Feb 18

A bunch of journalism and storytelling stuff

We turned our eyes north, to Wisconsin, to talk with Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Jonathan Anderson today. He joined the program to talk about a brand new ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It has to do with unions and votes and public records, and it could have some long reaching implications.

Yesterday’s story was about a man, his mop and criminal intent. The one before that was about iPhones, and before that we talked gerrymandering. The variety is such a neat thing, I think. Also, these shows are short. The idea is you can listen to this while you’re running an errand. You don’t have to be running a marathon.

This morning Dan Wakefield visited the television studio. We recorded a brief interview with him. Here’s a man who covered the Emmett Till murder trial, had a full journalism career, then wrote two best sellers and then had both of those books turned into movies. How do you get that down into a seven-minute conversation?

Wakefield is one of those journalists you study in school. He always gets asked, and is forever reciting, the lead to one of his stories for the magazine “The Nation.”

The crowds are gone and this Delta town is back to its silent, solid life that is based on cotton and the proposition that a whole race of men was created to pick it. Citizens who drink from the “Whites Only’ fountain in the courthouse breathe much easier now that the two fair-skinned half brothers, ages twenty-four and thirty-six, have been acquitted of the murder of a fourteen-year-old Negro boy. The streets are quiet, Chicago is once more a mythical name, and everyone here “knows his place.”

We should probably send the same amount of time on the themes of insularity, maintaining the status quo, parachute journalism, long memory, the other Others, and irony, which are all found in the last three paragraphs of his story:

It took the twelve jurors an hour and seven minutes to return the ver­dict that would evidently help close the gap between the white and col­ored races in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Tradi­tion, honor, God, and country were preserved in a package deal with the lives of Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam.

Reporters climbed tables and chairs to get a glimpse of the ac­quitted defendants, and the news­paper, magazine, and television cameras were aimed at the smiles of their wives and families in a flash­ing, buzzing finale. Then the agents of the outside world disappeared in a rush to make their deadlines and the stale, cluttered courtroom was finally empty of everything but mashed-out cigarettes, crushed paper cups, and a few of the canvas specta­tor chairs that the American Legion had sold across the street for two dollars each.

The trial week won’t be forgotten here soon, and glimpses of the “foreign” Negroes who don’t till cottonfields but hold positions as lawyers, doctors, and Congressmen have surely left a deep and uncom­fortable mark on the whites of the Delta. But at least for the present, life is good again. Funds are being raised for separate-and-equal school facilities in Tallahatchie County and on Wednesdays at lunchtime four of the five defense attorneys join with the other Rotarians of Sumner in a club song about the glad day “When men are one.”

Wakefield’s interview will be a part of a program next week. I watched two other shows being produced this evening. They’ll make it online at some point this week, I’m sure.

Feb 18

All about shows

There are a lot of things I like about my little show. I hope there are things other people like too, but it is good that I like some things about it since I’m, you know, doing it. One of the things is that I can get students involved. Today’s guest is my third student in the last few weeks, which is great.

The other thing I like is that these shows, because I leave the topics up to the guests, vary widely. So here’s Dominick Jean, who is the news editor of the campus paper, and he’s talking about gerrymandering.

Another thing that I like is that when sorta semi-apologized for this topic I got to tell him he should never apologize for his interests. And then he gave me what was, I thought, a really nice conversation. So check that out.

Some other things students have done this week:

They did the sports show tonight, and the other two on Tuesday. They’re all works in progress, and they’re all coming along at varying speeds. There was to be a third show on Tuesday, but it was overcome by underwhelming events. These things will happen. Tomorrow another group of IUSTV students is in rehearsal for a new late night show. And on Sunday the station is producing a concert.

So let’s count: four studio shows a week (one isn’t included above because it is for air on Sunday), a twice-monthly campus government show, a brand new late night show, a new concert series in conjunction with the campus radio station. And that doesn’t include covering something like a dozen sports they’re covering on campus and around the conference. Student media, man, they are getting some stuff done.

I may just turn in that paragraph at the end of the year.

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Jan 18

Sometimes you dress up for news, I guess

You can take a tie off with one hand. It is an art and has, and demands, a certain flourish. And if you do this in front of a cat, she’s going to want to play with it. It is a cat’s way: chase the moving silk thing the hooman puts on some days. And if she plays with it, that’s fine, until she produces her claws. And then you have to do something else. So I dressed her.

We have the best dressed cat in town, I’m sure.

This afternoon I was joined on the show by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. We talked about some of his students work, which is impressive. You can hear about it right here:

You can also find other episodes of The Best Story I’ve Heard Today on its new host site, Podbean. All of the current run have been transferred there and now I have to see about getting this thing syndicated in a few different places. After that: advertising. (Maybe?)

We’ve talked, on that show, a few times about the Larry Nassar trial. Here’s a story worth reading, it offers its own masterclass on interviews in reporting:

I saw the confident Larry Nassar, buoyed by a reputation as a caring miracle-worker. I saw the charismatic doctor, a man with a legion of adoring supporters. I saw the smooth Nassar, a master manipulater (sic) who had convinced police and university officials that earlier complaints were misunderstandings — and went on molesting young girls.

At times in the about 30 minutes we were together, he came off almost arrogant. That was particularly true as he tried to convince me the “misunderstanding” was the result of the women’s ignorance of his sophisticated medical work. His demeanor didn’t come as a surprise. Nassar was revered in gymnastics and highly regarded internationally as a sports medicine physician.

