Why our small-town daily is adding a full-time curator

We’re adding a full-time curator position at The Register Citizen.

Jenny Golfin, whose duties have included morning shift web updating, social media management and reporting, will be devoted full-time to this new role. Her mission will be to provide our audience with links to breaking and comprehensive news and information relevant to their community and interests. Putting the reader first, she’ll link out to blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos and even the work of our longest-standing “traditional” competitors, not just to content produced by our staff writers at The Register Citizen, or by sister Journal Register Company publications in Connecticut.

Why does a local paper our size need, and how does it justify, having a full-time curator on staff?

Well, 10 years ago, it was us, a competing daily newspaper a few towns to our south, a local radio station with a morning news report and the TV stations from Hartford and New Haven.

Scarcity of news sources. High demand for information. Let the good times roll.

Today, our audience turns to thousands of niche websites, blogs and online hyperlocal startups devoted to a single town, neighborhood or interest. Patch.com is arriving on the scene as big media (AOL)’s attempt to scale hyperlocal across a national footprint. The audience itself is now the biggest source of local information out there, equipped with mobile smart phones, free WordPress and Blogger accounts and YouTube logins.

And audience members’ connections to each other via Facebook, Twitter and other social media trump connections, if there are any, between audience member and legacy media brand.

In Torrington, we’ve established a Community Media Lab, partnering with local bloggers and niche online sites. Similar efforts across our sister publications have established a network of more than 1,000 citizen blogging partners across Journal Register Company.

We have computer workstations loaded with open-source blogging and video editing software in our open newsroom for citizen journalists and bloggers to use. We offer free classes and workshops in our newsroom classroom, including “Blogging 101” and how-to’s on social media, video production and journalism basics.

In December, we established a community engagement editor position, in part, to partner with and train bloggers and citizen journalists.

The curator position will help us share that work with our audience, and make sense of the exploding range of information sources out there. Jenny’s first assignment was to study the work of Andy Carvin, the NPR staffer who has provided some of the best coverage of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya over the past few months in a very non-traditional way. Carvin has used his Twitter feed to curate the Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos and blog posts of eyewitnesses in real time.

She’ll use tools such as lists and hashtags on Twitter and Google Reader and Google Alerts to find and present content relevant to Northwest Connecticut communities and to niche interests including moms from Litchfield County, local and statewide politics and local arts and entertainment.

Another goal of our new curator position will be to make sure that our original content contains links out to referenced and additional information. Failing to link remains a big failure of traditional print media, and we aim to fix it on our sites.

Posted in Andy Carvin, Curation, Journal Register Company, NPR, The Register Citizen | 12 Comments

Journalism School of the Future: Where You Start On the Job and Never Graduate

In a great #wjchat hosted by Jay Rosen Wednesday night on “radicalism in the newsroom,” this question was posed:

“Are J-schools today part of the problem or solution? How should they change? Should something replace them?”

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my answer, envisioning journalism schools that are “integrated into newsrooms, creating (a) continuous learning environment for the student and the experienced.”

In the old days, journalism schools prepared students “to be published” by news organizations that had authority because they owned printing presses, broadcast licenses and radio towers.

Today, everyone can be a publisher, and news organizations can range from a single-person kitchen table blogger to a crowdsourced network of otherwise disconnected and “unorganized” people coming together around a common purpose.

Every one of today’s journalism students has been published, and is in effect a publisher themselves, before attending a single day of class. That’s a strong argument for an “on-the-job learning” model similar to what is happening at the University of Missouri.

The same “everyone’s a publisher” reality argues for both newsrooms and journalism schools opening their doors to the community to be part of what Journal Register Company CEO John Paton is fond of calling “the new news ecology.”

Newsrooms should have a relationship with students pursuing journalism as a professional career. But they should also be teaching, and learning from, the soccer mom who blogs about every twist in debate over her school district’s new curriculum policy, the retired coach who maintains the world’s best statistical history of girls’ field hockey in Northwest Connecticut, the local United Way director who is blogging about the people behind the 24 nonprofits the group raises money for, and the resident who gets up every morning to test water quality in a local river and posts results on his website advocating for regional watershed protection.

We’re taking steps toward this at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, launching one of Journal Register Company’s Community Media Labs for bloggers and citizen journalists, but also building a classroom right into the newsroom and offering free workshops for citizens, bloggers and staff.

