Digital Tool Tuesday: Resistance is futile — you must learn Excel

November 10, 2015 Leave a comment

1110 the borg

Journalists attending an APME Newstrain workshop last month were getting a crash course in using spreadsheets to tell stories and reveal information from public records.

The workshop, led by Michael Berens at the Chicago Tribune, reminded me that all journalists should be able to grasp the basics of Excel and similar spreadsheets.

But why should features journalists do the same?

It’s simple. We love to tell stories in different ways, and visualizing data is a way to do that.

Secondly, other digital tools I’ve highlighted, including and chartbuilder, rely upon a basic knowledge of spreadsheets to create charts and graphics.

I’ve assembled some links to excel basics for journalists. Berens also uses a dataset of Wisconsin hunting accidents — worth the price of admission!

Data journalism with Excel, Ken Blake, Middle Tennessee State University. This primer includes lots of links to YouTube videos on learning the difference between rows, columns, and importing data.

Introduction to Excel. Peter Aldhous helps you with the annoying things like formatting a dataset and making things readable. He even covers calculations and percentages!

Spreadsheet tutorial. Created by the Advanced Media Institute at Berkeley, this is another basics post that takes you through the initial steps of creating a spreadsheet.

Some tips that even novices will understand:

— When you’re starting to mess with a dataset, make a copy, in case you really mess something else and have to begin again.

— A function to create a “pivot table” allows you to organize your data more in plain English. It creates a window in which you can add or subjects data points.

Digital Tool Tuesday — The List App

October 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.46.10 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.49.03 PM

The tool: The List app

What is it? An iPhone app for creating lists. It’s designed as a marketing tool for celebrities and brands (“The Office” writer B.J. Novak is one of the developers). But it could be a great tool for repurposing copy for the social media audience. It’s also great for extending the life of evergreen packages or finding a new audience for your recipes. You can share your lists on Twitter and Facebook.

How does it work? Download the free app (only available through iPhone) and sign in. Much like Facebook and Twitter, you can follow and be followed by folks. It’s pretty easy to create a list using the handy dashboard.

Make your list. Each item can have a photo, a comment (which can include a link). Your headline and read-in also can include a link.

Examples: PBS created a list to complement “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having” episode on Barcelona. the Washington Post posted a list of “Creepy Internet Rabbit Holes.”

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Tableau Public

October 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Data visualization using Tableau.

Data visualization using Tableau.

The tool: Tableau Public

What is it? Some elegant interactive tools are being made using the Tableau Public tool, which is available at no charge. It’s free data visualization software that — with a little tutorial — you can build interactive maps, tools and other cool stuff.

How does it work? Using a data set you get (or building your own on Excel), building a graphic that tells your story well.

There’s almost too much here to digest (for quickie graphic tools, try but if you have an enthusiastic journalist who wants to dabble in data, let them play around with this.

It’s pitched to investigative reporters for serious projects, but think of the way you can use it to round up restaurant inspection reports, compare school data, or even create.

There is a resource page to view videos that show you how to use the data or how to navigate the dashboard.


The Marvel Comic Universe (How about collaborating on one for the Star Wars Universe!!!?)

How far does your money go?

Songwriters by Age

Mapping the 1854 cholera outbreak

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Disaster tips

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment
Lead image from "The Flood: What We Saw" published at

Lead image from “The Flood: What We Saw” published at

Last week, my state gurgled under 20 inches of rain, roads buckles, dams split open, and at least several neighborhoods in my city were under water.

I’m no longer with The State, so I wasn’t able to discern the thinking behind its disaster coverage. But from my point to view it was stellar, with constant live updates paired with great individual storytelling opportunities with words, video and photos.

I thought about what digital tools might be helpful for getting through a disaster, and am sharing some good practices that you might employ if you have a similar situation.

Find more tips and links in this Dart Center guide.

You can use TV techniques to compete with TV: It’s hard not to turn on a TV for immediate news when a disaster strikes, but the ability to post video on all sorts of platforms can give you an edge.

TV reporters were posting short videos from the scene on social media before they even went live with their broadcasts. TV stations used Twitter and Facebook to tell viewer what was coming up next. News organizations can do that as well.

If people can’t get to a scene, raw video of the scene will help them understand what’s going on. I couldn’t drive out of my neighborhood for two days. Raw video of the nearby business district (without a talking head) helped me assess the damage for myself.

After Katrina, a TV station in New Orleans broadcast raw videos driving up and down certain streets. It was very helpful to those who couldn’t get to their homes yet.

Newspapers are getting better about live streaming. Keep encouraging it. People are disconnected to TV or just have a phone among their belongings. A good alternative is Periscope, which can give readers a glimpse of a situation.

Don’t be afraid to repeat information. Don’t be afraid to repeat information. People affected by a disaster have different needs at different times. Organize this as if your life depends on it. Create a PDF to download, or use Twitter cards spread the word about a specific piece of utility.

Set up a story — and update it often — that includes “real” utility tailored to a neighborhood. “Here’s where volunteers are organizing in the South Main Street neighborhood.” I saw too many shares about calling the Red Cross national hotline or a link to a national website, which didn’t turn out to be very useful.

Use interactive maps, or leverage good maps from disaster agencies. One map from our Department of Transportation showed closed roads, but if you zoomed in, it pixelated.  A county map of closed roads was much easier for me to discern how to get out of town.

Consider setting up special Facebook pages or a Tumblr for coverage of a disaster. In my neighborhood, a Facebook page generated hundreds of volunteers to cleanup sites. You can share their information from their pages and remain useful. You can repurpose older material to these pages or make them a destination for utility.

Push newsletter signups during a crisis so readers can get the latest information. Many of your readers might not know about the power of newsletters; tell them why it matters.

Some other tools to use

Google Person Finder: It’s a tool that allows people to say they’re OK. It’s worth exploring so someone on an online team can navigate it.

RebelMouse: It creates a nice compilation of social media on a particular topic

Twitter Moments: Twitter is curating the best tweets about a subject.

You have good digital practices during a disaster? Share your tips in the comments.

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Digital Tool Tuesday — Newsletters

September 29, 2015 Leave a comment
The lead page of Lenny, a new newsletter by actress Lena Dunham.

The lead page of Lenny, a new newsletter by actress Lena Dunham.

Newsletters are the new black and white and read all over.

While social media networks continue to dominate news readers, newsletters are quietly grabbing fans, niche by niche.

Take Lena Dunham, of “Girls” fame. This week, she launched Lenny, a weekly newsletter that promises to be “a snark-free place for feminists.”

