Of ‘hybrid careers’ and thngs getting clear(er?)

Interesting article from the NY Times in today’s Bulletin about a Times reporter and new mom who decided to start a “side business” on Etsy.com.

It’s something my brain has been wrestling with for many a moon — the idea of doing some consulting, workshops and book-writing on the side about what I’ve learned in 40 or so years in the news media biz — about everything from how to write a good news release to how and why the media do what we do (and don’t do what we don’t do) and why – at the local level.

Of course, the trick is time management – isn’t that always the trick? And how to find time to properly do a side biz.

I bet I’m far, far from alone. I’m not about to give up my wonderful day (and night and weekend) job. But it is all-consuming — Deb and I refer to it as “the Vortex,” as the daily tide of news can suck me in and spit me out who knows when. It prompts a typical response like one e-mail reply late last night to me: “Do you ever sleep??” Of course I do, but I usually answer e-mails right away – not just to be nice, but because if I don’t I’ll forget! Such is life when one has no memory, only Google and archives — and they only go so far. (Have I said that here before? Probably. See what I mean?;-)

So while the idea of a little side business that can help people, and help us have a place for folks to turn for such advice … is very appealing, the balancing act is a challenge. Besides, who just works 40 hours a week any more? And who feels so comfortable in their job that they realize they can put all their eggs in one proverbial basket?

Then there’s which comes first – the blog, the Website, the consulting business, the workshops? All interrelated, but figuring out the methodical step-by-step process is both freeing and frustrating. I have started a second book via the great free site http://www.fastpencil.com — working title: “How the Media Works: A Reporter’s Guide to How and Why We Do What We Do, and How We Can Help Each Other..” (Who needs a cover photo with that long a subtitle?;-)

It’d probably be an e-book – they are cheaper, more convenient, easier to update (the Website and blog would make it a living book – I don’t want to buy books, I want to subscribe to them! Besides, I wouldn’t be in it just for the money, but to provide a service I want to see happen – and I see a real niche and need for.

So anyway, back to my point – and like Ellen, I did have one;-) Of course, like many, I have dreams — being a talking head on the networks (see other book-in-progress, ‘Rejecting the Blame Society’) – but know that it’s best to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone, very glad to not just write news articles and help colleagues do the same, but answer people on Facebook etc. when they wonder why 5 cop cars just sped down their street on the way to something. I find out, tell them – and we each benefit from the exchange of information. Perfect!

That’s an immediate, helpful interaction I relish – even cherish. And I’m not about to give that up, no matter where my “hybrid career” dreams take me. One should feed off the other, and make it better.

How about you? I bet you have dreams, too – may they come to pass! And I hope my path gets clearer as I keep talking, and typing about it.

Riding the news tide: Crimes covered, or not

We get all sorts of news tips and comments, as you can imagine. Some, well truly deserve no reply, not even a thanks. Rudeness can know no bounds, as you might expect. But I’m thrilled in little ways when I can provide an answer, a direction to an answer, offer up what someone needs, shed a little light.

“I just completed grand jury duty and I am wondering why you report on certain cases and don’t report on others,” a lady recently asked.

Oh man, that could fill a book or 3. Maybe one day it will. But in the meantime, we had a nice, non-confrontational exchange – and toward the end, I wrote that maybe I should blog about it, and she said, yes, I should – ‘it is so interesting.”

Well, I think so too. Some times I really do think the anger or frustration people feel about institutions such as, say, government or the media come from a lack of knowledge or understanding. Not always, of course, and I sure don’t want to talk down to or call folks’ ignorant. But some just crave some insight – a peek behind the curtain, you might say.

So here’s some expanded thoughts on what I had to say to that really good, thankfully nicely put, curious, non-accusatory question;-)

There are a host of factors that go into what stories get covered or don’t — sometimes ‘equal’ crimes or crashes or fires or the daily grist of breaking news make it into a broadcast or onto the Website or not simply because we do or don’t know about them. Again, for a variety of reasons – it may seem someone asks us every time they hear a siren or see a police car speeding somewhere, but some times those trees just fall in a part of the News Forest where they don’t make a sound, and people assume/presume we know when we don’t. (Then there are those who think we know everything and are upset when we don’t. Sorry, folks – we’re human too.)

