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Archives: October 2012

Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Filter Out Email Overload

There’s a fine line between spam email and PR pitches when it comes to emails that land in reporters inboxes. Both of them can inundate the receiver and slow them from finding or seeing important messages.

As a reporter and blogger, I can’t even begin to count the number of misdirected and unhelpful messages I’ve had to wade through to find the actual messages that are relevant. I know I’m not alone when I get the umpteeth email about an event or release on legislation states and topics far away from anything I have covered or would ever cover. (Dear PR folk, it’s even more annoying when you misspell my name.) But it happens all the time, both on my work and personal email. Sometimes, these are just an influx of emails from an agency or group I want to receive messages from, such as the state Attorney General or New York Times, but that I don’t necessarily need to see immediately. Often, however, the messages totally miss the target and come from groups I’ve never heard of and certainly never signed up for.

I wanted to give some quick advice on how to make these messages more manageable. In a word? Filters. These will help move those less important messages out of your inbox and to the trash or to a folder for later perusal. I personally use Outlook (2012 on a Mac) and Gmail, so that’s what I’m going to explain here. However, most email programs and sites allow some form of filtering or rules, so the mechanics will be different, but the general idea should be similar.
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Get $1.25 a Word at Midwest Living

Midwest Living uses freelancers in somewhat unconventional ways. They can land a byline in the book, but also get paid to ‘scout’ locations for the mag (travel expenses covered, of course). Though the mag uses a “core group” of freelancers, “We are definitely in the market to build upon that with new talent,” said EIC Greg Philby. Web opportunities abound, as well. “Websites devour content so we never have enough here, and we do rely on freelancers to provide the majority of it,” he said.

The magazine’s M.O. is to provide readers with “the richest reflection of what matters most to them,” said Philby. Coverage includes home and garden, family, travel, food and other lifestyle areas. “We present it all with a distinctly Midwestern focus and flavor. As you can imagine, there is an intensity of pride about where one lives, and our readers are no different. We inspire them about the cool things in our region, and we compel them to take action to get out and experience them.”

For more information on what to pitch, read How To Pitch: Midwest Living. [subscription required]

3 Lessons Journalists Can Learn From Circa

Roughly a week and a half ago, a new mobile app launched for iOS devices that may have a big impact in news circles – not just in terms of usage, but in how it may affect the way journalists and news organizations think about presenting the news for a mobile audience.

The app, known as Circa, is branded as “the best way to read the news on your phone.” As opposed to functioning like an RSS feed by incorporating entire stories for users or as an app providing short summaries to recap major news stories, Circa offers a snack-able alternative for story consumption.

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Basic Tech Tips For Journalists: Finding WHOIS Behind That Domain Name

Note: This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be sharing on some “basic” web reporting tools, tips and tech skills that journalists new to digital tools may find useful but may not know about or may be embarrassed to ask about. Often, we cover the latest tools and trends on this blog, but for new journalists or those just getting comfortable with using the web or data as a reporting tool, these will hopefully give you a good introduction to build from. If you have something you want covered or an idea of something you think we should explain (for example, that question you’ve had to ask colleagues about — or answer questions about — a dozen times already) please send me a note @meranduh or meranda@merandawrites.com or add your idea in the comments below. If you want to track these as they’re added, they’ll be under the tag “basics.”

WHOIS can be a useful, though often overlooked, tool for journalists. But what is it? Basically, WHOIS allows Internet users to find out who is behind a website by letting them access the information about who registered a given domain.

Depending on the registrar and how the domain registrant set up the domain, this information includes the name/business and contact information, including phone, email and address, of the person who bought or owns the domain. Some registrars allow users to register their domain as private, and some domain owners register their domains through proxies. In both cases, that essentially blocks the information from being public. But if the person didn’t pay extra to register private or through a proxy, this simple search basically tells you who bought and owns the site, when, who hosts it and how to get in touch with them. (Technically, registrants are not supposed to lie because that could cause the register to cancel the domain.)

All you need to know is the URL of their top-level domain (this only works for domains, not websites hosted on another domain), which you pop into any number of free WHOIS search engines. There are probably thousands of sites that offer the service, including most domain registration services. I like this one at DomainTools.

So, how is this stuff even useful to journalists? Here are a few scenarios:

  • There’s a new website you came across that someone — you don’t know who — posted with outrageous claims about some company, school, city, person, etc. on your beat. Who is behind this site? When did they register the domain? (Is it recent in response to something that just happened, or are you just stumbling on it?) How do you get in touch with the creators to get more information?
  • It’s election season and websites are going up left and right for and against issues and candidates. Who’s behind the pro and anti ISSUE X domains? They obviously have a stance on the issue and may be a good source. Got a PAC that’s funneling money or ads into one of your campaigns? Do they have a website (even an email address @domain.com with no active website can be a lead, since that’s got to be registered somewhere). Check out their WHOIS to see if there’s anything there.
  • Someone just forwarded you some crazy information posted on a domain purporting to be from a public figure or someone recently in the news. Check the WHOIS to see if the timeline and data checks out. Is the information sketchy or questionable? Was the site set up yesterday but purportedly from before then? Does it check out with other contact info you have about the person?
  • You’re working on a story about a business that’s got lots of complaints. The phone numbers you had don’t work or you can’t find one for the owner. Sometimes, the WHOIS info they registered with is different — so this is another potential lead.

If nothing else, it’s another place to look for potential sources and data. It’s also something I’ve seen mentioned a few times in news stories of late about memes taking off from political flubs. How long did it take for someone to register “BindersFullOfWomen.com” for instance (and while you’re looking it up, who registered it)? CNN pins it at 90 seconds from the moment that phrase escaped presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney’s mouth to registration. That’s not hard hitting journalism, per se, but it’s an interesting fact. And this is a sometimes useful, sometimes interesting tool.

Social Media’s A1 Problem (+ An Idea)

Even if you think they’re dying, newspapers have something your Twitter stream doesn’t: hierarchy of what’s important to read.

Story “weight” is intuitive on paper. There’s what’s above-the-fold, and on top of that, there’s clear positioning of pieces, with one more prominent than another. There’s differences in headline size, perhaps subheads. In some cases, there’s teasers to other stories to read once you’re inside the paper. When you get to the actual stories themselves, often times there’s another indicator: length in inches. Design works to show your eyes where to go, and what is editorially important to look over (perhaps over cereal, or a cup of coffee).

Home pages replicate this idea in part. Article pages are getting better at this, or at least people are making a case for it. Apps for tablets often do this as digitally close to a newspaper as possible. But social media doesn’t really replicate the “story weight” capability of a paper at all.

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