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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

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