Newsletters bring customized content to readers. They arrive in an inbox, but they aren’t intrusive. You can sell them through sponsorships. They are easy to measure. They get traffic for your stories.

But there are some road rules:

— They need to be curated by humans. The LA Times wrestled control of their many newsletters and gave them human control. The result? Lots of subscribers, lots of traffic.

— They need to speak to the subject directly. Don’t be tempted to include cat videos in a newsletter for dog owners.

— The headlines need to be chatty and not “headline-y.” You have a bit of room to bring the reader in.

— Add a sign-up tagline at the end of any story. At Bizwomen, we’ve been able to get a lot of people to sign up merely with a hyperlink. BTW, For more from, sign up for our free email newsletter.

— Push for signup through your social media channels. Do that regularly.

— Aim to put fresh content on your newsletter, but you can also use them to repurpose old content, such as photo galleries.

If your newsroom doesn’t do any newsletters, you might be able to use a service such as TinyLetter, which has an easy way to create and distribute newsletters.

Todd Price of, via Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post, shares this list of cool newsletters.

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Digital Tool Tuesday: New Facebook features for journalists

September 22, 2015 Leave a comment
Stream live video through Facebook Mentions

Stream live video through Facebook Mentions

While Facebook tries to dominate the universe even more with its implementation of Instant Articles, it is throwing journalists a small piece of the social network with two new initiative, Mentions and Signal.

Facebook Mentions allows verified journalists (along with celebrities and other public figures) to broadcast live to his or her Facebook followers. It’s a good branding tool to show your readers how you’re covering the news or event.

First, create a professional Facebook page, much like you do with your personal account. The difference is that a Page allows you to get followers, who can see your activity and posts.

Next, you can get the page verified by Facebook, so that you can start using the live video function available through Mentions.

Mentions also allows you to initiate Q and As, and share news across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all at once. It also allows you to see trending posts in one place.

Through Signals, you can establish a dashboard on trending topics.

Through Signals, you can establish a dashboard on trending topics.

Facebook Signal is the social network’s newest reporting tool. It’s worth exploring, because it can allow you to track social mentions of local topics, search Instagram and Facebook for posts on any topic, and create a curated list of mentions, much like Storify. These collections can be embedded into your favorite CMS.

Facebook wants you to use its platform much like you do Twitter. You can hunt for breaking news, commentary or trends

Request access to Facebook Signal here.

Share with us your uses of Mentions and Signal.

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Digital Tool Tuesday: New Snapchat feature

September 16, 2015 Leave a comment

0915 snapchat1 0915 snapchat2

Have you tried Snapchat yet? Still don’t understand it?

Here’s a new reason to check it out? Incredible selfies.

One of Snapchat’s quirky features is the ability to write on top of the photo or video, or add emoticons or scribbles.

Now you can add special effects to selfies you take within the app. The feature, called Lenses, activates while the camera is open. Play along to create rainbows pouring out of your mouth, hearts on your eyes, and other whatnots.

Now why would you even consider such a selfie? To help promote a weird story or a columnist who is ready to cover something live.

It’s also a great excuse to discover Snapchat’s potential: Once you’re signed up, stroll through the Discover section, which many news organizations are using. You can see that they’re curating their own content for the Snapchat audience.

Check out the Food Network channel: The Food Network currently has at least six stories about Pumpkin Spice Latte, including a Coloring Book, short videos repurposing Food Network content, and even a Thought of the Day, a whimsical GIF.

Snapchat was made for feature content. Try it.

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Sofiya Ballin: Creativity, courage and diversity line the path to journalism’s future

September 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Sofiya Ballin was one of the two 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellows.

I started the SFJ fellowship with my mind on two of the largest reporting weekends on the horizon: Made In America and the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia.

I was feeling very journo’d out and I left full of fresh ideas for how I would contribute to the coverage. Meeting and sharing stories and ideas with reporters and editors across the country was exhilarating.

Though I’ve been at the Philadelphia Inquirer for almost a year, during the conference I was able to better understand what goes into producing the paper. More importantly, I understand better the challenges in our industry that go far beyond reporting stories.

Touring the Washington Post, listening to Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, and observing Michael Cavna and others share showed me how there’s no one way to tell a story and engage audiences. And that when it comes to the future of journalism, the pathway has to be filled with creativity, courage and many entry points.

Throughout the conference I was also able to confirm a lot of my inclinations about digital production.

In the sessions, I heard the collective voice of journalism calling for ideas on how to produce quality work and still make money in this changing media landscape. I took especial note of Professor Corey Takahashi’s presentation on the many ways reporters can tell their stories using audio and visual tools.

Going with my managing editor, Sandra Clark, also enhanced my experience. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss different approaches to expanding our audiences, changing newsroom culture and pursuing other revenue opportunities.

A highlight of the conference was partnering with Diversity Fellow Ada Tseng for a discussion about what journalists should know about millennials. At first, we were unsure about what we could contribute to the conversation. But as we began to talk about it with each other, we realized there were so many things that were second-nature to us that were worth discussing. One of the most important topics for both of us was diversity.


Sofiya with Marian Liu (left), SFJ diversity fellows coordinator, and Ada Tseng, also a Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellow this year.

Throughout each session, no one mentioned the importance of having a diverse newsroom, yet there was a desire to tap into the millennial audience or to expand readership. Stressing diversity (race, gender and age) on staff is a major catalyst for broadening readership. I’ve seen it for myself at my own paper. We also stressed that millennials are not monolithic and that people of color are often left out of the coverage.

While our focus was millennials, I was inspired by how hard veteran journalists are fighting for our profession and how important it is to learn new skill sets and to be flexible to change.

Most important, I left with a larger network, a bond with my fellow Fellow and feeling reinvigorated knowing that I have one of the greatest jobs in the world.

Ada Tseng: I’m scared and thrilled about being a journalist in the digital age; so follow me on Facebook

September 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Ada Tseng, one of two 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellows.

It was such an honor to attend the 2015 Society of Features Conference as a Diversity Fellow. I’ve never walked out of a conference feeling so full of energy and new ideas.

From the very first panel — featuring The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey, who talked about the value of creating personal newsletters; Atlantic Media’s Tim Ebner, who proposed creative ways of working with sponsors in order to fund journalism, and The Arizona Republic’s Megan Finnerty, who discussed using live events to build diverse communities — it was clear that this conference was going to be about change.

With change comes the anxiety of the unknown, but it also gives us an opportunity for self-analysis. As journalists, what are our core values that we can’t afford to compromise? What are some traditions that would be better left behind?

