Sunday, December 19, 2010

Three ways to learn about your community in bed

This post originally appeared on First Draft, the SPJ Generation J committee blog.

You're an early-career journalist hired to cover a community new to you.

You've picked up a couple tricks from school, internships and entry-level jobs. You know it's a good idea to begin building a detailed source list. Initiate contact as soon as possible; log a phone number here, schedule a meeting there.

The best jobs provide lead time to read current events and interact with people in your new community. Other times, you've got to learn along the way, and in many cases, you'll need to learn in your off-hours.

This is where pajama bottom journalism comes in - methods to learn about your community, with your laptop, from the comforts of your bed. Or at your Ikea desk. Or at the table you found on Craigslist. I know you wear pajamas sitting in front of them.

(1) Embrace RSS:

Really Simple Syndication, RSS, is a smart way to bring the news to you and saves you the time it takes to visit every homepage for every outlet. Start with a list of all of the news organizations you know and add to your media diet as you go. Bookmark the home pages and subscribe to the feeds.

Organization and management is key. Create a method that works for you. Be content in not reading everything you see. Scanning is important.

I use the built-in RSS reader in Safari and organize feeds into folders by category:

My goals are simple: know what our staff and partners are producing to best to link related content and listen to what others have contributed to the news agenda.

(2) Connect with local journalists:

Whether you view other local journalists as competitors or partners, you can't discount the value reading, watching and listening to the work of others.

There are more than 500 journalists working in the editorial departments of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, television stations, wire services, online outlets and niche publications in the greater Sacramento region. There may be more or less in your region. In any case, a lot of good work is done by those outside your organization.

  • Search for staff lists and bookmark them. Here's one staff list.

  • Search Twitter for them and follow them. Here's one social networking lead.

  • Join local media association groups. Here's one group.

  • Create Twitter lists to manage the noise. Here we are. Here they are.

The goals, again, are simple: listening and connecting. Manage your news flow and build bridges for communication.

(3) Research local ties:

"Local kid makes good" is a pretty good story. Your audience wants to know about people from the area.

  • Keep a list of famous people in a spreadsheet. Anyone born or raised in your area has a local following. Sometimes Wikipedia has done the work for you, like these lists of writers, sports figures and entertainers with roots in Sacramento or of alumni from this university and this university. If you're feeling collaborative, make your lists public by editing the Wikipedia page. (Disclosure: I used to edit the above sports figures page when I was in college.)

  • Set up Google Alerts for people that interest you. Know when the hometown athlete is arrested or if the traveling musician returns home to try out new material. Alerts for the local universities and community colleges also surface interesting content.

  • Create Twitter lists for these hometown connections, and separate them into groups as you see fit.

Reporters who've been at the company for two decades may have developed an excellent source network that informs them of news about locals. You're not there yet, but you'll make up a lot of time by setting up these news streams.

(Bonus) Know what locals "Google":

Google Insights for Search was my favorite takeaway from the 2010 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference. The tool allows you see what people search on Google, and you can narrow the query to a metropolitan area during set time frames. A simple search will show you the 10 top search terms and 10 rising searches.

Granted, the top search term column is generally useless besides finding out that people may not know how to type ".com." Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube, Craigslist and Google regularly dominate the searched terms in the Sacramento region.

The second column, appearing on the right side of the page, is what will grab you. Google displays the terms gaining significant growth. "Breakout" terms are being searched more than 500 percent the normal rate.

It provides great support to the national topics you want to localize. Yes, Sacramento does care that much about Miley Cyrus.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Journalism colleague wins posthumous column writing award

Losing someone at a young age is hard, and it's no easier reliving the memories.

Writing this blog post has been a struggle. The feelings and details are as vivid now as they were then.

I wanted to provide the background and spread the news.

Then, I was taken in by the stories and obituaries. My eyes welled up. It was too much. I apologize for the delay.

My friend and journalist, Jamie Gonzales, continues find a way to bring people together and make us smile.

On Friday, Jamie was awarded first place in column writing in the Better Newspapers Contest for her ongoing series sharing her "experiences and struggles with rectal cancer."

The award was announced at the California Newspaper Publishers Association's annual meeting in Monterey.

* * *

Jamie Gonzales, died Oct. 14, 2008, of colorectal cancer. She was 25.

