How to prevent misspelled names and why it matters

Craig Silverman, who wrote the book Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, says research shows that the most common newspaper errors are misquotes, followed by incorrect headlines, numerical errors, general misspellings, incorrect job titles, and misspellings of names. The one thing that stands out when you look at Silverman’s list is that all are so eminently preventable. And maybe the most egregious is spelling someone’s name wrong – because all it takes is for a reporter to ask about spelling. Most name misspellings are when we assume we know. Someone introduces himself as John Smith, and we assume that’s the spelling, rather than ask – and it turns out he’s Jon Smyth. This Poynter piece on misspelling of names shows why it’s so important, so it’s probably something you should print and distribute among your reporters.


Texoma Enterprise goes digital-only

The Center received an email this week from Dale and Lana Rideout, publishers of the Texoma Enterprise, announcing that as of the first of this year the Enterprise would be available only as a digital edition. The Enterprise is certainly not the only paper in Texas facing some of the issues that led to this decision, so we asked Dale to write an open letter telling why they chose to convert to a digital platform for the paper.  Here are excerpts from that letter:

“Lana and I are both 66 years old and ready to slow down some. We have tried to sell our newspaper and thought we had a buyer ready to take over, but she backed out as of the first of the year. That is probably the main feature that caused us to make the change.

“Our thinking on the matter is that for several years we have not been able to maintain the advertising necessary to keep up with our costs. We have not wanted to leave our readers without a newspaper of some type but just did not have the time and energy at our age to keep on as we were going. We found out on Friday, Dec. 31, that the sale would not be taking place. We had to do something. It had crossed our minds back in October to close our newspaper, but we had this potential buyer so continued under her direction until she backed out.

“Now, what to do. We could not keep on with the printing costs and postage. We also were driving about 200 miles a week to get the paper printed, addressed, and delivered to post offices and retail stores for sales.

“Neither Lana nor I wanted to just drop the business of providing news coverage. I had taken several short courses at TCU, compliments of the Texas Newspaper Foundation. Much of what I learned we put into practice. One of the courses dealt with the use of websites. I told Lana that if she agreed we were at the right time and place to discontinue a print edition and go with a full-time website. She agreed, so as of the very first issue for 2011 we no longer offer a print edition.

“We will continue selling advertising for the website and a small edition handed out locally. Again this small edition came from the TCU classes. We print on our copy machine an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet, folded in half to make four pages. It looks very much like a "baby" edition of the newspaper. It contains some of the most important information and advertising from those who purchased advertising on the website. We have it available for free from various locations in the three-town area we have been covering for years — Howe, Van Alstyne and Tom Bean. This small edition is for the convenience of the folks who have never learned to use a computer and have no interest in doing so. It also is a great place to advertise our website and mention other articles and subjects available there.

“Just did a quick survey of the email answers my wife got from her announcement of our change: Every single one congratulated us on the change and wished us the best. No one was unhappy with us for our decision. Only one subscriber requested a refund. Another subscriber was ready to send us a check to subscribe to the web site. (We have decided to make it free also.) Here are a few of the comments we received ‘…James and I can keep up with what's going on when we're away…Won't get my paper a week late…A website is the way to go…I think this is great…Perhaps you can pick up the Pottsboro and Denison Daily News crowd (referring to two other Grayson County papers that have gone out of business in the last few months).’

“I guess I have only two major regrets about this decision. First, we can no longer carry public notices and legal notices meeting the legal requirements of the state. We had a lot of faithful folks that used us for that. Second, we can no longer be members of Texas Press Association unless we can get some affiliation with another newspaper.”

We wish Dale and Lana well in their new digital venture.  The Enterprise joins such publications as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News & World Report seeking a successful life online after many years in print.


New workshop will help community journalists make sense of energy issues

Nothing is more important to today’s Texas consumers — and therefore to journalists — than being able to access energy at reasonable costs.   The energy issues faced by the state today are huge, and the dollar amounts involved are staggering.  And to make it all worse, navigating the sometimes-arcane world of energy policy can make your head spin.  Education reporters and cop reporters at least understand the basic terminology – energy reporting deals with a host of terms from the world of science and regulation, and it can be a confusing maze of jargon for reporters.