My co-Diversity Fellow Sofiya Ballin and I were tasked with a talk titled “What Journalists Don’t Understand About Millennials,” which implies a disconnect between the young ingénues and the old guard. However, it was encouraging to see that we wouldn’t be presenting in front a group of out-of-touch journalists who didn’t understand where the future of journalism was heading.

Here we were, listening to veteran journalists like South Florida Sun Sentinel Managing Editor Anne Vasquez talk about how she overthrew her newsroom and made digital a priority. (“Don’t let print be the albatross hanging around your neck,” she said.)

Or Syracuse University’s assistant professor of digital media Corey Takahashi, who encouraged us to make trailers for ourselves and learn Periscope. And did you guys see Michael Cavna’s interview with Richard Linklater that was fully-illustrated in the style of rotoscoping? He won four SFJ Awards this year — and for good reason.

Sitting among the SFJ community, I often felt out-millennialed. While I do have fun making infographics with Info.gram, I still love writing my 2,500 word profiles. And while I’m starting to warm up to the idea of “branding” myself, I still want my privacy!

Luckily, I had an ideal partner-in-crime. No one could out-millennial Sofiya Ballin. She’s recently out of college and already working at The Philadelphia Inquirer. She Snapchats. She knows how to take a cute selfie. She survived a troll-storm after her article about the gender imbalance of the usage of the word “jawn” went viral, and she lived to tell about it.


Ada with Marian Liu (left), SFJ diversity fellows coordinator, and Sofiya Ballin, also a Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellow this year.

On the bus to and from the Washington Post tour, we exchanged stories about our experiences as millennials in the journalism industry – she a fresh-faced millennial, me one who barely made the generational cut-off. She was bristling at the negative connotations still associated with “branding” oneself, when the reality is that the current state of journalism requires it.

And she’s right. For as much as I resist it, I wouldn’t still be working in journalism if I wasn’t a reluctant spokesperson of the “brands” of Asia Pacific Arts and Audrey Magazine in the small but increasingly-vocal Asian American community.

And Sofiya took it one step further: branding is actually an opportunity for writers to have independence. And she’s right about that too. This is especially true for young, minority writers who are carving their own paths outside the traditional mainstream avenues. The industry is changing.

The very last panel of the conference was about social media engagement and featured The Washington Post’s Jessica Stahl (editor for search, social and communities) and Julia Carpenter (digital audience producer). They talked about how stories did better online when the reporters tweeted them from their personal accounts, as opposed to when they were shared by the newspaper’s official Twitter.

Because audiences nowadays are more loyal to people than papers, they recommended that writers activate the function on their Facebook settings that allowed the public to “follow” them, which means that your readers can keep up-to-date with the posts that you make public.

I was onboard. I took out my phone, allowed people to follow me on Facebook, and felt pretty good about myself. Then, there was a second question prompt: “Who can comment on your public posts? Friends, Friends of Friends, or Public?”

The idea of strangers being able to comment on my Facebook posts made me really uncomfortable. So I flagged Jessica and Julia down after the talk, and I asked them if they told their Washington Post writers to allow public comments. Even if the idea was horrifying to me, but did I just need to get over it?

I thought they would say yes. But they didn’t. They said to do what I was comfortable with. That everyone has their own style when it comes to audience engagement: some folks love jumping into the fray and debating their dissenters, while others have a more hands-off approach, and both are fine. And I could always try it, and if I don’t like it, change it back.

That’s when I realized: adjusting to the times doesn’t have to require drastic measures. We can navigate the waters in our own personalized ways.

Sometimes I wonder if I have the endurance to be a journalist in the digital age — to keep up with all the new apps, acquire multimedia skills journalists of the past would never have needed to know, and even re-invent the way I tell stories if need be. But then I remember: Isn’t that why we love journalism?

Because every day is different, you’re always learning something new, and it’s never boring.

Show and Steal roundup: The best, most creative and weirdest ideas from our conference

September 10, 2015 Leave a comment


SFJ’s annual Show and Steal compilation — always a big hit at our conference — now is available for you to, well, you know what to do.

Click below to see the photo galleries of our members’ best efforts, and share ideas of your own.


Editor’s choice: Los Angeles beer guide; a novel idea from Kansas City; extending the life of your annual guides; a price tracker on a favorite local dish; conversations about race; local neighborhood portraits; online food ideas. Click here to find more brilliant packages.


Online Superstars: A look at an iconic bridge; entertainment podcasts; food coverage on Instagam; niche apps; repurposed photo galleries; interactive guide to dinner and a movie. Click here to see more.


Saved the Day: A DIY craft column hit; adult-friendly festivals; great lists; a guy’s guide to prom; best local places to take a selfie. Click here to find more last-minute ideas.


Holidays: Latest twists on cookie contests; doggie Valentine’s Day; Thanksgiving Day recipes; loads more Christmas packages. Click here for more to inspire you.


Totally Entertaining: The 12 essential musicals; a luxury magazine’s first film; 100 years of ‘The Wizard of Oz;’ Classic Hollywood; South Florida’s party video. Click here for more ideas.

Show and Steal: Editor’s choice

September 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Show and steal: Inspire yourself with these holiday ideas

September 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Show and steal: Super online ideas from SFJ15

September 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Show and Steal: Totally entertaining print and online idea from SFJ15

September 8, 2015 Leave a comment

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Digital Tool Tuesday: SFJ conference wrap-up, with links and great story ideas

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment


The Society for Features Journalism conference at the University of Maryland was a great success.

In case you didn’t make it, here’s a list of the digital tools we discussed during a Friday morning session with Betsey Guzior, engagement editor at Bizwomen, and Corey Takahashi, a multimedia instructor at Syracuse University, and at other sessions.

 Digital tools

Whadda looking at_

Canva Twitter card

Screenshot 2015-08-27 11.41.20 chart

  • Infogram: free version to visualize data (above):
  • IMGflip: easy way to make annoying gifts:
    • Also makes memes
    • Can make pie charts – can add as many slices
  • Twitter cards: creates a text/image card when readers tweek a link:
    • Creates attractive hyperlinks
    • Needs a verified account
    • If there is an error, will replicate through story
  • Mosaically: allows you to make a high resolution zoomable mosaic:
spurrier quiz

Playbuzz quiz

Great examples

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Campus Connection: How to write resumes that impress

August 20, 2015 Leave a comment

School is starting again — and it’s never too early to think about your application for the next internship or your first job.

That’s the focus of our current issue of Campus Connection.

We talk to Dennis Anderson, executive editor of the Peoria Journal Star, about what types of resumes catch his eye and what impresses him.