But at other times, I picked up a different vibe. When we first met, Nassar essentially pleaded that we not write a story. He even indicated he could provide dirt on USA Gymnastics officials. As we talked, particularly when he wasn’t directing the conversation, Nassar came off as much more socially awkward. Faced with a question, he would stammer. His eyes fluttered. They’re the kind of nonverbal cues I look for during contentious interviews.

This young woman is pretty incredible:

And, as the Indy Star reported, it started with an email.

Some more tweets:

And some good news from Las Vegas:

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Dec 17

And now a few Twitter notes about different mediums

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Aug 17

The Agars, Buzzfeed and our garage

John Agar Sr., wanted to do something with his son, John Jr. John the younger has cerebral palsy and, while they were looking for a thing to do, they found the 5K. Dad would push son 3.1 miles through the course. They got lapped by a power walker. So they resolved to train harder. And these guys are something special. I could tell you, but John’s sister Annie is about to show you:

They race all over these days, the Agars inspire and delight and even challenge Michael Phelps to races. Phelps, who was last seen in a simulated race against a shark, hasn’t taken them on yet.

This is an interesting idea. Buzzfeed is going to do a Twitter broadcast. I’m trying to work this out in my mind. Poynter tells us about it:

BuzzFeed News is launching a morning show on Twitter later this year, and it’s hiring a team to get it off the ground.

The next broadcast from the company that brought you exploding watermelons and a live goat ambush is a weekday newscast aimed at “an audience that wakes up hungry for the latest in ‘fire Tweets,'” according to a May 1 press release from Twitter (which also announced streaming shows with The Verge and Cheddar).

The winner here is Twitter. I’m not sure it is the right idea for Buzzfeed — curating the ideas of the many seems like a return to an older distribution model in a different envelope — but maybe at a place like Buzzfeed it doesn’t have to be the right idea just now. Maybe you just have to have the idea, because that’s going to lead to The Idea. I don’t know what The Idea there is going to be, but they have plenty of sharp people on board and it’ll develop over time, or strike as an epiphany.

Wouldn’t you like to have The Idea first? It isn’t hub-and-spoke. It isn’t TMZ and it won’t be a gatekeeper style. It won’t be the old Buzzfeed kitten and listicle model, either. And again, you can’t curate everything coming out of the firehose. A small portion of the success of the social media monsters can be attributed to the implications there. Even if you tried, it would be a Kardashian tweet here, a sports blooper there and today’s best pet or kid video. And then you’ve got a host basically reading tweets to us as a show. And the hashtags. (Don’t read hashtags allowed.) Or, slightly better, you get a panel laughing and reacting or maybe even contextualizing the content. A super smart version of that might be viable. You might create the Twitter broadcast version of some of the better network or cable shows — but cooler, for a social media program. But then there’s gravitas, name recognition, the boring logistics of “Can you get that person on?” And then, if they are good, can you get them regularly? Are they in demand for network appearances? And which show would you choose if both sets of producers called?

All of these traditional — or newly traditional routines, if you will — will present the same issues here. But I think, for them, it has to drive you back to Buzzfeed. Why would a site who made their name as a part of the evolutionary media disruption go exclusively to social media, another ripple from their point of view? There’s something to be said for presence and branding, of course, but that’s not the big goal out of this. Maybe it is an offshoot of a new growth pattern, a new revenue stream for the company that seemingly fell well short of their projections last year. Maybe they’re starting their own gif-driven social media platform.

Or what if this is successful? What if the website, which grew on those lists and rewrites and became an earnest newsroom and, to some, an influential juggernaut, ultimately spins off their video programs.

I have a notebook sitting in a closet where I doodled out the mass media fragmentation models. It basically went from four big blobs to a bunch of lines and dots. And it seemed, back in 2006 or so when I was writing in that book, that all of those dots and smaller blobs and indistinct triangles and other shapes would naturally one day coalesce again. I thought of it as a natural reaction to funnels at the time. Maybe it is a corporate response to market forces and the silo-ification that is bound to happen. It has happened before.

This I wondered about while straightening up in the garage this evening. But the boxes in the garage didn’t give me the answers. I’m down to watch and see. I did not have The Idea.

Today, that is.

Update: My friend and Knight Fellow Andre Natta chimes in, because he’s smart and I asked him too. He made three keen points. One of them I wanted to include:

Because, is there really a better use than managing accuracy during a breaking news event (or managing the hot take hose)?

That would be a great feature. Who do we trust for that? We don’t trust traditional media for it 98 percent of the time. We should trust them more. Is Buzzfeed going to bring me the Ryan Seacrest-Cronkite of this generation to tell me the Kansas City Star is on the ground and has bonafides and is offering legitimate Twitter coverage the next time there’s a big problem in the ‘burbs?

If that’s the case maybe who is really missing out here are the news networks. Buzzfeed won’t build this out for breaking news. That’s an important model, but it isn’t sustainable for them. What’s more, CNN and the like struggle with a variety of on-air management issues in slower news periods.

As for Andre’s thought on the “hot take hose” … Here’s something that may very well be impacted by such a Buzzfeed move. Watch the “trending topics” and “who to follow” boxes. Already, if you click a trending topic that “who to follow” box updates with relevant or topical accounts. Now throw in a video box on the right side, with some slick production under the Buzzfeed brand and the topics amplify. It is a traditional media idea, agenda setting theory. Walter Lippman’s original idea, that the media are what connects events to audience, and all of the scholarship that followed, which basically says “Media can tell you what to think about” works here. If Twitter is a water cooler. There’s about to be a new, very dynamic co-worker hanging out there.