The first in a string of judgment calls involves whether police put out a news release. And they may or may not put one out on, say, a minor or non-injury crash, depending on the circumstances of that crash, fire or what have you — or because they are so busy moving on to the next first-responder incident they never get around to it.

But I also noted that some crimes — abuse comes to mind – are not always reported due to policies ranging from federal privacy rules to not wanting to cause added woes when it involves a family member, for example. When police are turning to the public for any other potential victims – or the case is particularly high-profile (a gymnastics coach, a teacher etc.) or severe/disturbing –again, all judgment calls that might be different from one day to the next, depending in part on how many other things are going on that day.

Oh, I should throw in here one response from my kind correspondent, who said that after serving on the grand jury, she “learned so much about the law and, sadly, about our community, living in Bend, seeing the news was the only crime I knew about, but it appears there is quite a bit more going on here than I ever could have imagined.”

A rude awakening, indeed, and bound to change your perspective on your community. Hopefully not to raise the fear level, but a real eye-opener.

I told her I was sure it was “a window into a sad, very troubling part of our community.”

And she said – in what I took as an honest misunderstanding — “I guess I just thought that if an arrest was made you were allowed to report on it. Interesting that you need permission to do that from the police department or the DA. … I am just trying to figure out how all this works.”

My journalistic senses bristled and I answered – fast — ‘No, no, I never said ALLOWED. It’s more like … well, look at the court dockets of dozens of cases a single day. We don’t ONLY report the ones police do news releases on, but those are the bigger ones – robberies, break-ins, murders etc.”

And my reply also included a long-standing line I use that can sound like a cop-out but is just the basic truth: “For every story (crime or otherwise) we get to, there are hundreds, if not thousands we don’t. There are investigative reasons police or prosecutors might not release some information before trial. And lots of other factors come into play.”

I … we should never ever assume people know all that. As for whether you/they believe it – that we don’t choose which stories to do based on who we know and are trying to hurt or curry favor with, as opposed to what’s the most interesting to any given reporter on any given day — well, we can only control what we report, not how it’s received. I often say I take 100 percent credit (or blame) for what’s on the lines I write. What people read between them often has far more to do with what views and other “baggage” they bring to a story than what we write or say.

The grand juror got what I was saying, adding that she’d always watched our news “and I feel better knowing that you all are ethical in your reporting. I hope that will continue.”

“And I also want to say that I was very impressed with the officers and the DA’s office. They are very professional and human and do a wonderful job in our community.”

And thus the exchange ended. And I was reminded that some times, folks just need a bit of explanation about how things work to overcome misconceptions, assumptions or just working in a knowledge vacuum that can lead to all sorts of negative things.

Not always, of course. Many people are dead-set in their bunker mentalities of the us vs. them, and believe everyone has an angle to make someone look good or bad, that we focus on the bad side of news to make a buck rather than it just being … the news (1,000 kids crossing a street safely isn’t news. One who doesn’t, is;-/ Or that we don’t do any(!) good news stories (oh man, stats to show otherwise apparently will never change some minds on that one, because the tragedies/problems are so … sticky and heavy, while the good news often feels like a lighter-than-air will o’ the wisp… fluttering off in the breeze.)

I hope this all came across as more of an explanation than a defense. And wasn’t an eye-rolling exercise in “oh, who doesn’t know all THAT.” Because I really believe there are many who don’t know, and won’t automatically distrust the answers because they come from the Big Bad Media in Cahoots with Big Bad Government.

I sure hope/pray so.