Here’s something to remember: “But what really helps to make a resume great is a concise sentence at the top, just
under the contact information and before the candidate’s experience. This is your shot to tell the hiring manager who you are and what you can do for the organization.”

Think of it as your Twitter bio, but serious.

sfj campconn4

SFJ launches Crowdrise campaign to support fellowship, mentorship programs

August 5, 2015 Leave a comment
In 2012, the SFJ convention at the University of Maryland included a trip to the Newseum.

In 2012, the SFJ convention at the University of Maryland included a trip to the Newseum.

We are on Crowdrise! Check us out at

Crowdrise is a great way to build support for the work SFJ does. Own main goal is to underwrite the costs of our diversity fellowship program and to launch a mentorship program for student journalists.
Thanks to about a dozen donors so far, we’ve raised $765 — almost enough to underwrite the total cost for one diversity fellow to attend our annual convention! We love having the fellows there because we get to learn from each other. It’s all about sharing.
So let’s keep it going.
Here’s what your donation will do for SFJ Diversity Fellows:

$35: Shuttle from the airport to the University of Maryland

$50: Underwrite the costs for a fellow to attend an SFJ panel discussion on how to help your newsroom make the transition to digital; or a session on ‘show-and-steal’ content ideas to drive traffic and engage readers; or training on how to sharpen your quick video skills.

$75: Shuttle to Washington for Q/A session with columnist Gene Weingarten and followed by a reception with editor Marty Baron.

$150: Foot the bill for one night at the conference hotel.

$1,000: Underwrite the total cost for one fellow.

$5,000-$10,000: Help SFJ launch a mentorship program that pairs professionals with college journalism students, including a weekend writing bootcamp in Washington D.C., distance learning and ongoing personal mentorship.

The SFJ Foundation is a 501c3, and your donations are tax deductible. 

SFJ Conference Schedule

July 20, 2015 Leave a comment
Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

SFJ Conference Schedule

Aug. 26-29, 2015

College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, University of Maryland

NOTE: A free continental breakfast will be served in the Knight Hall Atrium Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning from 8:30 to 9 a.m.

All sessions are in Knight Hall on the University of Maryland campus, except the Thursday afternoon/evening trip to the Washington Post, where we’ll hear four speakers, including Editor Marty Baron and two-time Pulitzer winner Gene Weingarten. We’ll have time between speakers (before dinner) for some small group tours of the Post.


4-5:45 p.m. SFJ Board Meeting: Board and committee chairs

5-6 p.m. Registration, Knight Hall Atrium (a fairly short walk from the College Park Marriott, our conference hotel on the edge of campus).

6-8 p.m.: Opening Reception, Knight Hall Atrium.

Read more…

Categories: Uncategorized

Digital Tool Tuesday: Twitter’s greased ‘Lightning’

June 30, 2015 Leave a comment

twitterTwitter and Apple are hiring journalists to create their own brand of news. And now, Twitter’s Project Lightning includes a plan for followers to keep track of live events, through curated tweets. Buzzfeed sat down with Twitter developers about the project.

 “On Twitter’s mobile app, there will be a new button in the center of the home row. Press it and you’ll be taken to a screen that will show various events taking place that people are tweeting about.”

What does that mean for you?

If you are live tweeting the Oscars red carpet or the Emmys, will your tweets be included for larger consumption, or lost in the curation to larger outlets? The new curation will instantly load videos and have rich image content; and it will be easier to embed tweets across all Web platforms. That could be a great advantage for breaking news events.

Read more…

SFJ Honors the Best in Features Journalism

June 23, 2015 Comments off

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.17.52 AM

JUNE 23, 2015

Terry Scott Bertling, SFJ president, 210.250.3112
Andrew Nynka, SFJ executive director, 301.314.2631

The Society for Features Journalism has honored seven Pulitzer Prize winners and a host of other journalists as part of its 2015 Excellence-in-Features Awards contest.

Also receiving recognition were 10 newspapers for outstanding features sections and journalists in 15 other categories. Winners were announced today.

More than 800 entries were judged in the contest, which honors the craft of feature storytelling and the people who do it for a living at news organizations in the United States and Canada. Winners will be recognized at SFJ’s national conference Aug. 26-29 in College Park, Md.

Read more…

Who’s the Best in Features Journalism?

June 22, 2015 Comments off

Find out on Tuesday by following the Society for Features Journalism using the hashtag: #SFJ15

The Society for Features Journalism Excellence-in-Features Awards honor the craft of feature storytelling, and the people who do it for a living at news organizations and wire services around the country. Follow along as the Society for Features Journalism announces the winners on Twitter and Facebook, starting at 10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, June 23. The honorees include Pulitzer prize-winning journalists, national news organizations, and state and local reporters.

Are you still not an SFJ member? Join today!

Becoming a SFJ member is easy, and our members take advantage of year-long value. Join hundreds of features editors, journalists, and writers, who are making use of editorial resources and professional networks. An annual membership starts as low as $75 a year. Consider joining SFJ today!

Categories: See all contest posts

Sofiya Ballin, Ada Tseng named 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows

June 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Congratulations to the 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows!

They were chosen on the basis of experience, multimedia and writing skills and what they could learn and give back to SFJ.


Sofiya Ballin

Sofiya Ballin is a features reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She began her writing career at 17, crafting personal stories about growing up natural for natural hair website, The Coil Review, which ended after 7 years.

An award-winning journalist at Temple University, she also reported and edited for JUMP Philly music magazine, contributed pieces to, became a blogger for Huffington Post, interned at the Philadelphia Daily News, and freelanced for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ballin joined the Inquirer’s features staff in 2014 after graduation. During her short tenure, she has interviewed mainstream artists and introduced readers to up-and-coming talents, written about trends such as cuffing season and the emergence of Black Twitter, covered major news events such as local Ferguson and Baltimore protests, photographed and produced digital fashion features, and contributed opinion pieces that speak to the millennial soul. Ballin aims to humanize all walks of life through mentorship and her work.


Ada Tseng

Ada Tseng is a writer and editor based in Southern California, and for the last decade, she’s covered pan-Asian arts and entertainment for Asia Pacific Arts, Audrey Magazine, XFINITY Asia, KoreAm Journal, LA Weekly and more. She hosts a podcast called Bullet Train where she turns silly episodes (about Japanese romance simulation games and “American Ninja Warrior,” for example) into serious explorations (of love and remakes, respectively). She has a series called “Haikus with Hotties.” She studied at UCLA and received her MFA in Writing and Literature at the Bennington Writings Seminars. And she loves writing long feature stories on topics that aren’t being covered in the mainstream media.