Jamie, a 2007 graduate in government-journalism, worked in many capacities during six semesters on The State Hornet at California State University, Sacramento. She served as an online news editor, news writer, photography editor and photographer. Her blossoming professional career included an internship at the Auburn Journal and a position as the city government reporter for the Elk Grove Citizen.

In a time when student photographers despise writing captions and student writers take out-of-focus images, Jamie was a rarity. A multi-skilled young journalist, Jamie transitioned from the photography department to the news desk.

The editor in chief at the time, Nick Lozito, wrote:

"At first I kind of thought, 'What the heck is she doing? I need her behind the lens.' But, as it turns out, she jumped right in and became my most-reliable news writer."

Her student portfolio included 84 published articles - a number that did not include the amount of photos she captured, the stories she edited, the assignments she prepared and the sections she proofread on production nights.

Mobile journalist. Backpack journalist. All-platform journalist. That was Jamie, before the buzz words became common.

She reported on student government, profiled professors and alumni, detailed student groups and illustrated student life. Her story topics were rarely glamorous. Jamie didn't complain. As an editor, she joked to her staff writers: if she had to cover it as a writer, they would too.

It's not hyperbole to say her work helped usher The State Hornet website into a daily news operation.

* * *

She had such a strong sense of duty and responsibility. She wrote in an October 2, 2008, post on her blog:

"I will still work as long as I can drive to the Citizen's office. When I can no longer drive, I will work from home and just e-mail my stories to my editor."

Jamie was diagnosed with cancer in March 2008. Doctors discovered that the stage-four cancer had spread to her liver. She was told that she wouldn't make it to 30. The chemotherapy drugs didn't improve her condition. In the fall, her doctor told her she had a couple of months to live. An infection developed on Oct. 13, 2008, and family and friends were told she had one week to live. She died the next day.

Jamie planned to marry her fiancé James in a NASCAR-themed wedding in Nevada in 2009. She altered her plans when a doctor told her she had two months to live. She did not make it to her November date.

* * *

Dying and death create a sense of powerlessness. We couldn't cure the cancer. Friends offered time and prayers. Others drove to see her or rekindled friendships. She knew the power of friendship and love.

Jamie's death brought us together and her life continues online.

You can read the obituaries in the Elk Grove Citizen, The State Hornet and The Auburn Journal. Blake Ellington, Jeff Forward, Gamaliel Ortiz and Linda Le Park wrote individual articles for the Elk Grove Citizen. Our university newspaper adviser wrote about Jamie in this blog post. I urge you to take the time to read them.

Soon after her passing, in cooperation with two professors, we started a university memorial scholarship in her name. We've raised $2,700. I'm thankful to everyone who has contributed.

Thank you to the bloggers who've helped spread the word, including Outdoor Bloggers Summit, Women's Hunting Journal, The Hog Blog, The Hunter's Wife and Simply Outdoors.

We've got a long way to go. We must raise $25,000 to support a self-sustaining, yearly scholarship of $1,000. I can't think of a better way of remembering her.

If you're interested, and have the ability to do so, send checks payable to "University Foundation of Sacramento State," and to ensure your money goes to the right account, write "Jamie Gonzales Memorial Scholarship Fund" in the memo line.

Checks can be mailed to:

The Jamie Gonzales Memorial Scholarship Fund
c/o The State Hornet
Sacramento State
6000 J St., University Union-2nd Floor
Sacramento CA 95819-6102

Thanks for your time, and consider donating to the scholarship. Anything you can give would help.

And to Jamie, you will always remain in our thoughts and hearts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tweeting when you don’t want to invest much time

The headline and premise of this post seems counterproductive to the nature and value of Twitter. You get more value out of Twitter with the more time you invest.

Many people don’t recognize this philosophy and some journalists let their accounts lay dormant soon after creation. They fill out some basic information, send out a few tweets and fail to gather a following. Thus begins the hibernating account. It doesn’t need to be this way.

The following are seven tweet styles that will add a layer of transparency your job and should elicit a response from followers. This isn't a starter's post. Consider these suggestions after you've filled out your profile information and followed Twitter profiles relevant to your beat. Think of this post as the next step.

1. Tweet for story ideas.

It doesn’t hurt to ask your followers for suggestions or ask whether they’d like to see another angle covered on an ongoing issue.