And your question about what we do/don’t do and why is? (And the tone of your question will no doubt play a role in whether I answer and how. Civility meets civility and all that;-)

Riding the news tide: Telling both/all sides

I think I’ll use ‘Riding the news tide’ as the name for blog posts where I try to explain a bit how us reporter-types work, in TV, online or anywhere else. It ties back to my way of telling that my job is “riding the tide of the daily news.”

Case in point: Tonight, a provocative story on a bobcat trapped close to a popular hiking tail. We were made aware, and tonight had that hiker’s side, and the side of those who wish to ban traps, along with info – but no on-camera interview – about the state rules that allow such trapping, but not within 50 feet of certain publicly used trails.

OK, our usual package – the reporter-tracked stories – is 1 minute, 30 seconds. That may sound like a lot, but try picking up any written material and reading it aloud for a minute-30 – see how far you get into the newspaper, magazine article or book.

When folks cheer that we tell both sides of a story, I say something like, “Well we were lucky — this time there were only two sides.”

On the trapping issue, just for example, along with the hiker worried about his dog getting snared in a trap and the folks trying to restrict trapping, there are: the sheriff’s office or OSP investigating the possibly illegal trapping method, the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for perspective on trapping regulations and the role of trapping in wildlife management, and of course — the trappers themselves.

There are probably more sides I haven’t thought of, beyond the general public and their views, based on whatever facts or misconceptions you might see or imagine.

Now, get that all in a minute-30. That’d be like half a sound-bite per side. Without any reporter-provided facts, stats etc.

That’s our challenge. We only get to scratch the surface. We cannot really do Dateline NBC hour-long specials, or 20-minute segments. It’s just not what we’re able to do.

So hopefully, in this case, in the next few days, we’ll tell more perspectives. And those who see one piece or the other will be sure as heck that we’re slanted this way or that.

Or, as with many issues, we will try to tell several perspectives as we follow the path of a public debate over a period of weeks, months, even years. That’s a big-picture kind of balance that one might not see (or believe) looking at any one individual segment or piece of the puzzle.

Add in that many people watch or listen to the news out of the “corner of their ear” while doing other things that involve … living one’s life, and the “did you hear?” partially accurate versions of what we say that can get misunderstood in second- or third-generation retelling, and … well, the opportunities for unintentionally upsetting someone or other expand exponentially.

I’m blessed – or cursed – with an ‘infinite amount of rope to hang myself” (heh) on the Web, where space is, basically, without limitation. But time, and a reader’s willingness to keep going, are limitations that come into play on even the most fascinating (to me) online story.

All this is not meant as an excuse, or a defense of not trying to be objective in every outing. But it’s a bit of the reality we face – just an explanation of things that might not be obvious at first glance.

I have another one to write in a moment. But that’s why I often say – not, again, to get away with anything, but just stating the facts: that “there’s always more to the story.” Always!

The nice thing about that is, that means there’s always more to talk about the next time, whenever that may be.

Tradeoffs and happily uncomfortable chairs

Coming up on six months with my Fitbit Flex, My Fitness Pal combo — and back down to 180 pounds. Down like 30 pounds (my darling wife Deb has lost more than I have, but that’s just fine by me;-)

Fitting old clothes, ‘shopping in my closet’ as Deb puts it – can’t be beat. Sure, there’s a bit of falling off the wagon (I stopped halfway through my 2nd slice of Pizza Hut at Ted Taylor’s farewell party — now that takes willpower in my book!) — can’t remember the last time I ate my beloved French fries, as much nails in my proverbial coffin as cigarettes are for others. Haven’t “forbidden” the bad, just replaced it with good (I really do like Special K cracker chips, for example. And no, I don’t do cottage cheese. Bleh;-)

But everything has tradeoffs. Take sitting, which I do for work. A lot. And is now compared with cigarettes as a killer. Sigh.

If one is blessed enough to lose wait, it doesn’t always go from the places you want it. I really do think it came off my, um, rear end first. So no chair is comfortable for long (well, my LaZBoy, but that’s not a work-conducive chair;-) I even borrowed a fitness ball at work – fun to bounce between keystrokes — but even THAT didn’t prevent a sore hiney after a while. So I’ll be searching for a properly padded new chair.

