Tag Archives: Features

No More Front Page Pineapple Boy!

Chicago Tribune front page ad May 14, 2011

 Last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune made me crazy. OK, it was before I had coffee, but after I retrieved it from my doorstep the old-fashioned way, instead of my from my laptop, I looked forward to reading the feature about a local kid who had a pineapple growing out of his head. Nooooooooooooooo. This was not a feature photo. This was an ad.

     Inside was the real front page. With an enormous girl on the left with an orange in her mouth. Ick. Another ad.

   First reaction: I was so glad I had written the book in 2008 about the changing front pages of American newspapers. Because then, I seriously had no idea that the next step past anecdotal leads, citizen journalism and non-news (the point of the book, Everyman News) was a big ol’ ad of a kid with a pineapple growing out of his noggin on the front page. Honestly, it upset me all week.  

Really, I am teaching students at the Medill School of Journalism to strive to be on the front page, the home page, the mobile screen with their excellent journalism. Do I have to say, well, maybe your hard work and enterprising journalism will now take a back seat to Pineapple Boy?    

    Today I trepidatiously approached the rolled Chicago Tribune on my doorstep. Phew. Two feature stories, a huge photo of Derrick Rose, a banner with an Oprah Winfrey photo and a vertical column teasing into four stories inside. All of it defensible for newsworthiness.

 Oh, yes, and a little sticker from Brown’s Chicken giving me six free corn fritters and a teeny ad (compared to Pineapple Boy) on the bottom from Target announcing sales on Doritos, corn, Pepsi and ground beef. I guess the editors are back from vacation and the ad department backed down.  

   I know the Trib is in bankruptcy proceedings. But really. If you don’t want to give me hard news, (and we know print is not about that anymore, just go and read the book, ok?) then give me fluff. Give me enterprise stories, give me photos, give me illustrations, weather or analysis.

Just, please dear God, never, ever, ever again give me Pineapple Boy.

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Editors Try This: 100 Story Ideas in 100 minutes

  We’re not doing a great job as journalists covering issues of gender and family. I gave a presentation to the Associated Press Managing Editors and Suburban Newspapers of America editors at the Chicago Sun-Times last week and dared the editors to come up with 100 story ideas after my 100-minute talk about stories at the intersection of the economy and gender. 

 Before we broke for lunch, half the room said they did. We’ll see how many of those stories get reported, written and published.

But today The Wall Street Journal defies logic, facts, stats and anecdotal realities from thousands of sources and declared there is no wage gap. Really? On Equal Pay Day? It’s making me crazy. As a journalist, as a woman, as a journalism educator, as a parent of sons, as a thinking human being.

It’s the same old story of viewing the news through a lens of denial. 

I wrote about it in “Everyman News,” in the chapter, “Diversity of Thought Shifts Content.” If we cannot achieve parity of gender and race in newsrooms, and according to ASNE, (The American Society of Newspaper Editors) we can’t, then we can for sure make a point in our coverage of trying to be inclusive in our sourcing and expansive in our brainstorming. OR we can keep saying what is real is not really there.     

     The recent White House Council on Women & Girls’ report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” contained the seeds for hundreds of story ideas and in particular broke down the wage gap. Compared to all workers:

•Black women earned 71 percent

•Hispanic women earned 62 percent
•White women earned 82 percent of what all men earned
•Asian women earned 95 percent
•White women to white men: 79 percent
•Black women to Black men: 94 percent
•Hispanic Women to Hispanic men: 90 percent
•Asian women to Asian men: 82 percent

     Read the rest of the report.  Absorb and dissect its contents. Among some of the stats are that women experience the highest poverty rates.It’s just that simple. If realities are denied, then the realities of the gender make-up of sources for the journalism is also denied.

