Saturday, April 4, 2009

2009 Georges Awards

For Exceptional Service to The Harvard Crimson: Laura A. Moore, former news executive editor

For Excellence in Student Journalism: The Yale Daily News' Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kaplan for a piece questioning what would happen if Yale were to go tuition-free.

Honorable Mention: The Tufts Daily's Ben Gittleson and Editor-in-Chief Rob Silverblatt for a six-part series on Tufts' $20 million loss in the Madoff scheme.

Congratulations to all.

And the Winners are . . .

Winner of the first Christopher J. Georges Award for Service to the Harvard Crimson:

Laura Moore
See her work here.

From Giles: The award is given to students who are dedicated, industrious team players. It is given to students who show dedication to quality journalism and the Crimson. The Georges Family wished to honor someone who had perhaps not seen as much recognition and is particularly giving of their time and expertise to others on the junior staff.

Winner of the Christopher J. Georges Award for Excellence in Journalism:

Tom Kaplan from the Yale Daily News
Winner ($2,000) for Can Yale ever be tuition free?

Rob Silverblatt from the Tufts Daily
Honorable Mention ($1,000) for a six part series on Madoff

From Nieman: The Christopher J. Georges Award for Excellence in Student Journalism honors exceptional, in-depth reporting by a student reporter on a policy issue of importance affecting his/her campus, community, or beyond. Judges look for reports that delve beneath the surface of the story and presenting all sides of its complexities with fairness and accuracy. The award is presented during the annual Georges Collegiate Weekend for college journalists, which is co-hosted by the Nieman Foundation and students from The Harvard Crimson.

Twittering about Anderson

You can see our live blog coverage of all the informative presentation on Twitter. We used the hash tag #georges for much of our conference coverage.

Here are some highlights of the coverage for Anderson just in case you aren't Twitter savvy (using examples of Anderson's work):

1. Use clean backgrounds.

2. Move around. Get up high, get close, or crouch down low to get a better shot.
3. The best photos have a dominant foreground and a contributing background.

4. Juxtaposition can really add tension to your photos.
5. Natural light is best.
5. Consider frames.

6. Don't forget to tell a story!

Next up: Thorne Anderson

Our only photojournalist today, Thorne Anderson, is the final speaker today. One of his photo's from Afghanistan is pictured above. From Nieman:

Thorne Anderson has been covering international news as a photojournalist with Corbis/Sygma since 1999. He has a master’s from the University of Missouri-Columbia and formerly taught Journalism and Mass Communication at the American University in Bulgaria. Co-author of Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq, he is spending the 2008-08 academic year at Harvard as an affiliate of the Nieman Foundation.
I'm excited to learn from him!

The toolbox of investigative reporting

Investigative journalism not as straightforward of a process as say, writing your run of the mill daily. David Jackson, who exposed food contamination in school lunches for the Chicago Tribune, described investigative journalism as a toolbox rather than rocket science.

First, how do you know where to look? Gather an idea box. Clip out stories you like, do some research, look for patterns. "Start out with these little shards, little fragments of information, things that simply interested you," Jackson advises.

Then make sure you've got your ethics in line.

"You have to hold that line bright and clear in your own mind and in how you conduct your conversations," Jackson said. "They're going to really get sneaky, flatter you, and ask you seemingly innocuous questions. It's always vitally important to act with complete integrity ... Although we're often going into protected subjects, we have to act as if the lights may go on at any minute."

The next step is to profile each person involved, which involves thorough research.

The way you get to know people who don't want to get known:

- Look up every news clip you can get about them. Lexis Nexis is your friend.
- Look at public records. Start with the "blue pages": find every office of agencies at the county, state, and federal levels. For example, agency with water pollution might be linked to a story on food pollution. The trick is being polite and persistent. If they won't tell you, look into state statutes and figure out how these agencies keep records. Look at the index.
- Court records. These are generally public. Start with the blue pages and presume you have access, but be humble.

On Journalistc Duty

The Justice Department stops investigating an alleged murder covered up by Chicago police for fear of alienating the department head. The State of Illinois sends juvenile wards of state to a large psychiatric hospital where they are left alone with sexual predators, raped, and assaulted.