2. Tweet about the stories you’re working on.

Obviously, don’t tweet about a scoop or big investigation. But most stories are on common topics and you can always be vague enough to allay fears of other media outlets swooping in before publication.

3. Tweet for sources on a story.

It shouldn’t take the place of working the phones, but it doesn’t hurt to leave a virtual post-it note for help.

4. Tweet about noteworthy interviews.

Ask your followers what they would like you to ask the interview subject. They might be interested in learning something you wouldn’t have thought to ask.

5. Tweet links to other stories you are reading within your beat.

If you’re interested in the story, you followers might be too. Make sure to use a URL shortener.

6. Tweet links to your published work.

When you send out links to your stories, make sure to think of the tweet like a lede. Be specific, use proper nouns and use a URL shortener.

7. Answer questions.

While it’s not necessary to read every tweet from everyone you follow, it’s absolutely critical to monitor when you’re Twitter name is mentioned. Answering reader questions lets followers know your human and builds rapport with readers.

There are many directions to go when using Twitter to improve your reporting. These seven suggestions should help in the beginning as you better learn how to integrate it into your daily routine.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The launch of a database

Months came and went. Friends told of a wild project. Superiors pitched an incomplete database. Idea transformed to reality.

Finally, a project, begun in September and continually undergoing updates, launched last Thursday in the form of the “Local athletes playing sports at the university level” searchable database. Every sport at every NCAA and NAIA member institution was meticulously checked. The information comes from the athletic department Web sites of more than 1,200 universities in the three divisions of the NCAA and more than 300 NAIA universities, with other sources filling in the gaps.

A user – be it a parent, athlete, athletic director or curious fan – can search among more than 1,500 former high schools athletes from the Sacramento area playing sports at the university level. Athletes are searchable by former high school, community college, current university, sport and/or last name. The first results page includes name, university, high school, sport and position of each athlete. The more details link displays hometown, class year, major, biography link and university division.

People have already taken to it – despite its plain look and lack of useful graphics to help disseminate what’s found within. The database is the fourth most-read “story” at for the month of March. I couldn’t be happier about its initial reception.

The database has already been helpful in offering color to three stories, including a list of Loretto High School athletes for a story about the effects of the school’s closure on its high school athletes, a list of men’s basketball players on teams selected for the NIT and a list of men and women on team’s selected to the NCAA basketball tournaments.

I wanted to blog about how I came up with the idea, how I found the information, how I pitched the idea and how the information can be applied as a news resource. No other Web site among the top 100 newspapers (based on page views) has anything like it. It can be duplicated with hard work and an unyielding curiosity. It also takes a lot of hometown spirit.

Let me explain what motivated me to collect this information.

When The Sacramento Bee, or McClatchy, decided to end my previous project,, a handful of us were absorbed into the newsroom. I was elated and disappointed at the same time. We really believed in the project. Sacramento is still without a go-to resource for nightlife. For all its flaws, was the best local Web site to find out what was going on around town, with more event listings than any other Web site covering the area. Still, my goal was to work in the newsroom, and maybe start writing again.

The new position brought full time status, after working as a temp and paid through an outside agency. Better pay came my way and a two-page job description for my new title of online content developer. My duties include posting daily stories, arranging stories on the front page and section front, monitoring Web site statistics, evaluating flagged comments, keeping an eye on local media and combining related stories, photos, graphics, videos and fact boxes.

Some days are slower than others and I wanted to start a project that I didn’t think anyone else would have. I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of every local athlete playing sports at the nation’s universities. I wanted to create something unique and capitalize on what newspapers do best – know the community and provide information from a local perspective. The information would benefit reporters and users. Stories could be generated and users would have a tool to play with.

What stories could you find? Is Sacramento a baseball town or a women’s soccer town? What are the powerhouse high schools? What would an all-Sacramento football team look like?

The idea had ties to a college pet project, my first foray into computer assisted reporting.

I was a part of a team of reporters and editors at The State Hornet that broke a story about hazing on the women’s soccer team at California State University, Sacramento. The Athletics Department wasn’t happy with our coverage of an unannounced investigation and our relationship soured. Media relations told our reporters they would not release player contact information. They said they had never so before, which was untrue. One reporter, working on a feature profile, was asked to conduct an interview with a softball player in the media relations office. Multiple reporters were told they couldn’t use audio recorders while conducting interviews with coaches and athletes. It didn’t help that we criticized the department by mixing audio files within the frame of a staff editorial in a groundbreaking auditorial format.