But most important in relation to the most pressing issue for traditional media, newsrooms could use a journalism school environment themselves right now. As an industry, John Paton has said, “we’re no good” at migrating to a digital model. We have a lot of learning to do, at every level of our organizations.

So here’s my idea:

A traditional news organization should start – or merge with – a journalism school. Just a guess, but starting over would probably be easier from a pure P&L standpoint.

The Anytown News and Journalism School would employ professional reporters and editors, and journalism professors, and many who are doing both simultaneously or alternately.

They would accept students/apprentices into a formal work/study program. Instead of paying tuition, maybe these students would get paid to learn, and work.

It would be funded by creating an organization whose “student projects” are money-making, entrepreneurial journalism platforms.

But importantly (and different from any model I’ve heard about), every single full professional (or “journeyman” or “master” if you want to carry the traditional apprentice methodology of other trades) staff member would be required to continue their education, formally, until they resign or retire.

Student apprentices would graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a new title and pay grade. And then move into the next phase of their education and professional career.

This would provide a better journalism school experience, in my opinion, while opening the profession to a wider and more diverse population by making it affordable (we pay you instead of you paying tuition!). And it would create the world’s best formal staff training program, something we’d all be thinking about if we paid attention to the wisdom of Steve Buttry.

And why limit it to the newsroom?

Lord knows traditional media needs a new model for ad revenue. Why not bring business school professors, and students, and the community, and advertisers, into your finance and advertising departments, or mash up the whole thing a la Jeff Jarvis’ entrepreneurial journalism program?

Posted in Community Journalism School, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Joy Mayer, Newsroom Cafe, Steve Buttry, University of Missouri | 4 Comments

Washington Post shows it values accuracy, audience engagement in step away from ‘fortress journalism’

The Washington Post made a huge statement yesterday about the accuracy of its reporting, engaging with its audience and building a stronger relationship of trust with its readers.

A link to this page – asking readers and sources to bring errors to editors’ attention – now appears on every online story the paper publishes.

We launched something similar – a “Fact Check” box on every story page on RegisterCitizen.Com – earlier this year.

The Washington Post goes much further, and hits all the right notes in seeking to engage with and learn from its audience. In addition to asking for a simple report on mistakes in a story, its form also asks, “What do we need to know to improve future stories on this topic?” It suggests that readers suggest “additional people to speak with, areas to explore, etc.”

The Washington Post corrections/fact check page even has a “yes/no” opt-in to the question, “Would you be willing to help with other stories?”, suggesting that the paper is building a foundation for future crowdsourcing efforts, perhaps by specific topic.

This is a huge symbolic shift, I hope, away from the “fortress journalism” that traditional media has clung to even as the web and social media have completely changed the audience dynamic out from under them.

And the fact that it comes from a Top 5 major American newspaper that has been criticized strongly for allowing “the print guys” to win must offer a glimmer of hope to new media thought leaders such as Jay Rosen, Craig Silverman and Craig Newmark, who have been beating the drum on fact checking and corrections for some time.

Posted in Corrections, Craig Silverman, Fact Check, Jay Rosen, The Register Citizen, Washington Post | 4 Comments

Is ‘the editorial board meeting’ defunct in a truly open newsroom?

When we first announced plans to open The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe in December, the bulk of the criticism was centered on two themes.

The public is invited to attend and participate in daily story meetings at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe. The meetings are also broadcast live on RegisterCitizen.Com, where readers are able to contribute comments and ask questions via live chat.

From critics within the newspaper industry, primarily, we heard that it would be impractical, disruptive and somehow tainting of the “professional” process of journalism to allow the public to “look over our shoulders” while we work. There’s a whole slew of arguments knocking down that premise, but there’s also our experience to date, which for us, is more relevant and powerful.

From readers, one of the biggest concerns was that an “open newsroom” would open the door to special interest groups or individuals with pet causes having easy access to reporters and editors and therefore being more likely to influence (i.e., twist) their reporting.

My immediate answer to this was that people representing special interests, pet causes and axes to grind get their message to reporters and editors already. A newsroom that is not just “open,” but also welcoming, with an active agenda of community engagement, will start to balance that influence by hearing from and connecting with the audience as a whole. The more open we are, the more voices you’ll see represented in our reporting, and hopefully, the less chance there will be of missing or skewed context.