The Chicago Tribune's David Jackson ponders our journalistic duty to break the "conspiracy of silence" and to bring to light to crimes that would otherwise remain shrouded in mystery.

"In other words, what's happening because of journalism is that the world is getting safer and better," he says.

And the key to investigative reporting? Integrity, Jackson says.

More nuggets of wisdom

Joshua Benton made a great case for new media, and also addressed some other good points about the challenges of new forms of communication in the Q & A portion of his address.

For college newspapers looking to develop intelligent comments around their stories, he gave the following advice:

1) Talk to readers as human beings. This is why blogs, with a more human voice, generate more balanced comments than newspapers articles.

2) Definitely moderate comments. Free speech is not letting readers leave racist remarks all over news stories.

3) Build a community. Focused blogs are more effective than bit-of-everything blogs in developing a dedicated, thoughtful readership.


We all know that when in doubt, wikipedia it.

But is updating Wikipedia a form of journalism?

Josh Benton argues that Wiki may be a better "single source of information" of the Hudson plane crash, for example, than any of the "concrete atomic stories" the Times or other news organizations have published.

Just watch out for unsubstantiated information.

Teaching by example

Josh Benton is showing us how its done. He's the first speaker of the day to work with a fully equipped with a powerpoint presentation.

He's now showing us the Nieman Lab's twitter feed...

Contrary to Columbia J-School Teachings, You SHOULD Embrace New media

Nieman's Joshua Benton takes a stab at traditional, old-school media, and reminds us to think about new methods of communication. Newspapers could get away with pushing stories into a "newspaper box" when there wasn't competition. "Newspapers need to make people deliriously happy when they read their content," he said.

"How would you tell this story to your buddy at the bar, how would you tell it?" he asks, noting that there's a huge gap between this and how we write a newspaper article. "I think there is room to close that gap."

Blind spots of traditional newspapers:
- stories without a news peg
- small updates not worth a headline
- stories the competition go to first
- quasi corrections (if they get something wrong that is broad and profound, rather than just small facts)
- 'Too much attention'
- Glaciers - things that move very slowly over a long period of time
- Niches

So long fedora...

The Nieman Journalism Lab's Joshua Benton has just shocked the room with a long list of bankrupt and closed newspapers. Why, you ask? "There aren't that many folks your age who actually read newspapers," Josh says.

If you haven't gotten the message yet, its time to move on to the digital age. With the print paper also goes the fedora hat, unfortunately.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Funny Buchanan anecdote

WSJ's Alan Murray:

"We had a makeup artist who was a flamboyantly gay that would put on Pat Buchanan's mascara before he went on air to decry homosexuality. "

The Metamorphosis of the WSJ

Our Lunch Address was by the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray. He's a really engaging speaker, definitely loved the talk. Here are some topics he covered:

On moving online:
I feel like I've had a great career and a lot of great opportunities, but I have never felt as interested in or engaged in what I'm doing as right now.
On blogs:
I think that some of the best reporting we've done over the past year has been in our real time columns.
According to Murray, these blogs (and the website's 24/7 online coverage) have been really effective in responding to the economic crisis when things often change dramatically in an instant.

On commenters:

Commenting on the WSJ site is a little unusual in that it only takes comments from subscribers whose real names are posted. Murray suggested that accountability helped create really instructive conversations through reader comments.
Some of the information in the comments is better than the information in the story...[Their comments keep] you honest, it keeps you straight
Before we thought we knew our readers, but "today, we hear from them all the time," Murray said, "and the conversation with the readers has been great . . . hundreds of thousands [of people have] left comments on the websites."

If you're a WSJ commenter, know that WSJ reporters do read your comments! WSJ reporters have started paying more attention to the online edition than the print edition.

On twittering:
Twitter has been pretty effective in calling attention to things people might not otherwise see. Follow him on Twitter here.
On the newspaper business:

Murray said the business model has completely collapsed. Before, newspapers had a monopoly on the family. Today, however, more people are getting their news from online than print newspapers.

