Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mile High

Writing from the ACES national conference in Denver, which once again is proving to be the best training program in the journalism universe. In our stylebook, that would be an "undocumented superlative" and our copy editors would challenge it. What makes you say it's the best? What is your source? Have you examined all other training programs? Should we say that it is "among the best," or can we say that it has been "rated by journalism educators as among the best"?

And that's why a copy-edited newspaper is superlative in the quality and reliability of its information, except in this case the blogger just wants to say: But it's the best training program in the journalism universe, and that's because I say so.

The estimable Doug Fisher (his blog is in the link list) and the equally estimable Chuck Moozakis of Newspapers & Technology did an enlightening session today on the various tools that the Internet offers copy editors and all journalists for more easily checking information or getting ideas for stories. The universe of gadgets, devices, widgets, assimilators, etc. really is bewildering, particularly for those of us who grew up in an era when there was one phone company and your choices were desk, wall or Princess ("it's little, it's lovely, it lights").

There was a good bit of hesitation about using shared links as tips for a story, that struck me toward the end as a fear that newspaper people have about relying on "citizen" sources in general -- your usual sources may be biased, predictable and full of boring information, but you generally know their biases and you both know how the game is played. Crowdsourcing involves amateurs, and amateurs can make newspaper people nervous. But as Doug noted, "crowdsourcing" properly should be the starting point. If a bunch of shared links say "there's something going on in Poughkeepsie," that doesn't make a story of itself, but it probably does mean it's time to make a phone call rather than waiting for an official person or the AP to say, "There's something going on in Poughkeepsie."

One of my colleagues, who works in Features, asked if things such as RSS or could help her in her editing -- if she knew she was getting a story for that day on the Nobel Prize winner, she could set up a feed to get information from other sources during the day. A copy chief from the Chron said they already were doing that for their specialist copy editors. Great question and great advice. And Doug made the point that all this enables us to do in seconds the sort of checking that used to take a researcher minutes, if not an hour. This is good, except that the researchers lost their jobs. People are rightly concerned about this all taking time away from editing or shoe-leather reporting, but one doesn't need to spend every minute monitoring one's RSS feeds. A glance or two a day would be satisfactory in most cases. Information updates constantly, but significant information updates infrequently.

But Chuck and Doug, even though they are more plugged into current technology than most people in daily journalism, made the point again -- print isn't going away. Print is the base and the heart of a newspaper. What we need to do is to use the tools offered today to enhance journalism, whether it be print or online or whatever. And copy editing isn't going away -- except in places that wish to advertise their capacity to make poor decisions. It will be different, but it's different now than it was when we were hanging grafs on AP hard copy, or sizing wirephotos sent on explodable paper.

The week opened with an elegy from San Francisco. This writer from the bay is more sanguine about the whole Whither We Goest thing. Read it if you need a bracer. Read it if you don't, for that matter.

(Postscript: Chuck brought in two copies of one of our host papers, the Rocky Mountain News. On the back page of today's is a full-page Macy's ad. On the back of one from 1964 was a full-page ad for the Denver Dry Goods Co. The world has in some ways changed more than we could have imagined, and in other ways it has changed far less than we think, and it's important to keep both in mind.)


Linda Seebach said...

And while you're in Denver, take a stroll past that very same Denver Dry building, one of the first loft conversions downtown and "proof of concept" that there was life in the central core. It's just a block from the Marriott on California, across the 16th Street Mall.

Davisull said...


I have had fun pointing out to fellow colleagues at the conference not just the Denver Dry building but the Neusteter's and what I think was Joslin's.