Clickable News

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable, meaning reporters have an incentive to write stories that generate controversy and people will want to share.

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable, meaning reporters have an incentive to write stories that generate controversy and people will want to share.

Much has been said about the economics of publishing newspapers in the digital age. Less has been said about the effect of the digital age on the economics of covering the news.

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable. Reporters have an incentive to write stories that create online clicks as much or more than front-page bylines. Some stories and their associated video and links may attract substantial viewership online and yet never appear in print.

Some cynics will say that news departments have always looked for ways to sensationalize the news to "sell newspapers." In truth, reporters and editors are more motivated by presenting news that people will read, whether they subscribe or pick up the newspaper on a park bench.

Today's environment is subtly, but significantly different. Reporters and editors are looking for news that people will read – and talk about. The conversation can occur online through "shares" and retweets, as well as around the family kitchen table and whatever has replaced the workplace water cooler. That's really what clickable news is all about. It is news you want to share.

As a consequence, government process stories have been replaced by harder hitting pieces about questionable government activities or policies. The measurement of newsworthiness has shifted from "news of record" to news that can cascade.

Cascading news can be as benign as the viral spread of the Ice Bucket Challenge to the continuing investigative coverage of the influence-peddling scandal engulfing former Governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancé Cylvia Hayes. These are stories that just keep rolling.

Once a story starts to cascade, it will attract more attention – and more reporters. A story at flood stage will have reporters digging to find new story angles to add to the swell.

The clickable news environment makes news-gathering techniques such as the ambush interview and siege stakeouts more mainstream. It also makes it harder to stop a story once it begins to cascade. It raises the stakes on crisis response.

Online connectivity is the floodplain for cascading stories. Online connectivity means you can share a story or your thoughts about a story with an entire community, not just with a few buddies over coffee.

Clickable news is here to stay, at least until the next big thing unfolds. You don't have to like all its implications, but it pays to learn how to cope with and conquer them. Media training provides a great opportunity to prepare and prep for the current reporting environment.

The Ambush Interview

In a media-rich environment, the ambush interview has become more common as a way to surprise a news source into talking about an uncomfortable subject in an uncomfortable setting.

In a media-rich environment, the ambush interview has become more common as a way to surprise a news source into talking about an uncomfortable subject in an uncomfortable setting.

You agree to an interview, but when the reporter shows up, he suddenly switches to a surprise and controversial topic. You have been ambushed.

You also can be ambushed when a reporter and a cameraman jump you en route to a meeting, asking uncomfortable questions in an equally uncomfortable setting.

The ambush interview is a newsgathering technique reporters employ to get a scoop. They may have new, explosive information or a hunch they will encounter reticence in a news source.

Like any ambush, the ambush interview can be painful. Like any communication crisis, the ambush interview can be a moment of truth where you can shine.

The nature of ambushes makes them hard to anticipate. But corporate leaders, spokespeople, political figures and public agency directors would be wise to prepare. Here are a few tips:

  • Avoid appearing defensive. Don't stomp off from the interview. An iPhone picture of your back can look like a guilty verdict. Take command, face your interviewer and say you aren't prepared to talk about the subject. Turn the tables and invite them to come back later when you are ready.
  • Be aware of ambush points. You may not anticipate when an ambush might occur, but you can anticipate the kind of material that might lead to an ambush. Identify those issues and have a prepared answer in your pocket if you are ambushed. Even a short answer is better than no answer or fumbling for an answer. If you can't provide an answer, clearly state why.
  • Remain calm. Your demeanor is probably the strongest message you can deliver. If you stay calm, you tell the reporter, "I can handle your pressure." Keeping calm provides space for you to negotiate – rescheduling an interview, moving the interview to a more appropriate setting or offering some context on the issue.
  • Don't get sucker-punched. If you successfully defend yourself in hand-to-hand combat with the reporter, don't let him sucker punch you with "Well then, let's talk off the record." This is just another, close-range ambush. A simple response: "Let's talk when I'm prepared" or "Let's talk when the facts are in" is a graceful exit from the reporter's trap.

Maintaining good media relations habits is one way to avert ambush interviews. Return calls from reporters so they don't feel the need to ambush you. Establish rapport with the reporters that routinely cover your company, nonprofit or agency, so you have a reservoir of trust. Be straight with reporters. Be willing to talk about the good and the bad, so you build credibility.

The digital age has made virtually anyone a "reporter." While the ambush interview is a challenge, the ambush by someone with a smartphone who records what you thought was a private moment poses a much greater challenge.

If you are someone with any degree of public profile, the best advice is to believe you are in a perpetual ambush zone. Don't let down your guard. Be prudent and thoughtful in what you say and do. Don't be surprised by an ambush.

Times Documentary Exposes Newspaper in Transition

Anyone who needs to know how newspapers work and how the news business is changing should make plans to see “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Director Andrew Rossi spent a year inside the NYT newsroom to make the documentary, which debuted in New York last Friday and will be released nationally July 1.

