Posted in Education, journalism

Carnival of Journalism #FAIL: Step AWAY From The Spell Check, Kids!

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

When I saw the topic for this month’s Carnival of Journalism — a failure in your life (personal or professional) that has lessons — I felt myself cringe.   Because as soon as I saw the world “failure,” I knew immediately what I was going to write about.  And even though this happened at the beginning of my journalism career, some 25 years ago, my face still burns and I feel tears swell in the back of my eyes when I think about it.

Let’s go back to 1987.  I was working at my first job after earning my journalism degree from American University.  I was working for the Employment & Training Reporter, a weekly newsletter that covered federal, state and local job training efforts for economically disadvantaged people. The publication, based in Washington, D.C., was owned at the time by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), “the largest independent publisher of information and analysis products for professionals in business and government.”

We had just gotten IBM-PCs, upgrading from electric typewriters, which was a BIG deal (yes, kids, I know I’m dating myself).  Before the PCs, we used 5-sheet carbon paper to type our stories, and one sheet was always used for editing and proofreading.  And we always had another set of eyes checking things out.

But when the PCs arrived, I remember our managing editor breathlessly telling us that one function of the computer was that it had automatic spell check.  “What”,” we said. “The computer can check our spelling? Wow!”

So week three into the grand PC experiment, I wrote a story about the passage of a major bill that brought more funding to federal employment and training programs.  It was a pretty big deal (since President Reagan had been cutting programs left and right), and I was assigned to interview the legislators who pushed the bill through.

It was a thrilling assignment, because I got to interview one of my personal heroes, Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D-Calif.), an African-American politician who was a legend in civil rights and organized labor.  I wrote the story and sent it in.  But there was one problem — my headline.

It should have read “Legislators Applaud Passage of New Public Training Bill.”  But it actually read “Legislators Applaud Passage of New PUBIC Training Bill.”  See the difference?  Ouch!

Now, I wasn’t the only person that missed it as it went to press.  But I wrote the original headline and it was under my byline, so I had to take the hit.  Back then, once it went to the printer, that was it.  So as subscribers started receiving it, I started getting calls from industry friends and sources making jokes about the headline, most of which I can’t print in this fine family blog.

So to this very day, I print out my stories and read them — carefully.  Yes, I still use spell check, but it is never my last line of defense.  So there it is.  It was a #fail that still haunts me, but it’s also one that has helped shape me into a better journalist.

Posted in Conferences & Conventions, Education, Entrepreneur, Innovation, journalism, Technology

Carnival of Journalism #3: Improving The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Reynolds Fellows Program

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Yes, it’s that time again — step right up and join the Carnival of Journalism.  For the occasional reader, the carnival is the brainchild of  David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us and a current Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow.  Every month, a group of us is asked to blog about a specific topic.  He gave us two choices this month: after a five-year, $25 million investment, what would be the next step for the Knight Foundation to further its mission to drive innovation in journalism; or the Reynolds Fellowship is just 4 years old.  How would you shape the fellowship to drive innovation?

I’m going to tackle question two, because I think programs like the Reynolds Fellowship will be key in helping shape the ongoing innovation — and change — we’re seeing in the practice of journalism.

The institute offers an eight-month fellowship for those looking to develop and study a “big” idea in journalism that will offer solutions for the future of our industry.  Fellows receive an $80,000 stipend and another $10,000  to cover living expenses, moving costs and insurance.  Fellows reside at the institute’s home in Columbia, Mo., from Sept. 1, 2011, through April 30, 2012 to collaborate with “some of the brightest minds in media.”

In a time of tumultuous and exhilarating change in journalism, what would you do with eight months, a generous living stipend and a chance to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in media today

I consider myself someone who tries to keep her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the fields of training and innovation in our crazy industry, especially as co-chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’s Digital Journalism Task Force.  But I have to admit, I had never even heard of the fellowship until I learned about it in a random tweet late last year on the @NABJDigital Twitter account.

So I’m going to offer a new twist on my ongoing diversity theme.  I would encourage the Reynolds Journalism Institute to make more of an effort to attract more diverse fellows to the program in the widest sense of the word. 

The program has done a good job of including women, but I’ d love to see not only more people of color, but I’d also like to see folks including early career journalists, citizen journalists/news bloggers and entrepreneurs looking to improve journalism.

To this end, I would encourage the institute to tap past fellows and key staff members to leave the friendly confines of Columbia, Mo., and send them to events where there are gatherings of more diverse journalists, including organizations like NABJ, the South Asian Journalists Association, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and even Blog World & New Media Expo.  Use these events to speak about the fellowship and why attendees should consider applying for it.

Many journalism organizations have events year round,  including webinars, one-day workshops and meet-ups that the institute could tap to get the message out about the fellowship.  And many more journalism organizations have blogs, magazines and eletters that the institute could use to tout the benefits of the fellowship and encourage folks to apply.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s website is a font of information on things including upcoming events and training.  I had no idea these resources were there, so staff should do more outreach to offer these resources to journalism schools and organizations as a way to not only get a foot in the door to reach potential fellows, but also to keep the institute’s mission front and center 365 days a year and serve as a training resource for those who don’t apply for the fellowship.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute is currently taking applications for its 2011-2012 class.  I encourage my fellow journalists with an idea that will offer solutions to keep our industry viable to consider applying.  I especially encourage those who normally don’t consider these types of programs to seriously look at what the institute has to offer. 