Don’t get me wrong – I will not go back to Mindless Eating. I log everything I eat, thanks to my lil phone, and will do that even on the fall-off-wagon days.

But now, my rear is saying, in essence, get off your butt! Good message. Maybe I can stand and work. Or work less! (Hah! This weekend I said three little words my wife so rarely hears: “Work can wait!”)

I also have confronted the obvious — thinner does NOT equal fit. Well, fitter sure — but my lower back after last week’s snow shoveling exercise — thank goodness I can walk the neighborhood again — tells me I’ll need to do more than just walk to be in shape. Fortunately, Deb is SO much more full of energy, I have a feeling we’ll be … getting away from the house much more this year. The other struggles of life continue, but we both feel so much better (she also gives huge credit to the Medifast program through BMC BTW;-)

OK, enough rambling. Been far too long since I’ve blogged, just wanted to get back into that again, stop thinking I need momentous stuff to say.

Thanks for reading, and … just let me offer this encouragement – if I can get in better shape, anyone can. I’m not deprived — the flax-4-life chocolate brownies from Natural Grocers are so sinful, and they are on the ‘frequent foods’ tab on My Fitness Pal — it’s just been a joy to realize that a bit more output, more careful, thoughtful input (more protein! fewer carbs!) CAN make a big difference.

YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) — but I hope it doesn’t. It’s a good — no, great thing.

As year’s end nears, a different look at our clicks and views

It’s perhaps only fitting in the world of purely pageviews – and Web pageviews at that — that not a single news article makes the top 20, 30, 40 or even 50 in the most-popular list for KTVZ.COM in 2013, courtesy of Google Analytics.

That is a list from the “old-fashioned” dub-dub-W computer-visited Website, which once was the center of the online universe but now shares equal and, in the future, diminishing billing with that increasingly popular computer in your pocket or purse — the smartphone and the tablet, the portable news viewers of the 21st Century. Each platform has its own peculiarities and statistics, and sure we can combine them all.

But for old time’s sake, let’s focus on the Website for a bit of statistical observation.

The home page makes up 10 million of the 25 million page views this year — and that’s only fitting, because while we want you to click through to all that great content, we also went you to know we’re the place to turn to see what’s new — and the front page, of course, is and always will be the place to start. Top Stories, latest Local Alert Weather Webcast and all that.

The Local Alert Weather page is the single most-visited page beyond that, at 1.3 million page views, and the local news page is behind that at 563,000 page views.

Our sports page is not too far behind, No. 5, at 135,000 page views — so there! And the seven-day forecast is sixth, at 131,000 page views. Our Fox Central Oregon page makes the top 10, in No. 9 slot at 112,000 page views.

Slide shows or photo albums — I use the same interchangeably, probably confusing to some, sorry — make up an astounding number of our top-viewed/clicked on pages — logically, as most have dozens of gorgeous views or fun parades, etc, and each click counts..

But for better or worse, in parlor game or … whatever, the top-viewed slide show, by far, is not all those pretty, scenic pictures, but the Deschutes County Parole and Probation “most wanted” list — well, lists, as each update is a separate item — and all told, they take up nine of the top 20 slots!

And then there’s the funny Nos. 12 and 20 — the “page not found” pages — close to 120,000 of the page views end up at a dead end, frightfully sorry (if I’m sounding British, blame the Christmas “Doctor Who” special) — and just behind at 21 is our Fire Alert page. Our Events page also makes the top 25, in No. 24 slot at 47,000 page views.

Crook and Jefferson counties’ most wanted lists also are in the top 30, as are the national news page (No. 29) and some of our seasonal photo albums, plus the ones dedicated to wildfires and wildlife.

