Are you engaged in the news?
That’s the big question today, which is National News Engagement Day. Engagement is the theme of this annual day — set aside for journalists and news consumers to “read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”
We can thank the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication for that directive and for creating NED, as we affectionately call it. And we do thank them.
In its second year, NED has given us at the Newhouse School a reason to embrace and promote what we do every day — as professors and as professionals. And we get to have fun doing it.
As AEJMC says:
“National News Engagement Day will not only contribute to an informed society,
it will encourage people of all ages to explore news and raise awareness
about the importance of being informed.”
That’s why roving reporters will engage the Syracuse University today by:
- Interviewing people across campus about which news stories they are following right now
- Asking how people get their news
- Encouraging those who are engaged in the news to take selfies with Otto, our beloved mascot
- Walking our special Newhouse News Hounds around campus
- Handing out free swag generously donated by national and local news outlets
- Pointing people to a short survey about their news consumption habits
If you want to join in, it’s easy to do on social media wherever you happen to be today.
- Studying abroad?
- Spending a semester in L.A.?
- Attending Newhouse in NYC?
- Are you a Newhouse alum working as a professional journalist and communicator?
Check out all the day’s activities at newhouse.syr.edu/NED
And then do what AEJMC has asked. Again, all you have to do is “read, watch, like, tweet, post, text, email, listen to, or comment on news.”
Use the hashtags #NHned and #NewsEngagementDay
Please share this today. We are eager to engage with you.
If you’ve been following Facebook news this week, you know the latest.
Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and top executive, announced that the social networking site is close to testing a “dislike” button out there.
When it hits, watch out.
If people use it as intended, they will express empathy or sadness.
But Zuckerberg — in comments published in Vindu Goel’s blog about the news — was clear about what the button should not be:
“You don’t want to go through the process of sharing some moment
that was important to you during your day
and have someone down-vote it.”
If you check out the reader comments at the end of the blog, you’ll understand a statement that Goel shares:
The prospect of a new dislike button has been polarizing among Facebook users.
And even that might be an understatement.
How would you want others to use the button when reacting to your shared moments?
How would you use it?
We might be back at school, but we are still celebrating summer memories. One of them involves a road trip to visit family in Springfield, Mo., about an 18-hour ride.
The drive there was uneventful. The drive back not so much.
About halfway home, we encountered the dreaded brake lights up ahead, signalling to us that we soon would be coming to a stop. We did.
We thought — hoped — it would be a short delay. But then something happened.
A police vehicle sped past us, on the left shoulder, lights flashing and siren blaring.
Then another. And another.
Then a firetruck.
Then a rescue truck.
Then an ambulance.
After about 20 minutes, the driver of the grain truck next to us got out of his cab and stood there, just looking up ahead.
Curious to know if he knew what was going on, we lowered the window and asked:
Do you know what happened? At least two vehicles were in an accident … there were injuries … about a quarter mile up the highway
How long of a delay? Could be awhile … no tow trucks yet … at least an hour
What are you hauling? Grits
Where are you headed? South Carolina
Where are you coming from? Wisconsin
How many hours a day do you drive? Eight
He knew what was going on up ahead because he could communicate with truckers who were close to the scene. He commented on how dangerous it was that people were backing up and crossing the median to get to the other side and away from the delay. We passed around hard candy, which he graciously accepted. He told us it felt good to stand for a while. This was his second accident delay this day.
And, then, he noticed something we had not seen. Movement.
Is it over? It was nice talking to you …
He pulled himself back into his truck, waved to us and rode alongside for a short while until we gained speed and passed him. When we reached the accident scene, it already had been cleared. All emergency vehicles were gone. It was as if it had not happened.
What we learned in that hour?
- Curiosity leads to knowledge
- People are willing to talk
- Interviewing really is a conversation
- You don’t need a notebook or a recorder to ask questions
- If you listen, you’ll remember
- People with expertise are everywhere, if you look
Classes at the Newhouse School start a week from today, and it’s time to remind ourselves how many lessons surround us every day, with every story and post that we read.
Take, for example, the increased minimum wage issue that’s been in the news. Lots of information. Plenty of opinions.
If you’re following that news, here’s a New York Times story that will enlighten you on how restaurant owners are handling the increased cost of raising the minimum wage at their establishments: “As Minimum Wages Rise, Restaurants Say No to Tips, Yes to Higher Prices” by Patricia Cohen.
Importantly, a key theme is inclusion. Several restaurant owners explain how they are trying to include all workers in the benefits of higher wages. Not just the servers, but the cooks and dishwashers, too.
