“Passionate and always in beta”

… is how Cory Haik, executive producer for News Innovations and Strategic Projects at the Washington Post, describes her approach to life.

“I obsessively survey my landscape and the path I’m going down. You come to a lot of forks in the road. I believe in making choices and I believe, for the most part, it’s all developmental. Meaning that sometimes we pick the path that seemed right at the time. Or right for the 20 miles ahead that we could see.

But then we go down that path and it might not work out. So one has to get to the next fork and choose again. I’m not a real turn-back-around gal. I just try to get to the next fork quickly…

Make a choice, pay attention on the path, look ahead as far you can, anticipate your next opportunity to choose. But don’t apologize unless you’ve really screwed it up. Because generally there is an opportunity to choose again and make it different and better and more meaningful. Journalism has always been a process that way, if you think about it.”

Another favorite part of mine: She says asking good questions and being able to manage on a larger scale are two of her key skills. On Forbes.

JCarn: What’s “good” in online journalism?


The Carnival of Journalism is a blogging community where a topic is up for discussion each month. After last month’s posts, Lisa Williams raised a question in an internal email thread (recounted here) that spun into this month’s topic.

Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?

Every aspect of how we produce, create, tell and distribute stories is changing. An organization like the Online News Association – or really any journalism organization – should push the innovation and creativity necessary to address those changes. It should also aim to “spread it around”. By that I mean, encourage people to try new things, give them resources to learn new skills, and highlight best practices to strive for.

Here are three qualities awards for online (really all) journalism should highlight.

1. Does the project or story use the appropriate medium for each part?

With the rush for multimedia, it can be tempting to produce a video … just because. The same is true for animated graphics or audio slideshows. At the same time, opportunities can be missed if journalists think only within the medium they’re used to.

It’s important is to ask: How can this specific piece of the story best be told? How will the be most impactful, easiest to understand, inviting for interaction?

Outstanding journalism should use the medium best suitable to tell each part of a story, the medium that best captures an experience and informs a user.

Kat Downs, innovations editor and interactive designer/developer at The Washington Post, describes this thought perfectly when she writes about the multimedia project “Coming home a different person,”

“We knew that watching a man rub the missing half of his skull, which was blown out by a rocket-propelled grenade, would connect viewers to him in a deeply emotional way.”

The project used interactive graphics, audio, video, photos and text to tell the story of soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, explain how bomb blasts can cause invisible damage to one’s brain, and explore the question, as Downs asks, “What part of your brain is your personality? What’s left when half of it gets blown away?” The project was nominated for a Pulitzer Price.

Different media formats have different strenghts: Videos let those impacted speak directly, images present powerful glimpses at emotions, interactive graphics help explain complex developments. Journalism prizes should reward newsrooms that discover new ways to tell stories, but use each medium appropriately.

2. How groundbreaking is the project?

This award should honor innovations that have an impact in many different, maybe small ways. It could honor efforts to expand or build an audience around a topic, such as NPR’s Project Argo with its localized, topic-based blog network. These are ideas that expand our idea of storytelling and are used every day in newsrooms.

The award could also honor journalists or news organizations that show how new mediums can be used for journalism. Andy Carvin comes to mind: With his Twitter feed, he shows how social media can be used for what’s essentially beat reporting, while opening the process of newsgathering to the audience. These ideas can be implemented in many ways across different newsrooms.

ONA took a step in that direction last year when they honored NPR for developing its API, which will allow NPR to build future innovations on top of it.

3. Is the project entrepreneurial?

The collapse of the news business model is one of the biggest changes sweeping the news industry. That requires journalists and news organizations to think more entrepreneurial, to find new ways to reach audiences and make money off of their products.

I hear the purists screaming: How can you call journalism a product? I’m as passionate about journalism as anyone you’ll find. I strongly believe in giving a voice to the voiceless, in telling stories of impact and importance to people. I also think it’s painfully obvious that we won’t be able to tell those stories anymore unless we find new ways to pay for the work it takes to create them.

Journalists’ aversion against the business side of journalism has hurt us – we need smart journalists passionate about their work to have a hand in figuring out how we will make money off news in the future. (This was one of the aspects that elicited the most passionate discussion on the JCARN listserv). We’re missing an opportunity to take advantage of the changes in our industry.

Therefore, I think journalism awards should honor innovative forms to reach audiences and frontier work on finding new revenue streams.