A building block of our model is that transparency builds trust. The public is invited to attend and participate in our daily story meetings, which are also live-streamed on RegisterCitizen.Com. When we faced an internal debate recently on guidelines for staff who moderate online story comments, we distributed, heard input and discussed a draft policy via social media and the web, leading up to a public meeting, also live-streamed, in the cafe’s classroom.

Which brings me back to those concerns about special interests having new-found or undue influence over journalists in an “open newsroom.”

Among many assumptions we’ve had to question in attempting to stay true to our “open” model is that old newspaper tradition of “the editorial board meeting.”

Since opening on Dec. 13, we haven’t had any.

Oh, we’ve had requests. But when you explain to the industry association, or, for example, the PR flack for an energy sector company fighting a zoning battle with local residents who called recently, that the public will be invited to listen in on – and ask questions – the value, to them, of an “editorial board meeting” is apparently diminished.

And that has been eye-opening.

What kind of influence have these closed-door meetings had on our reporting? Why would these sources prefer no meeting at all to one where the public can listen in and ask questions? Maybe they’ve gotten used to pushing their spin on editors and reporters and seeing it published without the hard questions or context that scrutiny by the audience would provide?

As we move forward into uncharted waters at The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe, I see potential for us (in the context of many other points of community engagement) to build a new kind of editorial board meeting, where, as media blogger Judy Sims recently envisioned, we “(facilitate) the coming together of individuals, organizations and governments to solve a city’s great problems …

For newspapers with a “closed newsroom” (I think I’ll start referring to traditional print media models that way until Journal Register Company’s “digital first” philosophy is embraced by the rest of the industry) , it would be interesting to see the impact that some simple steps toward transparency would have.

Does the editorial on the energy bill, or sales tax exemptions, make note of the editorial board meeting the newspaper had a few days before with the trade association affected by the issue?

Even if you’re not inviting the public, why not list for your audience what “official sources” are getting this closed-door, formal access to your editors and reporters?

And if you won’t let the public in to those meetings, why not, at least, broadcast live (or even a taped but complete version) video on the web?

Posted in Journal Register Company, Judy Sims, Newsroom Cafe, The Register Citizen | 4 Comments

Bringing the Outside In: Newsroom Cafe and more in Torrington, Connecticut

What does a “digital first, print last” newsroom look like?

I’m pleased, following months of work and planning behind the scenes, to be able to share with you this announcement from Journal Register Company. After 110 years in (literally) our ink-stained, print edition-focused building in Torrington, Connecticut, The Register Citizen is moving to new offices that reflect how much our business model has changed.

The centerpiece is a Newsroom Cafe, with no walls separating the public from reporters and editors. Incorporated into the space is also a Community Media Lab, the opening of 120 years of newspaper archives for easy and free public access, and the creation of a Community Journalism School.

Read our local story about the move here, or for more about the whole project, visit RegisterCitizen.com/newsroomcafe.

And for an excellent, comprehensive overview of how we got to this point, see Journal Register Company CEO John Paton’s amazing presentation today to the INMA Transformation of News Summit at Harvard.

Posted in John Paton, Journal Register Company, The Register Citizen, Torrington | 2 Comments

A reporter’s guide to corrections

Here’s the internal protocol we have written for reporters at my newspaper for handling corrections. What would you change/add?

Craig Newmark, founder of “Craig’s List,” has argued that “trust is the new black.” News outlets that emphasize accuracy, fact checking and a relationship of trust with their readers will survive and thrive in the new news ecology.

That means welcoming and embracing reports of errors – from minor to significant, from concrete to subjective – admitting our mistakes, and moving swiftly and very publicly to correct them.

This is why RegisterCitizen.Com pioneered the simple concept of the “Fact Check” box at the bottom of every story online as a public statement of accountability and easy and convenient way for our readers to engage with us on corrections.

Consistency in following the protocol we have set up regarding corrections is one of your most important responsibilities as a reporter for Foothills Media Group. It establishes and maintains our most basic credibility as a source of local news.

Please follow this protocol regarding errors and corrections:

1. As soon as a story is published online and in print editions, it is a reporter’s responsibility to monitor online story comments and be attentive to Fact Check reports, emails, phone calls, in-person reports and reports in other media that call attention to or make you aware of errors or inaccuracies in our reporting.