Make your plans for the 2015 Society for Features Journalism Conference Aug. 26-29th

June 22, 2015 Comments off

Register Online | Download Registration Form | Book Hotel Stay

Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

Join us for SFJ’s annual conference Aug. 26-29 at the University of Maryland for an array of sessions that will be filled with practical, usable information you can bring back to your newsroom.

The conference kicks off with an opening reception on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 26. SFJ members get a discounted rate for the conference.

Conference sessions include:

– A Q&A with Washington Post Editor Marty Baron, whose newspaper was named the best in the business for digital innovation.

– Success stories on moneymakers in today’s newsrooms, ranging from newsletters to special events.

– Inspiration from a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in feature writing, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, and his editor Tom Schroder who has a reputation for bring out the best in his writers.

– A panel discussion on the new ways publications have transitioned to “digital first” and how journalists who grew up on the print side are thriving and leading the revolution.

– A simple hands-on video how-to that will give you skills to use immediately after the conference.

– Tips on digital tools that are fun and easy to use for cool projects.

– The ever-popular Show and Steal sessions, which feature great ideas from newsrooms around the country.

– An awards ceremony to honor the winners of the Excellence in Features Journalism contest

Hotel accommodations:

Hotel stays can be arranged at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference center on the University of Maryland campus. Conference sessions will be in the Knight Hall in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in College Park, just a short walk from the Marriott. We’ve arranged for a block of rooms at the Marriott with a rate of $149/night for a king or $159/night for two queens (an affordable option for attendees who want to share a room and share the cost).

Digital Tool Tuesday: Info.gram (with apologies to Jody Mitori)

June 17, 2015 Leave a comment
(AP Photo/Scott Kane)

(AP Photo/Scott Kane)

What is it? Info.gram

What does it do? Creates easy to read infographics, charts and maps

How does it work? Sign up, and a step-by-step process will take you through creating a graphic.


It would help to be familiar with how to use a spreadsheet. One is available to fill in, but you can also import various spreadsheets.

You can choose among different types of charts, including treemaps (which show proportion clearly), bubble charts (which plot like charts but also show relativity in a cool way) or population charts.

You can add media, including photos and video, have multiple people collaborate on a graphic, and keep track of analytics.

There is a limited amount you can do with a chart in the free portion of this website. But, for feature purposes, this might be enough.

You can embed the chart into your web page, or share it through social media.

Click here for an example.

Have fun with it.

Digital Tool Tuesday: Emoticons

June 3, 2015 Leave a comment



Do you love emoticons?

Lots of people think they’re awesome

You can’t avoid them.

We write about trends.

About fashion

About arts and entertainment

About sports

Try to guess the story we’ve written in emoticon form.

Click here to see the story from Mashable

And check out this discussion on Storybench about the uses of emoticons in journalism

Digital Tool Tuesday: Memes and sticky social stuff

May 19, 2015 Leave a comment


A couple of tools today to help your stories get more attention on social media.

Vox meme generator

Allows you to add text, watermarks, quotes to a photo for greater impact when sharing on social media.

Notes: It’s an open source code thingee, so it probably requires someone with coding experience to load it for your organization’s use. But the result is very professional.

Making GIFs

Easy way to break down a video or upload photos to create a gif.

Notes: Doesn’t include an embed code; stores the GIF on its website, which might not do you much good.

Bridget wishes me a happy birthday on Make A Gif.

Categories: Digital tools Tags:

Apply now for the 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship

April 21, 2015 1 comment


2015 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship

When: Aug. 26-29, 2015, at the University of Maryland

Sponsor: Society for Features Journalism

Who is this for: Journalists of color who produce arts and features content for news organizations or those interested in pursuing careers in arts and features journalism.

What it covers: Travel and lodging costs to our annual conference, plus a $300 stipend for conference-related expenses.

Application deadline: May 22, 2015

The Society for Features Journalism is committed to developing news-gathering staffs representative of the multicultural communities its members serve. Toward this goal, SFJ is sponsoring the Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship Program for journalists of color in conjunction with its annual conference at the University of Maryland. Programming will have heavy emphasis on multimedia, leadership and writing.

Read more…

Digital Tool Tuesday: Meerkat vs. Periscope

April 15, 2015 Leave a comment


Welcome to the weekly feature highlighting a digital tool to leverage for lifestyle and arts and entertainment coverage.

The tools: Meerkat vs. Periscope

Where to find them: Apps for iPhone and Androids

What are they: Easy to-use live streaming to social media. Periscope is a tool fully integrated with Twitter, Meerkat is a standalone app that uses Twitter. Because Periscope is a Twitter-sanctioned tool, it’s easier to stream through it.

How they work: Both give you the ability to live stream from your smartphone to Twitter followers. Both also offer real-time live streams for you to view. Both apps allow viewers to respond with “love” buttons and share the live stream with others.

The difference is in the look of the screen. Periscope’s screen can be highly animated, with little “hearts” indicating viewers’ likes floating during the broadcast. On Meerkat, comments and likes are overlaid on the screen.

Read more…

Categories: Digital tools Tags: ,

Save the date: SFJ’s annual conference at the University of Maryland

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment
Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

Knight Hall at the University of Maryland

Plans for the 2015 Society for Features Journalism Conference at the University of Maryland Aug. 26-29:

We’ll start with an opening reception on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 26, and offer a packed agenda of speakers and conversations that continues through noon Saturday, Aug. 29. Topics that are likely to be on our agenda: money making ideas to take home, new tricks for those moving into more digital content (everyone, right?), new storytelling techniques that resonate with digital readers. And much more.

We’ll stay at the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference center on the University of Maryland campus. Conference sessions will be in the impressive Knight Hall in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism in College Park – just a short walk from the Marriott. We’ve arranged for a block of rooms at the Marriott with a rate of $149/night for a king or $159/night for two queens (an affordable option for attendees who want to share a room and share the cost).

We’re planning an outing one evening for kicks, but this is a roll-up-your-sleeves conference that promises lots of ideas and content for SFJ members to take home and put to use right away, whether your biggest challenge is boosting revenue, creating better content, or learning new tricks to connect with online readers.

Read more…

Digital Tool Tuesday: Yik Yak

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

The Tool: Yik Yak


What is it? A social media app that allows users to post anonymously; others “endorse” the posts to make them “hot.” Yik Yak communities primarily are around college campuses; the users are primarily students.