In aviation, pilots follow check lists covering takeoff, flight, before landing and after landing on each and every flight.  They take it seriously, and never treat it like a rote exercise, because the safety of passengers is at stake.

I urge the Reynolds Journalism Institute to create its own check list specifically to expand the diversity of the Reynolds Fellows program and make its programming more widely available to the journalism community.  The future of our industry depends on the efforts of the Reynolds Journalism Institute and other teaching organizations to prepare us all for rapid change.

Posted in Education, Innovation, journalism

Carnival of Journalism #2: Steps To Increase The Number Of News Sources

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining The Carnival of Journalism.  You can read my Jan. 25 post about it here.  Every month the group tackles a topic on improving and innovating in journalism.  This month’s topic asked us to post about the following question:  what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?

We were asked to address the question via the 15 recommendations made by The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of a Community in Democracy.  Heady stuff, huh?  If I decided to write on all the recommendations, we would have been reading (and I would have been writing) for weeks.


Multimedia Workshop at NABJ 2010 Conference Photo by Benet J. Wilson

So I decided to focus on recommendation #11: Expand local media initiatives to reflect the full reality of the communities they represent.  As a journalist of color, I have been very focused on ensuring that our industry understands the importance of having newsrooms that reflect the diversity of the communities they live in.  In the old days, media companies could pay lip service to ensuring that they covered all the news in their community, since they were the only game in town.


But with the advent of the Internet and all the tools that allow people to gather, report, write and disseminate the news, the power of the traditional media has been diluted somewhat.  We see an explosion of hyperlocal news sites, like Oakland Local, DNAInfo, my home-town Baltimore Brew, West Seattle Blog and CTNewsJunkie as long-established newspapers cut their local coverage as budgets shrink.  The deeper these sites dig, the more likely they are to cover the news that is of interest to a specific community.

But groups are now trying to fill the gap in news that is of specific interest to minority communities.  Some of my favorites are Greater Fulton News, which covers the African-American community in Richmond, Va.; Minneapolis-based Twin Cities Daily Planet, which says it was created to close the digital divide and help citizens empower themselves with media; Dallas South, created to promote positive images of African-Americans in order to combat the negative images portrayed in the popular media; and Oakland, Calif.-based shades magazine, which covers and highlights the concerns, issues and stories of all women of color (my NABJDigital profile of shades is here).

These news websites use a mix of staff writers, bloggers, citizen journalists and community contributions to disseminate the news to their audience.  I met Mary Turck, the editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet at last year’s New Media Women
Entrepreneurs Summit
(NMWE). One of the women at our table asked her how she made news assignments.  Her answer? “The community tells us and they are encouraged to write the story for the website,” she said.  The front page of the website has an appeal for citizen journalists and includes a list of stories that need to be written, giving the power of the media directly to the community that wants — and needs — it.

Back in May 2008, Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism (which also oversees NMWE), gave the 32nd annual Ruhl Lecture at the University of Oregon on the topic Participatory Media: Challenges to the Conventions of Journalism.  Part of her lecture illustrates beautifully not only the question on increasing news sources, but the relevance of the Knight Commission’s 11th recommendation:

“I believe that news organizations need to construct the hubs that will enable ordinary people with passions and expertise to commit acts of news and information. Call them – random (or not so random) – acts of journalism, if you will.  News organizations need to be on a constant lookout for the best of these efforts, trawling the blogosphere, hyperlocal news sites, nonprofits, advocacy groups, journalism schools and neighborhood listservs. Your goal is to give a megaphone to those with responsible momentum, recruit them to be part of your network, impart some core journalism values -– and even help support them with micro-grants.”

We see initiatives like NMWE and the J-Lab’s New Voices grant programs that help fund news initiatives in minority communities.  New Voices gave a grant to Baltimore-based Morgan State University in 2010 to create  the MoJo Lab, where students  serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts, to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore.  So here’s hoping — by hook or by crook — that communities continue to become a part of a media that has tended to neglect them in the past.

Posted in Education, journalism

Join The Carnival Of Journalism!

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Editor’s note: The Digital Journalism Task Force is joining with Knowledgewebb for a FREE webinar: 10 Steps to a Tech-Savvy You on Jan. 26 2-2:45 pm EST.  This webinar will outline the 10 steps — and critical websites, social networks and gear — to help you become more tech savvy. You’ll get complete notes as well as a primer on how to manage information overload.  The webinar is free, but you must register to attend.

I am a big fan of Google Reader, thanks to Mark Luckie of the 10000 Words blog.  My Reader is broken down into different folders on the topics I like to cover.  One of my must-read blogs is Digi Dave, written by David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us and a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow.  The Digi Dave blog’s tag line is Journalism is a Process, Not a Product.  He blogs extensively about new media and beyond.

Cohn earlier this month re-started the Carnival of Journalism (I joined), which asks people to blog about a specific topic.  This month’s topic, with posts due Jan. 21, was on The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community.  You can see the complete roundup of posts here.  And below are links to some of my favorite posts from this topic. Enjoy!

If you want to continue to follow the conversation, check out the #jcarn hashtag on Twitter.