Readership of print papers has clearly gone down, but advertising revenue has gone down faster.
Online advertising has gone up, but it's not replacing print advertising because
for every dollar you get from the reader in print, you get at best a quarter maybe a dime online...[since] most newspapers don't get any subscription revenue online. It's a really brutal, brutal environment.
Murray said it's important to realize that newspapers are kind of a silly and inefficient means of distributing information. It takes lots of gas, paper, etc. for something that ends up lining your bird cage. It's totally useless when things change so quickly.

On journalism:

Murry added that we should care about preserving...good journalism, articles written in a disinterested way. He worries about about partisan press, so it's important to keep a commitment to well written facts.
I do think we're involved in a metamorphosis. We're going from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
As long as people value good journalism, we'll find a way to make a business out of it.

On Rupert Murdoch:

Murray explained that although many worried that he would use the WSJ for ideological reasons like Fox News, but "there's just not any indication of that in the past year in a half."

WSJ's editorial page was already farther to the right than Murdoch.

He suggested that the ideology of Fox News may have been inspired more by Roger Ailes than Murdoch.
I've never met a human being who loves newspapers more than...Murdoch.
The fear in NewsCorps is not that he'll use the WSJ to serve his other business interests, but that he's ignoring other business interests because he's really passionate about the Journal.

On television and his brief CNBC experience:

Murray said he was thrown into his CNBC show with no training, no preparation. "I walked in not knowing what the heck I was doing," said Murray.

He shared studio space with Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews. Matthews gave him the advice, "Oh you don't think, you just talk."

Cable television might be more partisan than newspapers because "the distinction between editorial and news is much less clear."

However, Fox News has taken a step back in shows like Special Report with Brit Hume and Fox News Sunday.

Check us out on Twitter

Lois Beckett's Twitter

Lingbo Li's Twitter

Abby Phillip's Twitter

Check these out for takeaway quotes from industry stalwarts.

Big Changes in News

Alan Murray's Predictions on How the Industry Must Change

1. Every news organization can't do everything. Eventually, news orgs. will have to pick and choose because it's not reasonable to have bureaus everywhere without a monopoly.

2. News orgs. are going to have to pay much closer attention to their readers. We need to acknowledge that it's no good to write an article that nobody's going to read.

3. We're clearly going to have a lot of experimentation online like GlobalPost and ProPublica.

4. News orgs. are going to have to figure out what people are willing to pay for. Figure out what it is that you can cover better than anyone else and make people pay for it.

5. Journalists today have to be involved in finding and building their own audience. The best people on the web are those that understand what it takes to bring people to your content, build communities, etc. Journalists have to be entrepreneural now.

About the Conference

The Georges Conference is being held in the gorgeous Davis Taylor Seminar room (pictured above) of Harvard's Walter Lippmann House where the Nieman Foundation is housed.

This conference was first convened six years ago in honor of the late Christopher J. Georges. Fifteen schools are represented at the conference. It's definitely an amazing opportunity for college students to learn from the experts and network. If you're not here, but you're apart of a college newspaper in New England, I'd advise you to attend next year.

For those of you who missed out this year, our blog hopes to share this one-of-kind experience with you. Hopefully we can all use the lessons we've learned here to improve our college (and eventually international!) media.

On the menu

What do journalists eat?

Well, I picked up what I thought was a normal turkey sandwich, but turned out to be Thanksgiving-dinner-in-sandwich-form, complete with stuffing and cranberry relish. The tomatoes and my mistaken addition of mustard took away from completely aping the traditional American meal of gluttony and giving thanks.

I also opted for a decaf diet coke.

The former president of the Harvard Crimson is having a salami sandwich. The current president gives props to roast beef. "I also enjoy salami, but the roast beef was delicious," Maxwell L. Child said.

Thanks, Crimson Catering.

Interested in Narrative Journalism?

Visit the Nieman Narrative Digest. Hale says it's a great resource for examples and analyses of news narratives. There you can find book lists, discussions of narrative principles, author interviews, classic narratives, a lexicon, and more! Definitely a valuable resource.

