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.