California energy reporter Elizabeth McCarthy put it this way in a Nieman Reports article:  “My first weeks on the [energy] beat were painful. I was overwhelmed by the words I was hearing—megawatts, BTU’s, capacity charges, and dedicated rate component. I didn’t have a clue what these words meant. But when I began to get a grip on the beat’s terminology and its culture, I entered another world.”

The Center will host a workshop on Thursday, Feb. 17, in Austin to help Texas journalists make sense of the energy beat.  Give us about six hours and you’ll come away understanding much more about energy sources and energy regulation, plus you’ll have ideas and resources for lots of energy-related stories.  We’re doing this with the generous support of Oncor, who is partnering with the Center to sponsor the workshop.

Because of Oncor’s support, we are making the workshop available free to Texas reporters.  Tuition is free, parking is free, and even your lunch is free. This workshop will be held in Austin at the headquarters of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas, which is located at 1700 Rio Grande St., Suite 100. Check-in begins at 10 a.m. on Feb. 17 and the workshop will be over by 3:30 p.m.

The one-day workshop, “Reporting on Electrical Energy Issues:  Energy Trends, Energy Science, and Energy Regulation for Today’s Texas Readers,” will look at how reporters can find and pursue ideas for energy-related stories about the issues most important to readers.

And additional benefit will be that you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions of some of the state’s top energy experts.

We want reporters to go back to their papers and Internet news sites with an increased understanding of the complex choices Texas is now facing. Stories about energy regulation, sources of green energy, and the trends we’re seeing in energy exploration and delivery are really important to all Texans, and we want to help reporters get a handle on how they can make these issues come alive for their readers.

 Oncor funded the workshop but left the selection of speakers and the agenda up to the Center. 

Speakers for the workshop include BruceHight, former energy reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and now senior advisor at Public Strategies, Inc.; Terry Hadley, former TV reporter, now director of communications for the Texas Public Utilities Commission; Kate Galbraith, former energy reporter for The New York Times, now with the Texas Tribune; Catherine Cuellar, senior communications specialist at Oncor; and Andrew Chavez and me from the Center.

To register or to get more information on the workshop, go to the application page at /forms/workshop-application

Community Journalism

New community journalism award offered by Fort Worth SPJ

A “Community Watchdog” award will be given to a Texas community newspaper this year. The new prize is part of the Fort Worth Society of Professional Journalists’ First Amendment Awards, and is open to community newspapers throughout the state. The watchdog award is one of 10 different categories in the SPJ contest. All are open to media throughout Texas, but the Community Watchdog award is open only to publications under 10,000 circulation. The call for entries says the award will be given to “exemplary work – news, feature, investigative, opinion – involving public records.”


AOL’s Patch worth watching for Texas community newspapers

When you think of AOL, your image is probably that of an Internet pioneer, now a major e-mail provider.  And the phrase you probably associate with AOL is the signature greeting, “You’ve got mail.”

So imagine the same voice, but this time he’s saying “You’ve got competition.”

AOL is now more than an Internet portal – now it’s also a content provider following the launch in 2009 of Patch, a network of news sites.  Currently there are more than 450 in 19 states throughout the nation, with 500 planned for the near future.  Each covers a community of between 20,000 and 50,000.

Patch was the biggest hirer of journalists in the United States in 2010 – each site has a full-time local editor, supplemented by freelancers.  Each site features free access, supported by local advertising.  And AOL’s pockets are deep enough to sustain losses while they wait for Patch to take hold.

Patch features a back-to-the-basics approach.  They have hyperlocal content – people news, local government, schools, crime, sports and the like.

I recently talked with Patch representatives about Texas – and the news there is that while there are no Patch sites in the Texas, we’re definitely on their radar.  And indeed, I notice that Patch is advertising to make a hire right now in Dallas.