Encouraging innovation

Entrepreneurialism, building new ways to reach audiences, groundbreaking, sustainable innovation and making appropriate use of each medium — those are my ideas for what journalism awards should encourage. I believe that honoring outstanding work in these areas will help our industry adapt to the changing media landscape.

Of course, that doesn’t discount excellent reporting, compelling stories and creative storytelling. These qualities will always be the building blocks of journalism. I didn’t mention them specifically because they go without saying, don’t they?

What do you think? Would these points filter out prize-worthy journalism? What other qualities would you add?

Update: Host Lisa Williams has written a summary of all posts in this #JCARN round. From pushing innovation to focusing on the fundamentals again to rewarding those who think outside the box, it’s all there.

Hamburgers and heart disease

It’s what many nutritionists and public health experts had hoped for. Food labeling on restaurant menus shows diners calorie counts of the meals they’re about to consume, hoping to steer them away from the Big Mac to the healthy salad wrap. The only problem: The labels seem to have little effect, reports the Washington Post. While diners acknowledge them, they don’t necessarily act on them.

Eating habits rarely change, according to several studies. Perversely, some diners see the labels yet consume more calories than usual. People who use the labels often don’t need to. (Meaning: They are thin.)

We are unable to balance short-term gains with long-term costs. Many humans are simply really, really impatient. With eating out, the gains are immediate (yummy giant burrito!) and the costs are delayed (staggering bills for heart disease!).

Another problem, reports The Post’s Michael Rosenwald, is that many people still perceive dining out as a “special treat,” meaning you can splurge on dessert. While that may have been true decades ago, going out to eat is now a very regular part of Americans’ diet.

Photo by Roboppy on Flickr.

Some communities face yet another problem when it comes to healthy food choices. They simply have nowhere to go to get them. In so-called “food deserts,” the nearest grocery store isn’t easily reachable and the only options are prepackaged or fast foods high in calories, sugar and carbs. Check out this great video about the obesity crisis by Al Jazeera English’s Fault Lines program.

Washington Post makes social media training mandatory for reporters

Reporters and editors on the Post’s Metro staff will start to receive mandatory social media training, the Post’s ombudsman reports. He writes:

Twitter and Facebook are like personal wire services that filter the constant flow of information across the Web. *

“Social media are not really optional anymore,” says (Vernon Loeb, Post Local editorwho instated the policy). “You can’t do your job without them. Social media are where news often breaks first. They’re a great way to cultivate sources, track events, find experts, and to drive audiences to our journalism… You can’t be a good reporter unless you are involved in the social media realm.

* I would edit this statement:

Slight adjustment: #Twitter and Facebook don’t filter. You filter through these services by choosing which people to follow. #socmedialess than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Almost on the side, Post home design writer Jura Koncius rebuffs columnist Gene Weingarten, who caused a bit of a stir with a recent column.

“You are your own public relations person” in journalism today, Koncius tells ombud Patrick Pexton. The 56-year-old uses her Twitter feed to connect to her niche audience.

The Twitter feed of Washington Post reporter and blogger Ezra Klein.

Interestingly, Pexton cautions that spending too much time on social media could lead to a “diminution of quality.” The example he cites, however, doesn’t address social media but rather an increased focus on traffic stats and online hits. Using social media, in my opinion, can only improve reporting because it opens up a broader conversation with readers and sources.

As opposed to a stronger focus on the “titillating or trivial” to catch web traffic, this connection can embolden reporters to write enterprising stories because they know they will find an audience – they already have one.

Of course, you can criticize that something such as “mandatory social media training” is even necessary for today’s journalists.

@elanazak Why? What “training” do you need? Just use the damn products. Boom. You’re good at it.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Here’s what I think: Of course every journalist should know how to use social media. However, some are either still reluctant, or aren’t sure how to get the most out of it, how to cut through the noise.

Mandating trainings is the extra nudge some people need. It also sends a strong message to those reporters who are already actively using social media that their initiative and commitment is encouraged and supported by newsroom leaders.

Sea levels encroach upon Virginia coast

The EPA report said governments have three options to deal with sea-level rise: They can stay on the well-worn path of building expensive protection and raising streets and buildings. They can beat an organized retreat from the shore, perhaps by offering financial incentives to people and organizations to move inland. Or they can allow people to do whatever they want for their waterfront properties but tell them in no uncertain terms that they are on their own when the waters rise.

A boy stands in the ocean at Virginia Beach. Photo by DavidLind on Flickr used under Creative Commons.