Here's what you missed:

What makes a good narrative?
1) Plot/Prose
2) Character
3) Setting
4) Dialogue
5) Themes/motifs
6) Vernacular
7) Narrator

And the music:
"Deh, non parlare al misero", "Silencio", "She's Leaving Home", "Tangled Up in Blue", "Angel"

Elements of Poetry:
1) Evocative language/imagery
2) Descriptive
3) Rhythm and meter
4) Economy
5) Metaphor/symbolism
6) Purposeful diction
7) Verse

And the music:
"Kalakaua", "Silencio", "Corrina Corrina", "Pride (In the Name of Love)"

Narrative journalists gotta have rhythm

"If you wrote it down, [Bob Dylan's Tangled up in Blue] wouldn't look like a song, it would look pretty much like narrative. Does that tell you anything about what you attribute to poetry only? " Hale asked.

The still not quite alert college journalists didn't answer, so Hale decided to bring us up to speed.

"Very much part of language in narrative journalism, there very much be a sense of rhythm ... I would hold that part of narrative journalism is that the quality of the sentences is part of the whole mix," she said.

Also, Hale just said of Shaggy's "Angel":

"It has rhyme... incarceration..."

Abby and I both agreed that we don't like the song very much, though that doesn't detract from its ability to illustrate some modern lyric narrative.

The sound of silence

Hale, on the power of silence in narrative:

"I was nine when my parents divorced. Whenever we left my dad, I would never cry in his presence. I was so much aware of how much he was suffering form losing his 3 kids," Hale said of why she didn't cry when visiting him.

But then, "I would cry the entire flight from Texas to Hawaii. So when I hear silencio, I hear a whole story. That metaphor of silencio is universal enough for me to hear a whole story.

"That's what narrative does. Metaphor in poetry functions differently than metaphor in narrative. Metaphor working in that way can form narrative," she finished.

We decided that "Kalakua", a version of which is featured in Disney's Lilo and Stitch is not narrative.

Poetry or Prose?

After 60 seconds of "Deh, non parlare al misero" (Do not speak of misery!) from Verdi's Rigoletto, we're getting into the distinction between poetry and prose.

Is this a narrative? Connie says yes. This is a personal story of loss and love taken from a small aria in the Opera-- a conversation between Rigoletto and his beloved daughter, Gilda about the loss of his wife.

Up next an ancient Hawaiian chant set to music. fyi: If I recall correctly, Connie hails from Hawaii-- pun intended.

Up Next... Connie Hale

The Nieman's own Narrative Journalism Guru Constance Hale has just taken the stage. She promises a session "wilier and woolier than any class you've ever taken in college."

After looking at her handout, I'm wondering: What do Giuseppe Verdi, Bob Dylan and Shaggy have in common?

I guess we'll find out soon...

Tips for Foreign Reporting

What a great panel with Hannah Allam and Andrew Meldrum! They gave so many great tips for people interested in foreign reporting.

Be "polite and persistent". Mellum said, "You want to be civil with people, form a rapport...Then they're at ease and then the conversation flows." Make sure that people answer the questions, but respect them and show that you want to tell their stories.

Never stop observing. "When you have more information than you can possibly choose, then you've done a good job...Once you've got your reporters observation skills, you don't turn them off," said Meldrum. If you come early or your interview subject is busy, use the time look around and absorb every detail. "Again you're observing," he said, "[thinking] how does this compare to some other place? Sit and watch...what the environment is."

Learn about the culture and history. "Read all the recent stories. if you can find a couple of good books, read those as well," Meldrum said. Get "different points of view...perspective...Nothing ever happens in isolation. There's always a history to it...Speak to people from that country before you go... Ask them how to negotiate [their] culture." Find out what mistakes Americans often make. "I go to Google News and read the Google alerts for that country," Allam said. "In a lot of countries you'll be using fixers [translators who know the culture and smooth out the rough edges]...They're really the unsung heroes."

Blend in. Allam mentioned a Rolling Stone reporter who wore immodest clothing into an Iraqi shrine and put the entire press corps in danger. "You're going in to mix...You want to dress to get a good interview... and do your job."