Our Pump Patrol page is in the mix at No. 42, our videos page at No. 49, and you have to go No. 51 to find the very first actual news article in the ol’ (non-mobile) Web list, which is…

Ah, but that would be telling! We’ll be talking about top stories of the year in coming days, and while editorial judgment is on equal par with the clicks, there are some interesting things to share on what drew that particular finger-twitch on the mouse or trackpad.

(Update: Oh wait! That was by Page Title — my goodness, not a spreadsheet or database jockey am I, and by actual page the list is quite different! Several news stories in the top group, and we’ll be laying out the year in review soon.)

Merry Christmas! And Happy 2014 to come!

Judging the judgmental: A moderator’s lament

Some days I really wonder why I ever volunteered to moderate 100s, even 1,000s of comments on our Website all the time. (I know why, of course – because a news Website without comments seems cold and sterile and one-way to me. So either you have no comments allowed, you let them say just about anything that’s not obscene or threatening – or you have someone like Yours Truly who gets to draw the line and redefine ‘offensive’ all the day and night, etc.;-)

Two recent stories prompt this little venting session — both of which I knew darn well would prompt the kind of judgmental comments that they have — after years of this, you get pretty good at know what will spark debate and where the debate is likely to go.

One is a piece on a local panhandling couple. The other is on a Redmond family’s reaction to a cut in their food stamp benefits.

I often post the first comment now, to spark discussion and to plead, even beg for civil comments. Knowing full well I likely won’t get my wish.

Indeed, I ask you to review the comments and see where things have gone. It’s often not pretty, but oh so predictable.

We’re always wanting to, and often asked to please put “real people” in our stories. Many such people are reluctant to appear on camera – and considering the caustic state of our social media-driven online dialogue, who can blame them? Why would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to such scrutiny from the digital purveyors of all that’s right and wrong?

I do understand, especially in the food stamp story – we all pay for them, and so many folks seem to have witnessed so much abuse. Maybe I’m blind when I go to the grocery store – I don’t see it all that often. Or maybe it doesn’t register/ignite upset and rage as it does with some.

But in these kinds of stories, I have to bite my tongue harder than ever to not fire back – a dangerous thing for me, and I do fall victim to getting into the fray at times. But while I’m not much of a religious person – much to the dismay of older brother Rick — I do know the lines, “Let he who is without sin …” and “Judge not …” Some seem to know but not live it day to day, or at least, not in what they say in comments online, anonymous or not. And one only needs to visit Facebook for a brief period to see it’s NOT all about people hiding behind screen names – it’s AMAZING what some folks will say with their names attached — apparently without shame or regret.

Yes, it’s all part of that thing I refer to as today’s Blame Society – it’s always been that way, I suppose, but never so toxic, caustic and in your face. Maybe it was all better when it was whispers behind one’s back rather than shouts in your face while the whole world’s watching. I don’t know. And maybe it has something to do with a certain segment of teens turning off Facebook — well, some — because anything shared online can be scorned, scrutinized and make you wish you never opened your digital mouth.

I sure do know that so many of us are only a paycheck or two away from needing our own Oregon Trail card. And maybe we’d only buy bread, milk and fresh fruits and vegetables, and be ashamed when we get in line and pull out the card. But wow … the judgmental nature of those who get to check a person’s shopping list on their fridge or whatever … it’s simply amazing, and depressing.

Don’t get me wrong – there are some insightful comments amid the nasty ones. And on some stories, people are supportive, kind and understanding. But it seems things like this bring out the worst in some people, oh so predictably.

I often hope that the people who regularly post aren’t who they appear to be by their posting – that it’s an alter-ego, perhaps, or a venting of sorts that allows them to be more kind, respectful, etc. in real life to those they encounter, or their families or co-workers. Naive? Perhaps.

Then there are those who have fired back, calling the critics hypocrites. And some comments I’ve wanted to stand up and applaud – but as moderator, I NEVER a) ‘like’ or upvote/downvote  a comment or b) post under a pseudonym. It’d be far too dangerous and slippery a slope for me.