•In 2011, only 27 percent of sources were female: The Gender Project
•In 2010, only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female. In contrast, 76% – more than 3 out of 4 – of the people in the news are male: Global Media Monitoring Project
 
More from “Who Makes the News” on news  subjects:
-24 percent of the people heard or read on traditional platforms like newspapers, television and radio were female in the sample.
-23 percent of the news subjects on the 84 websites monitored were women.
•Story focus:
-13 percent of the news items in traditional media focus specifically on women.
-11 percent of the online news stories were centered around women.
•Authorship:
-41 percent of stories reported on traditional platforms were by female reporters in the same countries as the Internet pilot. Overall, 37 percent of stories in the whole sample were reported by women.
-36 percent of the news stories in the online samples were reported by women.
•Stereotypes:
-46 percent of the stories monitored in traditional media reinforced gender stereotypes, while only 6 percent challenged these stereotypes.
-42 percent of the online news stories were found to reinforce gender stereotypes and only 4 percent challenged them.

      OK, so it is quantified, and we are sick of reading the same old stories from the same bylines (PMS or pale, male and stale as my friends call it). Aren’t we sick of assigning and writing those stories too? 

I challenged the editors to go beyond the usual suspects and the same old thinking.  Come up with 100 story ideas today. Now.

Imagine a practice of journalism that involved consistently discovering news and stories by seeking new types of sources through academic, government, non-profit and grassroots organizations. Seek out stories that are hyperlocal, local, domestic or international with local ramifications. Beat the bushes to find story ideas that are citizen-driven and interactive. Learn from think tanks, centers on specific issues and trends. And for goodness sake, pay attention to what is happening out there in social media. And train every one of your staffers to be keenly observant.

It’s what I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University very quarter, whether in the Reporting & Writing or Multimedia Storytelling classes. I just talked about this yesterday in lab.

Stories looking at gender, family and marriage issues intersect with the economy in a myriad of ways. All you have to do is cast the net for news. Story ideas will swim in. You have to know what you’re looking for, not stop looking at what is there and not throw back a big fish when you can definitely use it in the future in a new way.
  
    According to the White House report, 18 percent of women 40-44 never had a child; 46 percent of women 25-29 never had a child. For me this is the reason Eat Pray Love sold a gazillion copies.   More older women are divorced or widowed. For me this is the reason Betty White and Helen Mirren are hot and hundreds of thousands of women nationwide are into Roller Derby, the latest fitness craze for “women  old enough to know better.”
       
This country has more single mothers and the highest poverty rates are women as heads of households. There is no end to the stories that can come from that sentence. Tell the single and married working mothers paying for childcare there is no wage gap and it is not impacting women and their children across the country.
 
Still, in all of this, I urged the editors in the conference room last weeek also not to just look for stereotypical woe-is-me, half-empty stories bemoaning the economy. I urged them to find inspirational,  multidimensional stories, and to write about the individuals and communities making a solid difference.  And tell the truth. See and report what is really there.
 
We’ll see what happens.

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The Storification Of America

 

Jim Houser with Obama

Robert and Gary Allen. Mrs. Waters of Bruce Randolph School. Kathy Proctor. James Howard. Jim Houser. Brandon Fisher. Not household names. Not celebrities. Not diplomats. All of these ordinary Americans were mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union speech 2011. These citizens shared prominence with Gabby Giffords, the late Robert Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, the Secretary of Defense, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Sputnik.

    The score is 7-7. Unofficial sources to offficial sources. Two presidents, a Congresswoman, a cabinet secretary, two terrorist movements and a Russian space capsule. All had the same number of mentions as four business owners, a school principal, a mom going back to school and a cancer patient.

    What does it mean? So what? What may have become overused in the 2008 presidential race with Joe the Plumber is more widely evident today in all media. Our culture embraces the anecdotal power of the humanistic stories of individuals. And nowhere was it more noticable than in Obama’s speech Tuesday night.

     As I stress to my journalism students at the Medill School at Northwestern University, the rise of unofficial sources needed to flesh out every news and feature story is undeniable. The age of “official source stenography” is dead. The president knows this better than anyone and capitalizes on it. When the president of the United States mentions real people as often as he names diplomats in his annual address, something big has happened.

   I call it the Storification of America.

    

 Thanks to crowdsourcing,  social media, blogging and all forms of participatory journalism, there is a demand for communication to be inclusive. Away from top-down to bottom up, all in. It’s not such a rosy we’re-all-in-this-together appraoch, rather, it is a basic shift in the way that we understand information and how we look at the world. It is in thanks to a media relying on more unofficial sourcing in its reporting to articulate the truths of events, trends and issues, than in taking the word at face value of the official sources with the titles.