From “A new way of thinking as sea levels rise,” a Washington Post piece that outlines the difficult realities facing the Norfolk and Virginia Beach area, but also shows that planners and government officials there are starting to take a more serious look at sea level rise. The Norfolk area is facing the double whammy of rising sea levels caused by a warming climate and the sinking of its land for geological reasons.

The Navy base in Norfolk is at sea level, as are many other U.S. military bases. Sarah Chacko created an interactive graphic explaining some of the challenges facing these bases as part of the Global Warning project where I was also a fellow.

Undocumented journalist comes out

A Pulitzer-Price winning journalist, formerly with the Washington Post, publicly revealed that he has been living in the U.S. illegally for years. He’s not the first to annouce his status to the world in an effort to change the immigration reform debate.

In his magazine piece “My life as an undocumented immigrant,” Jose Antonio Vargas describes being sent off the to U.S. when he was 12 by his mother with a person she said was his uncle, but who later turned out to be a coyote.

Describing why he went public after keeping his secret for nearly two decades, he writes,

Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country. At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired me.

It’s easy to think of people living in the U.S. illegally as “day laborers and house cleaners,” as a former employer of Vargas writes in a column responding to the revelation.

But there are actually many young people like Vargas. They’re organizers, volunteers, Ivy League college students. They entered the U.S. illegally with their parents or stayed illegally after their visa expired. They have grown up “living like an American,” as one puts it. Some have been speaking out about their situation, such as the young adults organized in the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago.

Young immigrants take the stage - main

I covered the Chicago group as they were organizing a demonstration in March 2010 to “come out of the shadows” and say publicly that they are undocumented. Others have written blog posts making the same announcement. A network of groups has continued to organize in support of the Dream Act.

IYJL Organizer Carla Navoa writes that she tried to reach out to Vargas about a month ago, but he didn’t respond to her Facebook messages or emails. Sounding disappointed, she writes

Although he’s inspired millions of people today, he could do so much for the (Asian Pacific Islander American)/immigrant youth community by connecting with our grassroots efforts.

Vargas story, of course, received a lot of attention — it’s hard to think of a more high-profile way to announce your status than an article on the New York Times’ homepage. It’ll be interesting to see whether his public coming-out, and his work with the group he started, Define American, will have an impact on the immigration reform debate.

The Dream Act, a beacon of hope for undocumented immigrant youth, has been before Congress in one form or another for 10 years now. It most recently failed to pass a Senate vote last December.

Explaining the White House Situation Room photo

The image by White House photographer Pete Souza, released via the WH flickr account.

The picture of President Barack Obama and his national security team huddled in the White House “situation room” was instantly captivating. The concentrated looks, Hillary Clinton’s shocked expression, the fact that it was taken while the people were following the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

The Washington Post calls the image “already iconic.” It has been viewed 2.35 million times on Flickr alone by May 8.

It’s no surprise, then, that media outlets set out to explain the photograph. Not all were successful, however.

The Washington Post does a great job of placing the image in context. In its presentation, a sidebar graphic explains names and titles of those pictured. The main focus is placed on what other clues readers can gain from the image, from stress food like chips and coffee to the high-tech equipment.

“At least two basic metaphors of power are at play: being in the room and at the table,” says art critic Philip Kennicott.

Espionage expert David Ignatius directs readers’ eyes to the hidden clues: “I like the little details in the picture,” he writes. “Which men are wearing ties? Why is the president sitting away from the action, almost in the second row? (Perhaps that defines him.) Why is Tom Donilon, the big-cheese national security adviser, standing, while his deputy Denis McDonough has a front-row seat?”

Yes, the Post goes all out (Does anyone really care Jay-Z once posed in the Situation Room, and the White House, expectedly, didn’t like it?). But they built an easy-to-navigate presentation that puts the image into context.

German Spiegel Online does not do so well. That’s mainly because it hardly adds any information in its graphic. “Who else was there?” the magazine asks, and that’s about as much as users can find out by mousing over the icons in the picture. I’m not sure a German reader has learned anything by knowing that the guy peering over Bill Daley’s shoulder is Tony Blinken. In fact, the presentation probably asks more questions than it answers. Questions like “Who’s Tony Blinken?” (VP Biden’s national security adviser).

Not adding titles or any kind of explanation or identification beyond names is an embarassing failure. A caption would have provided more information — and saved the unnecessary flash use. Another oddness is that there is no way to navigate from the image to additional coverage. No related links, “back to story” button, nothing.

To be sure, these are very different approaches, and I’m not arguing every organization needs to go as in-depth as the Post did. But even a simple presentation could and should have been carried out better.