Patch has claimed that it can come into a community and operate at 4.1 percent of your operating costs – remember, they don’t buy newsprint or pay for real estate.  The “office” of a Patch editor is his or her briefcase or backpack.  One Patch editor told a reporter for the Chicago Reader:  "Part of my job is being visible and accessible. It means I'm working in coffee shops all over my coverage area. I have a big Patch sticker on the back of my laptop, so when I'm working people can recognize me. Since my site is so young it's a mix of curiosity—'What is Patch?'—and 'Oh, you're the Patch girl. You look much younger.' I didn't explode on the scene, but I've found that as people discover my site they like it. And they come back."

So how seriously should Texas community newspapers look at Patch?  The jury’s still out on that until we see what Patch ends up doing in the state.  But the real issue here is not Patch – it’s the whole idea of online news operations that can provide competition while operating at a fraction of our costs. 

And that is a topic of concern for every print-first operation in Texas.


TCCJ initiates its own venture into community journalism

At the Center , we study community journalism and answer questions on community journalism and provide workshops on community journalism.  But as of last fall, we’re actually doing community journalism.

And what community are we covering in this city of three-quarters of a million people?  We’re covering a ZIP Code, 76109, which surrounds the TCU campus, where the Center is housed. This “community” has about 23,000 inhabitants and covers about eight square miles.

The whole project came about only last summer, when we were looking for opportunities to get our student journalists off campus to cover the city.  We adopted a community that didn’t exist — it consisted of lines on a Postal Service map.  And  if you asked someone from this area of south central Fort Worth where he or she was from, that person would never have said, “I’m from 76109.”

That’s changing.  We named our hyperlocal website The 109, from the last three numbers of the ZIP.   Our goal is to cover the people and events and trends of this area like no one else.  The old Atlanta Journal boasted that it covered Dixie like the dew – and we’re not exactly sure if there’s anything comparable that covers the 109, but you get the idea.

This ZIP is part of a large city, but our coverage area is only the 109.  Our reporters attend school board meetings, but we talk about the implications of votes taken for the 109.  We cover City Hall, but only those actions that relate to the 109.  Fort Worth had a big budget shortfall this year, for instance, but our focus was on service cuts and other implications for the 109.

During the November elections, we had reporters at polling places, doing stories on the 109’s precincts. We filed traditional stories and video pieces, news , features and a slideshow with lots of names and faces and opinions.

We even coined a word – at first, we called the people who lived here “residents of the 109.” Now?  They’re 109ers. Cheesy, but it has caught on.

We are using entirely open-source software and have built the entire site using Drupal, a free content management system available to website developers. We hope to learn a great deal about website deployment that we can apply to Texas community newspapers.

So please check out The 109. Friend us on Facebook to follow what we’re doing in our own venture into community journalism.  And let us know what you think.

Rural journalism Story ideas

Some Census resources for community newspapers

No state gained more new congressional seats than Texas this year. The Census Bureau has begun the process of releasing information and the first data released is on the populations of the states and the percentage change in that population over the past 10 years. Check out the interactive map that tracks population change, population density and apportionment. And if you find it all confusing, check out this YouTube video on the apportionment process made by the Census Bureau. See also Al Tompkins’ Poynter article about how journalists can mine census data for story ideas. You might also want to check out Investigative Reporters and Editors’ 25-minute webinar to help journalists make sense of the Census. The webinar costs $5 for IRE members and $10 for non-members.

Online news

The 18 most innovative alternative news stories

This ain’t your grandaddy’s journalism. And though most of us learned to write using the traditional news and feature approaches, new media have given us many more ways to tell stories. So spend some time with this site — perhaps you will see something you would like to adapt and try at your paper. But even if you don’t, it’s really important that we follow trends, including those bandwagons we’re not ready to jump onto at this point. So look at the future, including stories based in Facebook, data visualization, the aggregation of user-generated content, creative use of slideshows and more. You’ll probably be impressed that these 18 alternative news stories are just old-fashioned good journalism, but packaged for digital delivery.