2. Errors – ranging from spelling and grammar mistakes, to incorrect facts, to aspects of a story that are misleading due to improper or missing context – should be corrected as soon as possible, and there is no time limit after a story is published on the need for a correction.

3. The only errors that do not require a formal correction (and can simply be changed in online stories without a notation calling attention to it) are misspellings and typos that do not change the meaning of a relevant detail in the story. (Misspellings of proper names do require a formal correction.)

4. For all other errors, you must follow this process each time:
– Change the online version of the story so that the error is corrected within the body of the story.
– Write a note at the bottom of the story calling attention to the correction. Follow this format, “CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the hometown of Winchester town manager candidate John Smith. He is from Rochester, New Hampshire, not Rochester, Minnesota.”
– Publish a version of the correction to our online “Corrections” page at RegisterCitizen.Com/news/corrections. Publish it as a separate story under “News,” with the word “Corrections” in the tagging box. Refer to the headline of the story, and the date the story was published. Use the headline to link back to the actual story.
– If an error appeared in the print edition, draft a correction as a separate story in Prestige. Refer to the headline of the story, the date it ran and the page on which it appeared.

5. Always repeat the error, in addition to providing the correct information. Otherwise, we are just vaguely admitting we got something wrong, without explaining what it was.

6. Send a copy of each formal correction to the editor, managing editor (eolson@registercitizen.com) and publisher (mderienzo@registercitizen.com) when you make one. Reach out to one of them if you have any questions about how to handle a correction or are not sure whether one is needed.

7. (ADDED THANKS TO ELAINE CLISHAM … thank you!) If you know (granted that some are anonymous) who asked for the correction, or pointed out the error, get back to them with notification and/or a link to the correction, and thank them for notifying us. If someone asked for a correction on a subjective matter that we ultimately decided did not need a correction or clarification (please consult/notify editors before deciding this), still get back to the person with acknowledgement of the request and an explanation of why we are not running something.

8. Do not be worried if it seems like you are making/notifying us of a lot of formal corrections. With the volume of stories we do and facts we report every day, we will be making multiple corrections every day if we are as vigilant as we should be, and our readers are as engaged as we want them to be in pointing out problems.

Here is the corrections policy we have posted for readers on RegisterCitizen.Com:

The Register Citizen strives for accuracy in the news stories and other content that are published on RegisterCitizen.Com and in its print edition.
We are committed to correcting all errors that come to our attention, and encourage readers, story sources and the community at-large to point them out to us.
Errors can be brought to our attention in a number of ways, including contacting the reporter who wrote the story in question by email or phone, or contacting Managing Editor Emily M. Olson at editor@registercitizen.com or 860-489-3121, ext. 334, or Publisher Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@registercitizen.com or 860-489-3121, ext. 350.
Readers can also use the “Fact Check” form that appears on this page and at the bottom of every story that we publish on RegisterCitizen.Com. You can report errors anonymously, or provide an email and/or other contact information so that we can confirm receipt and/or action on the matter, and ask you to clarify if necessary.
We believe that no correction is too small to deserve our attention, and so we urge readers to notify us of everything from clear errors in fact, to misspelling of names, to improper or missing context that leads to a misrepresentation of the issue being discussed.
We strive to correct errors in our reporting as quickly as possible, and in several ways.
If a story has appeared both online and in print, we will print a correction in both places. Our Corrections box in the print edition of The Register Citizen is printed on our daily editorial page. Our Corrections page online is at RegisterCitizen.Com/news/corrections.
Because we are able to edit stories online after they are initially published, we will do so to fix the information that was wrong. But we will also list a note at the bottom of the story marked “CORRECTION” that points out what was changed from the earlier version of the story. That correction note will also be printed on this page of the website.
Online and in print, we believe that corrections should repeat the error and then report what the correct information is so that readers get the full picture of how our reporting and/or editing went wrong.
We can’t guarantee a mistake-free newspaper and website, but we can pledge to be transparent about how we deal with and correct mistakes. That is the goal of this corrections policy and corrections page. If you feel points are missing from this policy, please contact Publisher Matt DeRienzo at mderienzo@registercitizen.com or 860-489-3121, ext. 350, with your suggestions.