A telling line from the story:
Like many owners, Ms. (Amanda) Cohen has long wanted to close the yawning earnings gap
between those who prepare the food and those who serve it.
Amanda Cohen owns Dirt Candy, described in the story as “an upscale eatery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.” With a no-tip policy, she charges patrons a 20 percent “administrative fee” and pays servers $25 an hour.
Interestingly, writer Patricia Cohen includes an all-important cosmic element in her story: What’s happening elsewhere? What can we learn here from something happening there? Who else is doing this?
Before we tell you more, take a moment to read Patricia Cohen’s story in full.
And be sure to read through the last paragraph because she also includes another important story element: a strong kicker at the end.
Three elements in a story — attribution, sources and substantiation — give credit in distinct ways. Credit is essential to give you and your work credibility.
- Attribution tells readers where information came from; it makes the story transparent.
- Sources indicate that others — not the reporter — provided information; they make the story credible.
- Substantiation gives support to information in the story; it makes the story strong.
Here are some key questions you can ask yourself about these three elements to ensure they are present in stories you write or edit and that they appear in the appropriate places.
Questions about attribution
Who is telling the news? Is it clear either in the lead paragraph or within the first few paragraphs?
Is there too little attribution? Does attribution appear in one paragraph but not in the next few paragraphs that follow? Paragraph by paragraph, is it clear where information is coming from and who said it?
Is there too much attribution? Is information attributed to the same person in each sentence of the same paragraph? Can that be streamlined by attributing the information once in the paragraph and making clear that the attribution applies to the entire paragraph?
Is attribution in the proper place? With a change in speaker after a quote, is there attribution at the start of the next sentence so a new speaker is properly introduced?
Questions about sources
Are the right sources in the story? Are they commenting on the right things?
Are the sources believable? Are they close enough to the story that they know what they’re talking about? Are they so close that they seem biased?
Are there enough sources? Are there various points of view? Is anyone missing?
Are sources fully and clearly identified? Are experts’ qualifications clear? Are there any anonymous sources in the story — and have the proper editors approved their use? Are the anonymous sources necessary? What other sources could take their place?
Questions about substantiation
Is any information in doubt? If so, why? What will remove that doubt?
Have assertions been verified? Has material from sources been supported with independent information? Or, has it been included unchallenged?
Is the content strong? Paragraph by paragraph, does the story stand up to scrutiny?
What’s missing? Should anything else be included that would make the story complete?
When you ask these questions again and again, story after story, you develop a natural and helpful habit. Your goal is to end up with a strong story that meets not only your expectations but those of your audience as well. If you don’t ask, readers will.
Story ideas come from a number of places, including your own curiosity. An effective way to develop an idea into a story is to ask yourself questions.
But the key is to ask these questions at the start of story planning, not after the story has been written. Here’s a checklist of 10 questions to get you started.
- Who are the people affected? Go for personal stories from ordinary people in the community. Prioritize your interviews.
- How are the people affected or how might they be affected? Seek ways in which a person’s behavior will change or not, how this story will affect a person’s habits or routine, opinions, emotions or attitude.
- Why am I writing this? Find out why this story is important to anyone; you might need to do a bit of research to answer this one. Be able to finish this sentence: This story is important because …
- Who are the bureaucrats? Interview people who have authority, realizing that even students can be bureaucrats if they have a role of authority in an organization.
- What are the key questions to be answered? Ask different questions of different people, remembering that sometimes there are situations when one question should be asked of everyone. Different answers to the same question will establish the kind of conflict that will make the story interesting.
- What research must I do? You must find out some background and understand how this story idea fits into what’s happening locally and elsewhere, whether it is the start of a trend, and whether something happening locally might be an evolution of a story that happened locally in the past.
- Where can I go? Use your five senses to get a feel for people by interviewing them in person — in their homes, their places of business, their favorite places to relax, such as a coffee shop or a park. Stories that have a location allow you and, ultimately, the reader to see things directly.
- What am I missing? Take some time to answer this one. You might need to do more research first. You want to go beyond the obvious questions that already have been answered; identify a person who should be interviewed; uncover an angle not yet recognized.
- How can I be creative? Have fun with this one. Stretch your imagination. Think about the unusual. Look for an interesting twist.
- What is my vision? Take your time and do your research to answer the first nine questions. Then take a personal interest in imagining what your story will look like, how it will begin and how it will end. It all has to do with which people were interviewed and how questions were answered.
Stories rise and fall on the answers to these 10 questions. Sometimes there is no story. That’s the point of having this conversation with yourself — to make a good story better or to move on to another idea if there’s just no story there.
If this process seems tedious, you are right. But it’s essential if you want to end up with a story that is better than good.