I was frustrated by the mistreatment of our reporters, many of whom had nothing to do with the hazing investigation, and I didn’t want media relations to dictate communication with players. I responded by creating a Sac State-specific database that included the name, sport, major, year, hometown, high school, e-mail address, AOL Instant Messager name, Facebook (open, private or non-existent) and the MySpace URL of all 402 athletes.

(As an aside: Parents’ names and hometowns found in media guides can be cross-referenced online for publicly available phone numbers. I didn’t get that far.)

The database information could be applied in many ways. Aside from being a resource to contact athletes through social media networks, trends emerge. Stories jump out if you know where to look. You can see where most of the recruits come from, which can be mapped at the state and city level in a comprehensive look at recruiting. Sac State is commonly referred to as a commuter school, meaning the majority of the students come from the area. The sole student from Alaska must have a compelling story. You look for similarities and rarities.

The database ended as unfinished business. Besides some use here and there, leading to a story to be told later, most of the profile and investigation potential didn’t make it to print. I wanted to do it all over again – this time for the Sacramento region.

No one asked me to make this and I still don’t think it looks as great as it could. It’s the beginning, a first draft, and I’m going to keep chipping away, making sure it’s the best resource available.

I’ll talk in my next blog about what you should do in preparation if you want to create your own version.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Press Pause

I'm in the process of moving and will be out-of-state for the weekend... so I've got to postpone the rest of my MySpace Monday entry and a week's worth of Bee reviews. There's so much to write and I can't set aside the time this week. I'll blog up a storm next week.

Monday, August 25, 2008

MySpace Monday: Connecting with potential sources - Part 1

You should now have a separate professional MySpace page. You've tricked it out and convinced your normal friends to add you.

It's like being a politician. You had to start by galvanizing your base.

Now make MySpace work for you. Think about the type of people you'd like to connect with. Do a little networking. Add current sources and work toward adding potential sources. It isn't easy to be comprehensive, and you probably won't be, but if you're focused, you'll find a lot of interesting locals and people you might want to talk to now or later.

This week's topic: Adding new friends to your professional MySpace page.

Tip No. 1: Come up with a target.
Structure you're search for new friends based in the type of stories you'd like to write. Musicians, comedians and filmmakers are easy to find with little work. Venues, fellow writers, artists, college athletes, high school students or any other source base will take more time to find.

Tip No. 2a: Search for musicians.
Click the link for Music followed by the link for Top Artists. You can then search for bands within the radius of your zip code. Despite a few incorrect listings, you'll find unsigned, indie and major label artists from your area roughly organized by popularity. Be wary of the selected distance. Just 100 listings from the three categories show up. New or lesser known bands may not show up if you select within 20 miles of downtown Sacramento. Bands from Oakland will show up if you search within 50 miles. Decide how much time you want to spend searching. There are a little more than 1,000 relatively active bands within the greater Sacramento area. If you want to be hyperlocal, search within five or 10 miles. Then, categorize in groups as small as Elk Grove bands or Davis bands. More on categories next week.

Be aware: some local DJs and rappers have non-music pages and won't show up in the MySpace Music listings.

Tip No. 2b: Search for comedians.

Click the link for Comedy followed by the link for Comedian Search. Comedians can be searched in the same way as musicians. Select a distance, type in a zip code and sort by the amount of friends to find a starting list of comedians to add as friends. You'll find almost 20 active comedians within 25 miles of downtown Sacramento. Local comedians can also found among the top friends lists on the MySpace pages of comedy clubs. Local comedians are listed in the top friends lists of Laughs Unlimited, Punch Line Sacramento, Bistro 33 and Louie's Cocktail Lounge.

Tip No. 2c: Search for filmmakers.
Click the link for Movies followed by the link for Indie Film and then the link for Top Filmmakers. Filmmakers can then be searched within a selected radius. The search function doesn't look like it's working right now. I'll update this post tomorrow with examples of a recent search.

More to come tomorrow. Part two will offer tips to find groups that MySpace does not categorize as easily as musicians, comedians and filmmakers.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Link: More from the pizza villian

Read "Obiden or Joebama?" to read someone from Fox News trying to tell you how not to do a prank.