How does it work? People post observations; you can find “nearby” Yik Yaks. There are two options to view; one lets you see the newest posts; the other is to see the “hot” posts — those posted endorsed (liked) by others.

The search button lets you see featured topics, and “peeks,” which are other communities (again, mostly colleges).

You may include a username to Yik Yaks. That might be a good idea if you’re trolling for info as a reporter.

Read more…

Digital Tool Tuesday: Useful web sites

February 26, 2015 Leave a comment


Digital Tool Tuesday: Useful (and offbeat) websites for features reporting

In this edition, some resourceful websites to use in lifestyle reporting, courtesy of The Journalist’s Toolbox, itself a great compilation of what journalists need to navigate reporting in the digital age.

Food Timeline

Simply done, this is a timeline of the history of food. Want to know when “The Virginia Housewife” was first published? This timeline has that. Want to find out when the first dedicated baby food was produced; it’s got that, too. Click on the hyperlink and get a lot of well sourced material to mine for any food history story. Bonus: a page that outlines food prices in the past.


A USDA site, this includes great consumer information and personal tools for weight loss and increasing activity. Editors will find the Food-A-Pedia a useful tool to discover nutritional information on any food.

Math for journalists

Math tutorials from the L.A. Times Robert Niles. We like the simple explanation of percent change.

Read more…

Did you miss our first SFJ Story Club chat? Catch highlights here

February 24, 2015 Leave a comment

iris burkhart and mother
Did you miss SFJ’s inaugural Story Club Twitter chat about the Sun-Sentinel’s ‘The Lost Sister”?

Catch the highlights of the discussion here.

Categories: Story Club Tags:

Join us on Monday for #SFJStoryClub

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 9.57.32 AM

The newsroom gets a phone call — two sisters who had not seen each other in decades are having a reunion. The first instinct is to go cover the event, write it up and move on.

But, the folks at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale did a little digging, and came up with this tale of loss, grief and hope.

Now, we’re going to dissect this story apart and learn how it unfolded. Join us on Monday, February 23rd from 1-2 pm EST for SFJ’s first Story Club Twitter chat about “The Lost Sister,” a great piece by Nicole Brochu and photographer Joe Cavaretta, who tracked down this story and turned it around in record time.

To participate in the Story Club Twitter chat you can send questions to the SFJ listserv by 3 p.m. Friday, February 20th. Or, send them on Monday using Twitter and the hashtag #SFJStoryClub. Be sure to follow along next week!

Categories: Features news Tags: ,

SFJ Campus Connection: Journalism internship links galore & tips on moving to a new city

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Our third issue of SFJ Campus Connection is here! It’s the perfect tool for anyone on the hunt for an internship. Plus hear from a Mashable employee about how he networks to find places to live.

Follow this link to the PDF version with hotlinks: SFJ Newsletter 3

SFJ Newsletter 3

Categories: Uncategorized

Digital Tool Tuesday

February 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Digital Tool Tuesday Welcome to a new weekly feature of SFJ, in which we share tips about a digital tool to leverage for lifestyle and arts and entertainment coverage. The tool: Storymap

Storymap screenshot from the Burning of Columbia

Storymap screenshot from the Burning of Columbia

What does it do? Creates clickable map that allows you to tell a story at each point.

What’s cool about it? Embed video and photos at each point, bringing a map to life.

Read more…

ABC News, USA Today interns talk to Campus Connection

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

This fall, we hear from two summer interns and their experiences at ABC News and USA Today. Also, Washington & Lee University (in Lexington, Va.) professors give tips to students.

Our quarterly Campus Connection newsletter aims to connect college journalism students and professors with the features journalism society at large. If you have ideas for future newsletters, please like us on Facebook and leave a comment there. Thanks!

SFJ campconn2

Categories: Uncategorized

Diversity fellows: What we learned at SFJ14

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Mariecar Mendoza WatsonDenisePhoto (1)

The Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship winners, Mariecar Mendoza and Denise Watson, reflect on their time at the 2014 SFJ annual conference:

During a time in the media industry where metrics and analytics rule many newsrooms, it’s refreshing to know that there is a still a smart, creative group of enthusiastic people who champion the art of storytelling.

What’s more, they’re focused on storytelling about music that moves, food that strengthens bonds with loved ones – or helps folks with their gastrointestinal tract.

That’s the biggest takeaway I got from my first Society of Features Journalism conference, hosted in Nashville this summer.

When I was a teen, I always dreamed of being in the same room with arts and entertainment writers and editors who understood the importance of what most newsrooms scornfully dub “fun journalism.” This year, not only got nearly a week with them, but I got real time with them to bounce around ideas – steal a few ideas, too – and find out how they’re dealing with this digital world that has everyone working on so many platforms at such a fast pace.

Tommy Tomlinson, a writer for Forbes, probably summed up what features writing means to me when he told the attentive crowd of SFJers: “I like to write big stories out of little moments.”

Read more…

Categories: Diversity fellowship

Take our Survey and Help Features Journalism!

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

bubbleThere’s never a bad time to take stock, which is why we seek your input on the current status of the Society for Features Journalism.

We have a long-standing commitment to recognize and celebrate excellence in feature storytelling and this remains at the heart of the group’s mission.  But times change, and our workplaces are in transition.  Your daily routine may barely resemble what it was just a few years ago.

Please take a few minutes to share your feedback. Let us know how we can help you in this challenging new environment.

We believe that SFJ is an important resource for you and your colleagues — your smart and savvy ideas will help us keep it that way!

Thanks, in advance. And, take the survey now:

Categories: Members only Tags:

And, the winners are…

June 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Photo courtesy Flickr


Betsey Guzior, SFJ President, 803-771-8441
Merrilee Cox, SFJ Executive Director, 301-314-2631

The Society for Features Journalism has honored four Pulitzer Prize winners and three Pulitzer finalists as part of its 2014 Excellence-in-Features Awards contest.

Also receiving awards were nine newspapers for outstanding features sections and journalists in 14 other categories. Contest winners were announced today.

More than 600 entries were judged in the contest, which honors the craft of feature storytelling and the people who do it for a living at news organizations and wire services in the United States and Canada.

Pulitzer Prize winners who won SFJ awards included:

–Liz Balmaseda of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, who place first in arts-and-entertainment commentary in the small newspaper division. She won a Pulitzer for commentary in 1993.

–Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post, who placed first in SFJ’S Arts and Entertainment Commentary Portfolio category in the large-newspaper division. He received a Pulitzer for criticism in 2013.

–Eli Saslow of the Washington Post, who placed first in Narrative Writing in the large-newspaper division for “Into the Lonely Quiet,” a poignant look at a family who lost a child in the Newton, Conn., school shooting. He won a Pulitzer this year for Explanatory Reporting.

–Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, who placed second for his General Commentary Portfolio in the large-newspaper division. He has won two Pulitzers for Feature Writing.

Others honored by SFJ included this year’s three Pulitzer Feature Writing finalists, a category in which no award was given. They are:

–Scott Farwell of the Dallas Morning News, who won SFJ’s Series or Project award in the large-newspaper division for “The Girl in the Closet,” a series about a woman’s efforts to lead a normal life after years of severe abuse. He was a Pulitzer Feature Writing finalist for that series.

–Christopher Goffard of the Los Angeles Times, who placed first and second in SFJ’s General Feature category. He was a Feature Writing finalist for “The Manhunt for Christopher Dormer,” which was not entered in SFJ’s contest.

–Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who was the writer of the series “The Course of Their Lives,” which earned two SFJ awards. He was a Pulitzer Feature Writing finalist for that series.

Also winning awards was Carlos Frias, who was an SFJ Diversity Fellow last year. Frias, of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, received honors in General Feature, Short Feature and for his body of work in General Commentary and Feature Specialty Writing.

Winning best-section honors in the small-newspaper category (circulation of 90,000 or less) were the Colorado Springs Gazette, Edmonton (Canada) Journal and Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

In the medium-size category (circulation of 90,001 to 199,999), the winners were the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram, St. Louis Post Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

Winners in the large-newspaper category (circulation of 200,000 and above) were the Los Angeles Times, Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Washington Post.

Among smaller newspapers, those receiving the most awards were the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, with nine, and the Edmonton (Canada) Journal and (Albany, N.Y.) Times Union, with seven apiece. In the middle-sized newspaper category, the big winners were The Virginian-Pilot with 10 awards, with five and the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman with four. In the large-newspaper category, the Washington Post received 13 honors, the Los Angeles Times won 11 and the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times had nine.

SFJ will recognize the winners at its national conference Aug. 20-23 in Nashville. SFJ is an organization that promotes and celebrates features journalism.

For a complete list of this year’s winners, please see this link:

Suzy Fleming Leonard, contest co-chair, 321-543-4261
Jim Haag, contest co-chair, 757-446-2977

SFJ debuts new quarterly newsletter for journalism students

June 4, 2014 Leave a comment

We are happy to introduce a new venture: SFJ Campus Connection, a quarterly newsletter with a focus on helping journalists of the future.

Our membership of features writers and editors have dozens of years of industry experience among them. So we are taking advantage of their knowledge to produce the pieces that you’ll see in our newsletter. Best advice for interns, for instance, or links to internship postings.

We also take the name literally — we hope this newsletter will better link SFJ and colleges, and become a useful resource for students who want to be features journalists.

So we are providing the first few issues for free, but after that, they will be available exclusively to SFJ members. Remember, we offer a student discount of just $25 per year.

If you have ideas for this newsletter, please share on our Facebook page.



Video x 2 = SFJ14 in Nashville

June 2, 2014 Comments off

Photo courtesy Grant Wickes

“We need more video!” That’s the battle cry from editors in newsrooms. But where you do you go from there?

At SFJ14 in Nashville, you’ll get instruction and inspiration from two seasoned pros, in two sessions on the opening day of the Society for Features Journalism conference. Val Hoeppner travels around the country teaching journalists how to shoot video. She’ll bring her enthusiasm and the newest tools for you to use. Later, learn how to take those skills to the next level with Josh Meltzer of Western Kentucky University.

Sign up for the conference, Aug. 20-23, at the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University in beautiful Nashville. Click here for registration and hotel details.

A Missing Pulitzer Prize: An Open Letter to Features Journalists

April 19, 2014 Comments off


The Pulitzer board did not award a prize for feature writing this year.


The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark, a former Pulitzer juror and a friend of features folks, speculated this week that part of the reason for the snub is that features journalism is a bit hard to define.

What is features writing anyway?

Members of our organization, the Society for Features Journalism, produce some of the finest narrative storytelling in journalism. Some of us drive cultural and artistic discussions in our communities. Many of us still tell stories no one else would spend to time to do.

And, yes, some of us are writing celebrity blogs, compiling Top 10 lists, making how-to videos, posting reality show recaps and cooking up crazy reader contests.

It’s all features.

Features writers, editors and producers have been rattled by the recession and the changes in the news industry. Arts critics are rare these days, and features sections have been decimated or eliminated.

But know this: Many of the survivors — lifestyle and arts and entertainment journalists — are leading newsrooms into a digital age and finding new ways to reach out to readers and tell stories. Innovative work in newsrooms is being driven by the features staffs, who, through powerful and resourceful storytelling, learned the hard way to create something exciting, often from nothing.

Quality features journalism is spreading beyond traditional print newsrooms. Some of the recent winners in our SFJ national writing awards were from CNN and

Did features journalism take a hit Monday when the Pulitzer board decided to withhold a prize in features writing?

No way.

Betsey Guzior
President, SFJ
Features Editor, The State, Columbia, SC

P.S. SFJ guarantees prizes in its annual writing and best section contest. Enter by clicking here

Categories: See all contest posts

Announcing the 26th Annual Excellence in Features Journalism

February 27, 2014 Comments off

The 2014 SFJ Excellence-in-Features Awards is now taking entries. We’re using an online system this year, which we hope will make the experience less cumbersome. Here’s how to get started:

Get detailed instructions on the categories here, and learn how to apply here.

For details on the categories, check out the BNC site or find them under the “Contest” heading here labeled “26th annual Excellence in Features Journalism.”

The deadline for entries is April 18.

Also, this year we have three new categories:

Narrative Storytelling: A single story told in a narrative style, using techniques such as character development, use of dialogue, sense of place, scene building, narrative arc and adherence to theme. Sidebars accepted. Each entry consists of one story. All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.
Blog Portfolio: Three blog posts by the same writer on any feature topic, including commentary and reviews. Each entry consists of three blog posts. All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.
Digital Innovation: New or improved online ventures, which can include new or upgraded websites, apps, social-media experiments or other ways to share information in the digital world. Entries will be judged on creativity and impact. Must include a description of no more than 250 words on how the innovation came about, its goals and its success. Submit explanation as a Word document attachment. One entry consists of one innovation, such as an app or a website. All entries, regardless of circulation group, compete in one group.

Categories: See all contest posts

@WeAreSfj Among “151 Twitters Worth a Follow” in #journalism

February 11, 2014 Leave a comment


Do you recognize some of these Twitter handles: @nytimes, @poynter, @stkonrath and @wikileaks?