But I do have this blog, where at least it can be clear I’m reacting to and venting about the comments in general and not about a specific commenter, which causes grief in so many ways.

To judge others is human nature, I suppose. But I just hope and pray that we don’t have to hand out a ‘Here’s How to Sanitize Your Life to Avoid Ruing an Interview’ sheets to every ‘real person’ we talk to. Police, govt. officials — they sign up for the barbs and brickbats that come their way. But “everyday people” shouldn’t have to be perfect to go through a media encounter unscathed. Should they?

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: The only people I really hate are those who seem to be people full of hate and judgment. And if that makes ME judgmental … well, so be it. I can live with that, knowing what the world of nasty online comments has brought us to, or is pushing us toward – unless we take control of the discussion and drown out the nastiness with … dare I say … compassion, civil debate and respectful dialogue.

Care to join me?

Tightening up, letting loose and saving memories: Evernote and Spotify

I am now listening to a live version of a favorite ELO song on Spotify that I NEVER would have known existed, if not for Spotify.

Some swear by Rhapsody, others by Pandora – I Googled for comparisons and still feel I’ve settled into the right home.

I’ve followed a few friends there, and they have introduced me to new music that’s up my pop/smooth alley that I NEVER would have known existed if not for Spotify.

I am paying $10 a month, and Spotify’s postings indicate to me some of that money DOES go to the artists – for all I know, the same sliver that actually got to them from the albums, cassettes and CDs I’ve bought over the decades. I hope it’s even more.

All I miss are the liner notes/lyric sheets. The bios are nice, if brief. They have a lot of foreign/compilation albums by artists with outtakes/alternates etc. I again, never would have known existed if not for Spotify.

For example, had no idea Jeff Lynne has yet again returned to ELO and — like Chicago with its recent Nashville Sessions — they re-recorded their hits to, perhaps, make more direct-to-them digital lucre. Good for them! And for folks like me and my aging kindred spirits, because to hear the same artists still sounding great 40 years or so later is a hopeful godsend for someone who hopes his writing these days is as good as way back then — perhaps better, more seasoned in a way, as I still Ride the Tide of the Daily News.

Then there’s Evernote – I bought the ‘Evernote For Dummies’ book about it on my Nook (darn images are too small but otherwise…;-) I am not using it yet for more than  just an always-synced, everywhere (4-5-6 devices) same set of notes without having to print them out or go deep-searching the PC. It’s also an idea-catcher, a to-do list that has bells and whistles I doubt I’ll ever use – heck, just to get things organized enough to organize the notes into notebooks and then stacks of notebooks SOUNDS so simple, but perhaps calls for a greater degree of organization than Messy Yours Truly will ever get to. But at least all those notes will be searchable forever more.

Put Evernote or some future version of it into the future version of Google Glass and an aging, dottering, forgetful Barney will never truly “forget” a thing – names will go with faces, and I can at least for a while “fake remembering.”

The Cloud Memory. The Great Collective. Both reassuring and a bit unnerving at the same time.

But I can’t re-record/post the old news. It’s sort of like Shakespeare or Picasso or Beethoven or The Beatles — some agent or such applauding over their latest masterpiece — and then immediately going, “Great stuff chaps! But what have you got new TODAY?” Always wanting more.

And while some of my tide-riding gets oh-so-dreadfully familiar, even routine after all those decades – crashes, crime, politics, etc. etc. – so much unhappy news, occasionally broken by wonderful good-news stories — at least no two days in my field are exactly the same, and you never know what’s going to come in over the transom (look it up) to change the rest of your day, week, maybe even month. Maybe even life.

Put THAT in your Evernote and remember it. Or let it remember for you!

(PS: Read just today – and I remember! – that they have found another 10 or so genes that deal with the memory Alzheimer’s eats away. It’s like a race against time – will they fix that awful theft of a disease before most of my generation is in its clutches? Only time will tell. I forget who said that first;-)

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