Monday, December 7, 2009

The State of Slate(.com)

In my exploration of alternative news outlets over the past few months, I have come to see a lot of similar qualities in many of them. This week, I looked at Slate, an online magazine. Like many alternative online sources, Slate is targeted towards a younger, more tech-savvy audience, and this is made apparent in many ways.
One way is the casual language. The use of informal language makes the site less intimidating and perhaps more interesting to younger readers. For instance, one of the headlines says “Don’t Panic: the world is totally overreacting to the crisis in Dubai.” I would never expect to see language like that on the New York Times website. Even something as simple as the phrase “totally overreacting” shows that whoever wrote that article isn’t afraid to use casual language. In the article, the author uses other casual phrases like “a point I made earlier this week,” “choked it off,” and “the global economy may have pulled itself out of the ditch.”
Another trend that appeals to younger readers are less formal topics and more fun topics. Slate has a collection of photographs in the main story bar. Today’s theme is photographs of people drinking. This doesn’t have high news value but it still interesting and entertaining. Or “Eight Signs That You’re Boring Someone to Death,” and “The Latest Updates From Barack Obama’s Facebook Newsfeed.”
Use of multimedia seems to be a cornerstone of new news websites. Slate has a section of Today’s Picture/Cartoon/Doonesbury (a comic strip)/ and Video. Slate, like many other alternative news websites is just bursting at the seams with multimedia content. I like this ascpect because I really think it enriches the stories. Watching videos, hearing clips, seeing photos, and getting to look at extended interviews really helps reader dive into stories that truly interest them or stories they need more information about.
Much like the Huffington Post, Slate has headline news as well as blogs. Slate and THP have many contributing authors who write blogs for the website. These less formal pieces let readers follow their favorite bloggers (or bloggers with particular views) and people who tend to blog about things that interest them.
The way I see it, new-age news websites generally have three things in common: a little humor, a lot of choices, and are chock full of multimedia content.
Visit Slate at:

My first time in the A block

On December 3, I went into KOMU not knowing that I would do my most serious story to date later that evening. When we got into the story ideas meeting, I was, surprisingly, the only person who pitched the Kahler vigil. And so, unsurprisingly, I was the one who got to cover the vigil. I must admit that I was a little surprised. I couldn’t believe that they were letting me cover this story when there were other older, better, and more qualified reporters on the same shift. I set my mind to doing the best job I could on the story- both for my own peace of mind and for the memory of Emily, Lauren, and Karen Kahler.
Brooke Hasch was doing a live shot about the vigil at five and six so I spoke with her to get some background on whatever she had already found out. I also read Elizabeth Billingsley’s story on about the vigil that she posted earlier that day. Once I felt adequately prepared (and was so anxious and nervous that I couldn’t just hang out in the newsroom anymore) I headed out to the ARC, where Karen Kahler worked for a year before she was killed.
The vigil was scheduled to start at 5:30pm…outside the ARC. It was so cold outside that my fingers started to tingle as soon as I got out of the car. As I began to set up, I realized there were a number of challenged associated with this story that I had never faced before:
· The topic- Until then I had never done a sad story. This requires extra care, compassion and understanding…and sources that may not want to talk to you at all. Some of them were downright angry
· The temperature- These were the worst weather conditions that I had ever reported in…and it was my first story where most of it took place outdoors.
· The time of day- Nightshooting presents its own unique set of challenges. Turning on the gain, white balancing, and focusing are particularly important (interestingly enough, I focused all my shots manually because someone changed the setting on my camera and I neglected to check them before leaving the station…a mistake I will NEVER make again!)
I learned two very important and very different lessons. The first one is to check everything one the camera before heading out. Luckily, I knew how to get the camera to zoom manually so I could focus my shots and zoom in for tight shots (which was especially important with this story so that I could get the close, detailed shots I wanted without being intrusive). If I hadn’t known how to zoom manually, I would have been totally sunk.
The second lesson I learned was the importance of sensitivity towards sources. I have always known how important it is to be sensitive to my sources, but this story really put it to the test. Even in an ordinary story, sensitivity is important. Sources are sensitive about how they look and sound, in part because they don’t understand that they won’t be on TV long. But this story brought in the added element of tragedy. Karen Kahler’s workout group at the ARC organized the memorial but they were unwilling to go on camera. I think their interviews would have been the most compelling but they were the least willing to talk with me. I had to use my best judgement to try to guess who would be the most willing to go on camera. I had to approach people with extra care and sensitivity toward the subject. When asking questions, I had to be extremely careful with my word choice and the with which questions I asked. I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I also had to be careful not to invade their space and interrupt them in a moment of grief during the vigil.
I am really lucky to have gotten the opportunity to cover this event. I hope that the people who loved the Kahler’s and their great-grandmother feel that my story did them justice. The way I see it, that is the most important thing.
Watch on YouTube!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

Last Thursday, I did my first package for KOMU. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous. When I got to the station, Jenilee turned down all of my ideas. She gave me one about a grant given to the school of agriculture. When I called them, they said they couldn’t comment at the time. The second idea was about elementary schools but none of the principals involved in the story nor anyone in the superintendent’s office who knew what was going were available. They were all doing things for parent teacher conferences.
The third idea finally took flight. I was going to cover a meeting about the bridge repairs on the I-70 overpass at Midway. Kathryn Lopez did a story early that day about the bridge and how business owners in Rocheport are affected. Jenilee told me to make my story different from Kathryn’s and focus more on the meeting than anything else. This made the story a lot more difficult because I had to make sure my story was different but still conveyed the important ideas.
One really difficult thing about this meeting was that it was people circled around boards. This was difficult because it made not crossing the axis very challenging. I think one of the most important lessons that I learned while making this package was that I really need to work on my interview framing. I have found when I start an interview people are generally sitting up really straight. As the interview goes on, people start to slouch and then the framing gets even worse.
The way I see it, it is critical to remember that if at first your initial story idea falls through, keep trying and keep calling people.