      We not only as citizens want to testify, we want to storify. And I did not make up the name.

       Storify.com is a new aggregating tool for social media users and anyone and everyone wanting to connect to current mainstream media and to add reliable sources to their blogs. As I see it, it is an attempt to upgrade the blogosphere from the “my dog is sleeping right now and I am brushing my teeth” to a more professional, polished arena for links to real stories, real posts, real video,real  audio, real photos and commentary vetted and published elsewhere. I hope it punctures a hole in the balloon of hearsay.

     My 2008 book, Everyman News, dealt with the overwhelming prepronderance of unofficial sources in news stories in domestic newspapers, and the growth of that trend. And why. There are many reasons driving the cultural shift to honor the individual and to consider the sanctity of story as peculiar to our time and place. 

      The use of “story” as a brand is nearly ubiquitious. It’s even on my drive to work where a billboard for a local college begs viewers to log on to read “mystory.”    

     Obama ended his speech with a reminder of the depth of reliance we have on story in America. He said:

From the earliest days of our founding, American has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

   We need to understand the growing storification of our lives as we move ahead as journalists, observers and contributors if any of this is going to make sense.

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On A Blue Sky View of Chicago Media

The View from Chicago Media Pep Talk

The view from the 22nd floor Cliff Dwellers Club on S. Michigan Ave., was stupendous and the conversation was even more uplifting Saturday morning for the “All Chicago Media Pep Talk.”

A handful of speakers, all gathered for the event  organized by Karen Kring, president of the Association for Women Journalists-Chicago, volleyed about their reasons for optimism, in a lively banter moderated by  GreenMark Public Relations’ Sue Markgraf

“It’s a wonderful time to be in media,” Markgraf said, for media entrepreneurs going out on their own. “We are at our core a creative group.”  

Past what he called the “hand-wringing stage,” Chicago journalists are starting to realize they “have a skillset still much in demand,” said Thom Clark, president of Community Media Workshop, which just completed a 2010 study of 120 community news sites.

Storytelling “is all we do, no matter what platform,” said Sylvia Franklin, an independent producer and content strategist. “Be smart enough and stretegic enough for people to find your information,” she advised the room of about 75 media workers.

Moving from traditional print to a radio variety show, “Chicago Live!” co-executive producer Lara Weber said her career is still about “respecting the storytelling” in an innovative way. The stage show in a partnership between the Chicago Tribune and Second City, she said, is very much like a weekly Sunday print magazine, with the best stories of Chicago now reaching a new audience.

Hyper-local news is the impetus for a positive outlook, said Mike Fourcher, publisher of CenterSquareJournal.com and RoscoeViewJournal.com. in what appeared to be the only precisely timed, prepared remarks of the morning.

Fourcher’s four reasons for optimism:

  1.  Cynicism.  Because mistrust of mainstream media is high, “start-ups can find a niche and get a foothold.”
  2. Long tail. Taking a page from author Chris Anderson’s view of the Internet, Fourcher said the “one-size fits all” approach to news by MSM proves there is room “for as many different niches as possible.”
  3. WordPress. Noting the agility and ease of publishing with this free tool (this is a WordPress blog), there has been a “revolution in publishing.”
  4. Patch.com. Because of the high-dollar, aggressive start-up of this conglomerate of hyper-local news, this endeavor is the “Starbucks of news.”

      Editor and publisher of Our Urban Times Elaine Coorens presented her view in 4 C’s , a P and an S. She said Change, Challenge, Choice, Creative Collaboration  (actually it’s 5 C’s then), leads to Passion and Success. We all applauded.

      Sherry Thomas, former editor at North Shore Magazine, (coincidentally, my first job out of grad school was as managing editor there in 1979) said when the magazine folded she did not panic. Now the editor-in-chief of Quintessential New Trier magazine, Thomas said the secret for success is to “give them stories they are not getting anywhere else. ” She added, “People will want what they always wanted– good storytelling.”

    After Kring cheerleaded the group to finding their own answers and concluded that she hoped everyone “got inspired for a few things,” the tables of journalists and media entrepreneurs went about the process of sharing their take-aways.