The Times represents the epicenter of events and trends shaking the news world, ranging from the search for a new business model – known as a paywall, getting ahead of the social media curve and the use of controversial news sources such as WikiLeaks. The film starts in 2010 with the WikiLeaks hot potato.

To delve deeper in the issues, Google the name of Bill Keller, who just announced his retirement as The Times executive editor.

“Page One” zeroes in on two contrasting figures on the staff, writes columnist Tommy Christopher of the website Mediaite: “The film focuses on The Times’ Media Desk, particularly on David Carr and Brian Stelter. They are fitting proxies for the audience, as they’re each outsiders, of a sort.”

“Carr is the nucleus around which the film gathers, and his musings form much of the narration. While a 25-year veteran, much of Carr’s career has been with alternative publications, and his backstory reads more like a pulp novel than the resume of a media reporter for the world’s most prestigious newspaper. His emergence from drug addiction and crime give him a hard, weathered edge,” says Christopher.

Keeping an Eye on the Prys: Remembering Tom Pry (1940-2011)

Before there was the Pamplin Media Group – the network of suburban newspapers surrounding Portland and outflanking The Oregonian, there was Pry Publishing and its chain of inner-city newsweeklies. Slowly, word is leaking out of Arkansas about the passing of the co-founder of Portland’s smallest publishing empire – Tom Pry.

It’s no surprise if you’ve not heard of, or have forgotten, Pry Publishing, which Tom and Marcia Pry (1942-2001) operated in Portland for about 20 years. So far, only two small Portland papers have produced an obit for Tom.

The Prys owned at least seven Portland-area weeklies at a time when small community papers were an endangered species. The remnants of Pry Publishing now are owned by a variety of different newspaper ventures.

Naming Names: Tough Newsroom Decisions

Bad news happens and when it does sometimes editors face no win decisions – someone will be upset either way.

I recall an incident while I was a reporter for The Daily Astorian in the late 1970s. A woman traveling between her home on the coast and a cancer-care treatment center in Portland was killed when her car went off U.S. Highway 26. The Oregon State Police reported the event as a suicide.

As a routine, reporters check police logs daily and report news about fatal accidents. When the newspaper called the family for a response to the OSP report, a family member strongly disagreed and urged the paper not to report the investigator’s conclusion about the cause of death. After much internal debate, the story was published quoting OSP about the victim’s name and apparent suicide. The family raised a huge fuss.

Shootings: Will Media World Tilt on its Axis?

For unexplained reasons, every once in a while the position of magnetic north (or true north) shifts. Pilots landing at some airport runways that are aligned with the recent concept of “north” may no longer use zero (0) degrees on the compass to line up the approach.

And every now and then a dramatic event occurs that prompts the media to adapt to new approaches in news coverage. Is the tragedy of the January 8 shootings in Tucson and its aftermath a game changer?

In terms of a cultural change, probably not. Consider the comments of one of politics keenest observers.

“We have allowed a culture of violence to grow up in this country: too much hate, too many guns, too many killings,” former presidential advisor David Gergan said in his CNN reaction to President Barack Obama’s speech last Wednesday. “My hope is that he [Obama] will create a broader, nonpartisan effort to change the culture. Without follow-up, the effect of Wednesday night's speech will fade rapidly as the politicians return to the wars in Washington.”

And will we observe immediate, perceptible differences in how the news covers such “moments?” Will we hear a different tone from talk shows and news channels identified with one ideological bias or another? Will we see innovation in how such events are covered?

Blogging Through Open Meetings Swamp

Must news bloggers apply for local government press credentials, such as a press pass, so they may attended closed-door executive sessions at city hall or the county courthouse? Some Oregon communities are mulling that option.Keep an eye on the City of Lake Oswego, where a spirited debate is underway – with statewide implications – on whether a blogger is a journalist, and whether a blogger from non-traditional media may attend a closed meeting.

Under Oregon’s open meetings law, the elected leaders of local governments may hold closed “executive sessions,” where certain sensitive issues may be discussed but no formal final decision made. These issues include labor negotiations and legal strategies, real estate transactions and personnel discussions, among other issues.

Under the law, reporters may attend for background purposes but not report on the closed-door sessions. They must wait for formal action to be taken during a regular or special meeting open to the public.

Why should anyone care? The interpretation of a state law crafted in the 1970s, inspired during the Watergate cover-up era, no longer fits all sizes. Emerging, nontraditional news sources want a seat at the table.

1959-1965: Portland’s Newspaper Strike

This is neither a Tip nor Trend, but an observance of a mega-moment in our local media history. Imagine this: Portland daily newspaper circulation drops. Reportorial staff shrinks. A new form of reporting emerges. And, old technologies are shoved out of the way.

Were these hot button issues on management’s desk at The Oregonian last week? Probably. But how about 50 years ago?