Posted in Corrections, Fact Check | 1 Comment

Journal Register Company’s ‘one new technology’ challenge

One of John Paton’s first blog posts after becoming CEO of Journal Register Company in February was a challenge to every employee in the company to “learn one new technology” in 2010. The idea came from a reader of his blog, Shafqat Islam, who was excited about the aggressive “Digital First” strategy Paton had announced for JRC.

I checked in with each member of my staff of about 40 people in Torrington, Connecticut, last week to see how we’re doing.

As expected, I guess, the newsroom leads other departments in fulfilling the goal of learning one new technology, and newsroom employees involved more directly in journalism and content gathering lead those whose jobs are more heavily tied to our print edition. Copy editors and page designers, for example, have been the slowest to learn and embrace new technology.

Similarly, our graphic artists, whose job is 95 percent tied to creating ads for the print editions of our daily and weeklies, and pages for our shopper, are farther behind than any department in the “learning one new technology” challenge.

It’s a chicken and egg thing. The more your job is tied to print, the less mindset and time you have to devote to learning about digital technology. But the less digital technology you know, the more doomed you are to be stuck in a job with a viability that is shrinking every day and will at some point be obsolete.

If we are going to be relying on these employees to be part of a completely “digital first, print last” culture, as a manager I need to disrupt this cycle and get people off the hamster wheel.

Journal Register Company is offering unprecedented training programs on the use of video in news and advertising, social media, search engine optimization and more. Getting employees to take advantage of them is the obvious step, but integrating them into the way you do business on a local level is the real key. And we’re up against 120 years of inertia built around meeting our next print deadline.

But let’s talk about our progress!

John Paton’s decision to provide a Flip camera to every reporter in the company taught most of our newsroom to expand the presentation of their journalism to a whole new medium. We have shot video with almost every kind of news story. Staff have learned more about editing video. And we have branched into live-streaming of video, including the web broadcast of some important local selectman’s meetings and candidate debates during the recent election season.

The most prolific videographer on our staff is Peter Wallace, a sports writer, the longest-serving member of our newsroom, and the guy in the room most likely to be voted “old-school newspaper guy.” (And while sports stories get the least amount of page views on our website by category, we have discovered that sports videos get the highest amount of views. It’s clearly about finding the right medium to tell a particular kind of story.)

Journal Register Company’s Ben Franklin Project helped reporters and editors learn about the incredible amount of free, open-source tools available for enriching our presentation of the news, and they now regularly embed video (our own and from other sources), source documents, Google Maps and more to enrich stories.

Journal Register followed up on Ben Franklin with the JRC Idea Lab, and we were fortunate to have one of our reporters, Kaitlyn Yeager, chosen for it. Kaitlyn’s Idea Lab work has brought many great ideas and learning experiences to the staff so far. An example was election night, when we used Google Docs to create a large, town-by-town voting results chart. We embedded it “above the fold” on the home page of our website, and Google Docs allowed multiple staff members, at the same time, to input results that showed up on the web in real time. It made for the fastest and most comprehensive election night results we’d ever been able to provide to readers. That chart, and what we have learned over the past nine months about search engine optimization, helped us lead all Journal Register Company newspapers in the traffic bump that we got from election night – up 77.4% in page views and up 72.1% in monthly unique visitors.

Effective use of social media was the “one new technology” that many staff members chose when John Paton made his challenge in the spring.

Newsroom staff have settled into a routine on breaking news stories of posting even a brief confirmation of the story to our website, posting a link to Twitter, sending a blast to our free email news alert subscribers, and then sharing on Facebook. Soon, that process across JRC will start with a text message to mobile phones.

Social media was also the “one new technology” that most of our advertising staff wanted to learn this year.

Our classified department is using Twitter to promote online job postings through our partnership with Monster Hot Jobs, getting better results for our advertisers and more traffic to our “help wanted” site.

And while sales reps and managers have lagged behind the newsroom in using Twitter, Facebook and Four Square to connect with clients, they have learned this year that they need to work with clients on how to incorporate these free social media tools into an overall marketing plan. In the past, through our own ignorance we would have ignored their role or treated them as competition.

We started 2010 intrigued by John Paton’s challenge to “learn one new technology.” We have found, over the course of the year, that the company is creating an environment where we are continuously learning.

Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2011.

Posted in John Paton, Journal Register Company | 2 Comments