not only as a means to expand listenership but to also fulfill its editorial responsibility to reflect all of America.” I understand Public Media’s mission to be giving the public the information they need to act and to make a difference in their lives. That requires the people involved in public media to not only employ more people of color and varying background, but to cultivate sources and invest in relationships with people outside the well educated and affluent sphere of influence.

My suggestion for NPRs action plan: throw your resources farther afield. Renew reporting beats in neighborhoods with low donor ratings. Help broadcast the unique coverage of independent producers. Look beyond the wall that separates many artists from the inner circle. Don’t forget Public Media owes something to the Strugglers as much as it does the Dutiful Aggregators and Voracious Voyagers.

1 Comment

Filed under journalism, more about me, my preferences, race

Boston Pubcamp? Yes!

Last fall, some folks working in new media for NPR, PBS and CPB convened in Washington D.C. for the first PubCamp. Using the principals for structuring an unconference, the organizers let it ride with the warning, “If this sucks, it’s because you suck (laughter), but we know that’s not gonna happen.” And so sessions were proposed and new relationships were forged between people from different stations as they addressed the challenges of creating good digital media for public news organizations.

What journalists are realizing is that collaboration with those in the digital realm and with the online public is the key to survival. Maybe we always knew this, but didn’t have such a strong need to put it into practice before. Now we are seeing more conferences to introduce developers to producers (have you heard about Hacks/Hackers yet? Awesome!), editors to social media makers, videographers to reporters, etc.. The ability to create and post online has made the possibilities for partnerships endless.

A few of us in the conversations that have lived on since PubCamp DC have planned follow up camps in other regions. Ten stations were awarded scholarships to plan follow up camps across the country, but no, Boston isn’t one of the places.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t convene the incredible media makers in the region, from the news organizations as well as independents.

So we’re going to talk about it over beers this week. If you have any interest in participating or getting in on a real planning meeting (date tbd), then email me at annieshreff (at) gmail.

Here’s a vimeo introduction to pubcamp.

***UPDATE (August 3)***

Yes! Boston Pubcamp!

Some public media staff have met with interested independent and community newsmakers and have a plan for a local pubcamp.  The planning committee includes folks from WGBH, WBUR,, PRX and PEG access stations in Brookline and Cambridge.

On August 21, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., WGBH will play host to the first local PubMediaCamp in our area. Here is the link to register for your free tickets (lunch is also provided), and you can add your name, propose sessions or send us your comments on the wiki . See you there!


Filed under journalism

More on Detroit

Me/ JTM content/church window. Flickr image by Sally Garden.

I’ve had a lot on my mind since I spent a few June days in Detroit. To process what I learned and keep some of my promises, I’ve participated in a group forum, introduced colleagues, talked and tweeted with other media makers and filled out a survey explaining what made the time “powerful” for me. That’s a good word to describe the four days that journalists and media people “conspired” (to quote one of the organizers), in the formerly holy space of St. Andrews on the Wayne State campus. In a church without its pews or pulpit, we journalists talked about our survival.

Now my ideas have stewed a bit, the dust kicked up has found new places to settle and in a few forthcoming posts I can share with some clarity a few of the more potent lessons that I took away from the conference titled, “Create or Die”.

First, the welcome. The greeting from the director of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State, Alicia Nails,  caught my attention. I later told Alicia that I could listen to her all day. Her presence and her voice filled the space.  She took the microphone with a gracious nod,  looked at each of us seated in a circle surrounding her and told us we were in a city with a global reputation.  She charged us to be mindful of whose town we were in and asked us to be open to learning things about Detroit that might challenge our perceptions, built with images and reports from an unfair news media. Later, at our gathering on day four, she  asked that we perform acts of journalism in the memory of our time together. That became my benediction. Before I left, I asked her to repeat part of her welcome, just to give you a sense of her poetic style.

Professor Nails, Flickr image by ScottKMacklin

With an even longer view, Grace Boggs, a 95 year-old activist from the motor city, echoes Nails. She has seen the waves of prosperity, desperation and hope visit her city. She tells Yes! Executive Editor Sarah van Gelder:

Detroit was once the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization and then became the national and international symbol of devastation of deindustrialization. Now it is becoming the national and international symbol of a new way of living-of great transformation. [article: Detroit’s Renewal: Can it inspire the Social Forum]

It was that same sprout of hope and renewal that brought JTM to Detroit. It was also a sense of justice. There are community leaders and journalists in that city who want to tell more stories that represent the residents. The people there want to see stories about what’s working alongside the important stories of  the car industry’s peril, the crime and the desolation. They want the corruption covered as well as the cultural events. Most importantly, however, they want the videos, articles, newscasts, broadcasts or podcasts to come from within the city limits. For too long, they say, journalists have parachuted into the hot spots of Detroit from the safety of their suburban towns or other major cities. Many locals attending the conference even consider the TIME Inc. experiment, a house purchased for reporters to use when they’re in the city, an epic fail. Attendees pointed out that no one actually lives there all the time. Certainly no reporters have stayed long enough to invite the neighbors in or become part of the local channels of communication.

There are journalists in Detroit who want that TIME house and want the megaphone to tell the world their story. What I learned in Detroit is that true understanding of a place comes from taking time to touch, smell, feel and hear that place and listen to the stories of its people.  I understand better now how different I am from a resident of Detroit, and I know there are ways to work with the people there to nurture Detroit’s sprout of hope into a towering tree with deep roots and branches that reach up with hope into heaven.

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism, race

Promises I made at Journalism that Matters: Detroit (June 2010)

I had the privilege of spending four enriching days in Detroit with journalists and media makers from around the U.S. for the latest conference on Journalism that Matters. It was at various times intense, exciting, exhausting and enlightening. I am so glad I had the opportunity to see Motor City. I’ve already had an opportunity to talk with someone about my time there. After a comment about how at least she could afford a house in Detroit, I told her to go for it!

The residents of Detroit who I met care passionately about their home and how they are perceived by the rest of the country. I was treated to a driving (of course!) tour by Alicia Buggs, a government employee who spends her days fighting for the rights of the elderly, and strives to become a journalist on her own time.  It was important to her to use some of that time to show a few of us what her home really looks like.  We enjoyed a great dinner along the Detroit River as the city geared up for its popular air races.

What I take away from Detroit are good memories, new friends and many lessons in approaching community to report their stories and their news. What I left with those I met are many promises. Here’s the list I jotted down on my plane ride home. Forgive the bullet points, Jenny Lee!

  • To keep in touch–with colleagues and with JTM’s Google Group
  • To mentor another in new or social media
  • To “rock SPJ‘s boat”
  • To visit Detroit again
  • To share my audio and photos
  • To attend another JTM conference
  • To connect people I know to people I met
  • To take and post session notes!
  • To pitch the story of Red Ink
  • To share my work
  • To ask for help
  • To join the KIVA group to fund new journalism projects
  • To keep in touch with Sonya and her Community News site
  • To practice journalism in remembrance of my time in Detroit


Filed under journalism

Strutting our Crowdsourcing Stuff today

I am very pleased to be part of WNYC’s efforts to package our crowdsourcing hybrid reporting model to share with other public media stations. I hope this will open up more community reporting opportunities and bring more people into the storytelling ring to share their experience and their views.

Have questions about this method? Hit me up with questions by posting them below. I’ll try to add them to the Fieldguide’s FAQ as we develop that also!

Leave a comment

Filed under journalism, more about me