According to, they are among the “151 Twitters Worth A Follow” in its recently released “Best in #Journalism” list.

So the Society for Feature Journalism — @WeAreSFJ — is in good company at spot #106!

Here’s JournalismDegree’s description of our Twitter account: “The Society of Features Journalism helps journalists refine their craft through some of the most innovative posts across the internet. They’re incredibly active in retweeting other notable journalism publications, which only makes their feed stronger.” describes itself as “a site dedicated to providing timely and relevant information about journalism degrees and programs.”

It decided to put out this list because of Twitter’s effect on journalism.

“These are some of the journalists, bloggers, and news organizations that are pushing the limits of what can be accomplished with Twitter,” the site explains. “Budding journalists and seasoned pros should be following every one of these accounts.”

Thank you! We are honored to have been included on this list and we’ll keep tweeting away.

2014 Golden Globes: The Day After

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

The 2014 Golden Globes are over, and the general consensus seems to be: We love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts; we love it when celebrities get drunk and unpredictable; and we have plenty of comments to offer on the dresses that hit the red carpet Jan. 12.

But if you’re looking for second-day story on the entertaining evening, here are three things that are generating talk (click on image for links).

1. How E! considered Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s diagnosis a “fun fact.”


Read more…

Renew or Join SFJ in 2014

December 16, 2013 Leave a comment

imagesGet full access to membership perks, including quarterly newsletters and our email listserv. Become a Society for Features Journalism member in 2014!

Joining is easy. Just download and complete this registration form:

You can also make your membership payment online with PayPal.

And, don’t forget! There is a multiple-member discount, so you can add new colleagues and save big.

Questions?  Email Merrilee Cox.

Happy holidays, and see you next year!

Categories: Uncategorized

Digital technology changes journalism ethics

October 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Kelly McBride

By Greg Braxton
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — Ethics have always been a hallmark of journalism. But the advance of digital technology within newsroom is fueling an ethics revolution.

That was the message behind the session, “Ethics In a Digital Age,” officiated by Kelly McBride, a Poynter Institute faculty member specializing in media ethics.

“Journalism ethics will change,” McBride said during a spirited address during the Society for Features Journalism conference at the institute.

Although independence has been held as one of the pillars of journalism, readers now are valuing transparency over independence, said McBride.

“When we are transparent, then we have the trust that is crucial in a relationship with the audience,” she said. “We have to show people why they should believe, we have to communicate why we are trustworthy.”

Read more…

Creativity can still be nurtured in newsrooms, says Geisler

October 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Jill Geisler

By Greg Braxton
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — The business of journalism is such a relentless beast filled with deadlines and constant pressure that it can have a negative, even stifling impact effect on creativity and attitude.

In a session spiced with good humor and energy during the Society of Features Journalism conference, senior Poynter Institute faculty member Jill Geisler, who specializes in leadership and management, spoke on how to nurture creativity with newsrooms, and how to heighten it without sacrificing the demands of producing news.

“We’re often so tied up on the product,” said Geisler in an address that was mainly geared to editors. “We have to be as good at growing and nurturing people as we are about the product … you want your most creative people to be engaged in the workplace.”

She provoked laughter among the attendees when she said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun,” noting that “play” is important to people who are creative.

“Set up a climate where playfulness can or can’t happen with creative people,” said Geisler, who also said that editors should not be reluctant to use “tough love” when necessary.

Geisler provided several tips, including leading “with Feedback Glasses,” instructing editors to have continued meaningful interaction with their reporters and staff so that there is an understanding of mutual goals, which will fuel motivation between both parties.

Read more…

Reporter talks about profile story that turned tragic

October 15, 2013 1 comment

Leonora LaPeter Anton

By Greg Braxton

2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — Personality profiles can be the most insightful, involving pieces in print journalism, providing in-depth glimpses into fascinating figures while simultaneously allowing writers time and space to display their craft.

But every so often, the process produces results that can be unexpected, and, in some instances, even tragic.

Tampa Bay Times enterprise reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton encountered that delicate situation with her award-winning 2012 profile of a woman suffering from persistent genital arousal disorder, a rare debilitating disease that produces unwanted sexual feelings and responses. The intricately detailed story which exposed the humiliating ordeal of Gretchen Molannen also proved to be a troubling experience for both Molannen and the seasoned Anton, who detailed their encounters during a gripping session at the October conference for the Society for Features Journalism.

Before the story with Molannen was published in late November, she committed suicide. She took her life on Dec. 1, the day after the story appeared online.

Choking up at times as she recalled the experience, Anton defined the experience as a journey between her and Molannen, two people that always had a trace of possibility that something horrible may happen.

Read more…

Editors use their beats to find inspiration for books

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Diane Cowen

By Carlos Frías
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — In the 40 minutes it takes Diane Cowen to commute from the Houston Chronicle, she’d considered, conceived and came home ready to celebrate the idea for her first book.

Cowen, the Chronicle’s food and religion writer, burst through the door, heading for her computer, and called out to her husband, “I’m going to write a cookbook!”

His response? “OK. What are we going to have for dinner tonight?”

They went out to dinner.

She came up with the idea for “Sunday Dinners,” a book that examines the Sunday mealtime traditions for famous families of faith such as Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, simply by thinking about her beats — something she suggests any reporter can do.

“I thought sarcastically, ‘I guess I could write a cookbook for religious people.’ I literally laughed out loud in my car and then… I thought, ‘That is not a bad idea,’ ” she said during the Society for Features Journalism panel examining how books can spring from the newsroom.

Read more…

Digital tool Tuesday: Harnessing oral histories for your market

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 10.18.00 AM

You can use the StoryCorps app to generate your own story ideas.

As you know, NPR’s StoryCorps is launching a big Thanksgiving initiative to document stories between family members on this holiday.

Stories told through the StoryCorps app are being archived at the American Folklife Center at Library of Congress, and are available on the StoryCorps website.

What’s genius is how you can search through the stories to find particular topics.

Ask readers to record targeted interviews; be sure to instruct them to include a certain word (cookies) or town (Omaha) to their interviews. Or arrange a small event (or attend an event) to record interviews of your own.

You can guide your readers by suggesting what questions to ask, or what stories you need.

You also could arrange a small event (or attend an event) to record interviews of your own.

Many universities and historical institutions might have good oral history centers (I found one from Baylor here).

Once they are on the website, they can be embedded into a story or excerpt for print.

Here are some other links to advice on taking oral histories.

Deseret News, April 2013: Preserving family history by using your smartphone


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