   Swapping praise and business cards, we filed out after Markgraf reminded us it was up to each of us to “create your own brand.” That is precisely what I tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

   Ending just after 11 a.m., it was the start to a sun-fileld glorious Chicago day, where the view on the media landscape was as inspiring and bright as the one from the 22nd floor.

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Are Personal Narratives Front Page News?

Photo by Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

   Taking up most of the Sunday Chicago Tribune’s text front page was a personal essay by staff writer William Hageman about the fire that nearly destroyed his home, “No Strangers Here.” Sharing the space with an enterprise story on larger class sizes in area public schools, this was a story that defies traditional definitions of news. And demonstrates precisely a shift in the profession to a reverence for personal narrative.

    Hageman’s well-written and poignant story reads more like a blog entry or journal post than what we traditionally have taught as news and feature stories at the Medill School of Journalism. The timeliness is more elastic, and non-specific. There was only one direct attribution and no other named sources. There was no prominence attached, no major impact or consequence. No costs reported on the fire’s toll. The story had human interest, drama and proximity. And lots at that.  

     It’s not that news did not happen yesterday. There were other stories inside about Obama, healthcare reform, the new lieutenant governor announcement. There were scandal, business and crime stories. But half of the front page was about one person’s story, and one that will likely become viral through Twitter and email. And if people still tack up stories on the refrigerator and send clips to friends through snail mail, I wager this is a candidate.

   This kind of story is exactly what I have been talking and writing about for the last few  years. The worship of  the personal reflects our cultural shift to humanistic journalism.

  What is an interesting twist is you couldn’t find this story so easily on the Web version; you had to click on it, the last in a list of stories after you clicked on “news.” Hegeman’s story was not on the digital home page.

   That’s because the importance of the digital home page and the front page is evaporating. Stories are their own entities, existing not in relation to each other, not even in a parallel presentation. But each story as its own whole, not one of many, not one in the news mix, but a story on its own. The text and web versions of the news mix are not even remotely similar.

     There has been for as long as I can remember the cliche that an announcement is or isn’t “front page news.” What that means is that the tidbit has significant impact and embodies a number of the elements we judge as newsworthiness: prominence, proximity, impact, timeliness, you know the drill. I’m thinking in the future consumers of media will have no idea what it means if anything is really front page news. Because what is front page news anyway?

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Storytelling and bigtime validation

“Chicago, we tell your stories” was the headline of a folded announcement over page one of the Chicago Tribune this morning.  ALL CAPS. Inside, editor Gerould Kern wrote: “We bring you stories about people who are part of the everyday drama of life in Chicago, stories that reveal who we are and what we value.” The backpage introduced the writers, columnists and photographers labelled “Chicago storytellers.”

Everyman news.

I had not heard or seen it so blatantly articulated before in a major newspaper. It validates all that I have researched and observed and continue to see in newspapers, not just in this country, but around the world. And not just in print, but in digital media formats, from blogs to broadcast outlets and long form text.

It’s about the story.

At the Medill School of Journalism, where this quarter I am teaching the freshmen in Reporting & Writing, one assignment was a speech story. Students needed to cover a newsworthy speech for credit sometime during the quarter, but regardless of when it happened,  it was due on Friday, November 20. Of course, about 12 of the 16 from my lab came in right on deadline. And three of the stories were about Gerry Kern’s speech at NU a few months ago. I graded those this morning.  

I was in the audience, too, for Kern’s speech and students got the basic gist. But today’s announcement on the Sunday front page from Kern was more than what he discussed back then. Today’s explicit declaration of a company-wide pursuit of everyman  narrative validates my assertion that everyman news is the direction of media, regardless of platform.

The story is king.

The audience craves stories that are personal, more in depth and categorized as human interest. They want a face to the news. They want the value-added journalism that is more than an opinion-soaked blog or an instant update from Twitter.

It gives me fodder for an essay I am working on for a magazine: the future of digital narrative. Far beyond the finite boundaries of a front page, journalism is emerging as a dim sum of narrative from a multitude of sources. Readers find the story they want, regardless of host outlet. The appetite is for a la carte narrative. Everyman news.

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