Stay safe. "Be honest, be alert, and know when you have to leave," Allam said. Meldrum added, "You have to have a nose...and think, 'This situation is very volatile.' It's easier to see something from the distance" and talk to people to get certain firsthand accounts.

Make your stories interesting. "It's not good enough to have all the information and to have the right perspective," Meldrum said. "Find an unusual and colorful way to enlighten the story for your readers." He pointed this article by Allam that brought about an otherwise dry topic (air conditioners) in an engaging way.

Get out there! Allam said, "Part of [finding work] is serendipity, part of it is opportunity, part of it is resourcefulness and your own work." Network! Work as a stringer. Teach english abroad. Look for fellowships, journalism centers, jobs at foreign companies, etc.

What Not To Do

Lie. One of the most dangerous temptations journalists should avoid is spinning an innocent—and false—story to government officials or difficult sources in order to get an interview. Better to tell the truth than end up barred from ever entering that country again, Ms. Allam advisess.

A couple of tips:

1. Be honest.

2. Be the "gray man." Probably not a wise idea to sport that turquoise halter top in Iraq.

New Media

A keynote: "soak up all the multimedia skills that you can"

There's no mistaking it, the boon of our generation is our technological savvy. Ms. Allam says that we need to be able to offer stories in a range of formats from film and photo, to audio.

By now, every newspaper in the country, including college papers, have a good grasp on photography. But video is clearly the next frontier.

A quick scan of some of the web pages for a few of the colleges represented at Georges this year shows me that The Columbia Chronicle is embedding AP videos, the Yale Daily News produces their own, and my very own Harvard Crimson is getting the ball rolling on original video content.

With about 14 college papers represented at this conference, it seems like we have a long way to go.

D.I.Y. Reporting from the Field

Self-sufficiency, GlobalPost editor Andrew Meldrum says, is key when reporting from the field. Imagine arriving alone at the Kabul International airport, not speaking a word of Pashto, with little or no knowledge of the city.

And the familiar newsroom camaraderie that keeps you going at 4 A.M.? Get used to working lonely nights in the company of, well, no one, Hannah Allam, Cairo Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers warns. Especially in this economy, one-man bureaus are not uncommon.

Better brush up on those life skills if you're the least bit interested in meandering the streets of a land sans dorm food—notebook and pen in hand.

Good Morning from the Georges Conference

We're here at the Lippmann House for the first of many sessions on journalism today. We're joined by Bob Giles, the Georges Family, Ellen Tuttle and a room full of bleary-eyed college students from along the Eastern seaboard.

Our guests this morning are Hannah Allam. Cairo Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers, and Andrew Meldrum, Senior Editor and Regional Editor for Africa at the Global Post, on reporting from the field.

They're repeating many of the same themes from Charlie's address last night: get out into the field.

...a warning from Ms. Allam for those of you thinking of writing abroad: "You can be sucked into war reporting."

Friday, April 3, 2009

What Would You Do?

What would you do if tight-lipped sources stonewall you? PR officers hand over embargoed materials to the Times and the Journal just because you write for a small college paper?

Charlie Sennott says, stop whining and go out on the streets and tell the tales of your home town. That’s where the stories are—not in the sit-down interviews with crisply attired UN ambassadors, but in a local smoke-filled bar where a rowdy team of Irish rugby players hang out after practice.

“If you are going to be journalists, think entrepreneurially,” Sennott says.

Because the Ancien RĂ©gime is over. The Holy Roman Empire has collapsed. The “old” way of doing journalism doesn’t work anymore.

So where does that leave us? In the Middle Ages, apparently. We have dragons to slay and battles to fight, he says. And we can only do it by telling true stories—and selling them well.

More on the money, later…

Welcome from the Georges Conference

June and I are here on the first night of the Georges Conference. Dinner is over and we’re enjoying Charlie Sennott, former Boston Globe Reporter and now Executive Editor of the Global Post, over dessert.

The message is optimistic for a change. Journalism is not dead. I believe I heard the room—full of college journalists—let out a collective sigh of relief.

Mr. Sennott wants to know: when did you first decide that journalism is what you wanted to do?