Notes from Dan Froomkin's Talk at the Nieman Conference
My Dan Froomkin notes as promised.
Froomkin first threw out the idea of blogs as vehicle, correlating nicely with Keefer's take on format agnosticism.
Like all media vehicles, blogs have their benefits which he was quick to share:
- Addictive quality (especially with RSS)
- Interactive (bigger emotional connect)
- Their persistent nature lends towards a closer follow up of stories
He also talked about the divergence between the blogosphere and your editor-next-door: the former values passion, the latter espouses dry objectivity. Froomkin pushed that "passion is a good thing," as long as it was not partisan directed and was instead passion for a topic coupled with meticulous accuracy. A warning for those who would take his advice, however: Froomkin noted that he was pushed out of news for his zealotry in taking to task the White House press conferences (which are still his bread and butter).
Online tools he recommended utilizing:
- Breaking news updates
- Narrative photo galleries
- Explanations, in the form of:
- Live discussions with reporters
- Deeper Background
He also brought up a basic point: People don't read boring stories. It may have all the public good in the world at heart, but if no one reads it is a waste of ink, paper and time.
One thing he also proposed is pushing out agget (raw data) for users to sift through as they see fit. How does this fit at a college paper? Give people the numbers: financial, admissions. Repost campus group minutes, upload the interviews, run a Flikr photostream of photos you don't use, but maybe someone will find useful or fun. For a profession that seeks truth and openness, journalists are not exactly the ideal sources, and editors are loath to let the readers see the nitty gritty.
Another of his proposals: a news blog. Just the facts, but keep them short and to the point. How many more stories could be hit, and how much more quickly could a paper break stories? He also suggested using the news blog to debunk rumors: the short style is ideal for the myth-busting that so often is done but never sees the printed page.
I also asked him about user-generated content, especially how to regulate comments, anonymous and otherwise. He said that the WashPost is experimenting with letting anyone post more or less anything, as long as they tie their real name. He said hand-done moderation, as the many papers currently do it, is too resource-hungry.
An interesting idea, but I doubt people will bite: they are still too comfy with their illusions of anonymity.
Finally, Froomkin gave some ideas on what to cover:
- Feel the current of reader feedback.
- Try and do something that matters.
- Don't sweat the small stuff.
- Tell the real, underlying stories of college life.
- Tell stories of race and class.
- Write about relationships, their changing forms and roles.
- People profiles.
- Ask the big questions.
- Question the unquestioned:
- What do people earn? Does their earning match their work?
- Endowment:What's it at? Why don't we use more of it for immediate needs? Is it simply a comparison point for other schools?
- Question admissions policies
- Is there an athletic culture of privilege and power?
- Stories of privilege, guilt, and responsibility