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transparency

FOIA Machine Helps Journalists File Information Requests

We all know what a headache it is to file Freedom of Information Act requests to governing bodies. Wired calls this tedious practice that reporters endure “government hell.”

The whole process is a time-suck: crafting the request letter in such a way that it will be read and actually considered, figuring out where in the bureaucracy to send the document in the first place and finally, waiting on a response – which will more than likely be a big fat “no,” for one reason or another. Or, if it’s a “yes,” it takes months or longer, and by the time you’ve received a response, you’ve moved on with your life.

Some people pay big bucks for any substantial amount of information from government agencies (usually 100 pages or more). Despite its necessary function, FOIA can be a real inconvenience, but the information that can be gleaned from a successful FOIA request is invaluable to reporting and more importantly, operating as a watchdog for those with the most power.

To aid with the method of asking for non-classified docs, specifically for the purpose of accountability reporting, the Center for Investigative Reporting has launched what they call the FOIA Machine, a mechanism for automating and organizing the process of requesting public records.

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Native Advertising is Not the Future

The Online Publisher’s Association released a study on native advertising this week that pretty much validates everything we (or I, at least) thought about native campaigns  for news publications these days.

1) Native Advertising is Not the Future

OPA President Pam Horan spoke with me over the phone and says that what the study really surfaced is that native advertising “is really an outgrowth of the custom and integrated marketing that OPA publishers have been leveraging for years.” The thing is that now marketers are coming to publishers, the experts in content creation, for the “skills, content assets, infrastructure that are necessary to create effective native solutions.”

Based on their survey of publishers, the study reveals that native solutions aren’t for every publication, or for every campaign. “There’s a place for it, but I don’t think we’re moving away from banner advertising…publishers know their audiences better than anyone and they know what’s going to drive engagement.” Horan says.

Lesson: If you’re publication is going native — you probably need a really good team in the newsroom to help create and oversee the process.

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Knight News Challenge Winners Make Courts, Local Government More Accessible

Anyone who’s ever tried to follow a court case, interpret a legal document or even obtain one in some jurisdictions, knows how difficult it can sometimes be, even for the dogged journalist determined to see what’s in those dockets. Those legalese-filled decisions and depositions are gold mines of information and stories, but they’re often out of reach or understanding of the average person. This week alone the Supreme Court of the United States this week alone handed down major judgments invalidating parts of the Voting Rights Act and bans on gay marriage, to name a few of the decisions released. How many other court cases out there are setting precedents in your state and community? Chances are you don’t know, or even more likely, don’t know how to know. Figuring out what’s on the docket, where things stand and what they mean … well, who has time and the skills for that? Enter Oyez Project. Now, thanks to funding from the Knight Foundation, the group that has long brought clarity to SCOTUS proceedings can take it down a level, so to speak, and expand its interpretations to state supreme courts and federal appellate courts.

Oyez is one of eight projects aimed at opening up government data and resources that received a combined total of $3.2 million in funding in the latest Knight News Challenge contest. While not all of them are, strictly speaking, related to news, they are all related to making government more transparent and easier to understand and work with. That’s the goal most journalists aim to achieve as well. Here’s a brief glimpse of this round’s winners, announced this week:


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Google, Native Ads and What It Means For Publications

Earlier this week, Google solidified their take on so-called “native advertising,” one that they have been slowly crafting due to the rise of these advertisements in places like BuzzFeed and the Atlantic.

To put it simply: Google has created resources for publications to build native ads with Google’s blessing, but you’re not going to see it anywhere near Google News.

Tools for native advertising are a first for Google, as companies have had to scramble to bring native advertising templates to their own publications. Google will now support these ads through DoubleClick for Advertisers, allowing publishers to adopt a plug-and-play code system that makes setting up and tagging the ads much more easier to execute.

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3 Ways to Up Your Reader Engagement

We all have social media and digital best practices coming out of ears. But after thinking about how big media companies make their dough, I realized that, although there aren’t always the resources and staff and innovation teams at smaller papers, there are some simple, almost silly, tips smaller papers can take from the behemoths in terms of reader engagement. Things that make your organization seem relevant and savvy.

1. Go Vice

Ok, you don’t have to start covering the sex beat in your town, but start thinking outside the box. Vice isn’t just a magazine anymore, it’s also a production company, and a marketing agency. Is there a crime beat reporter who could easily start posting video reports along with his written one? Are there events or causes you could sponsor that you aren’t? Run a summer program where high school students can run their own vertical. Nothing is more niche than a local hometown. Be all over it. If there is a kinky sex beat, start covering it.   Read more

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