Story and photos by Angilee Shah, 2016 JAWS Fellow
If you feel like you are being asked to do it all, you’re not alone.
Three journalists spoke on a panel at the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) conference Oct. 29 about the challenges of doing good journalism while juggling text, video, images, sound and social media. Their main message? Stand up for yourself and your stories and resist the urge (and the pressure) to tell stories on all platforms.
“Know what you’re really good at and deliver, deliver, deliver. It gives you agency in your newsroom,” said Chris Graves, a columnist at The Cincinnati Enquirer in Ohio.
Using social media: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Chris knows her strengths. Among them is doing good interviews. Sometimes holding up a smartphone to take a quick photo or video gets in the way.
Charisse Gibson, morning breaking news anchor at FOX 19 NOW in Cincinnati, agreed.
She depends heavily on social media because it’s the best way to learn about things we might not otherwise encounter. Many of us, for example, “watched” the debates via other people’s tweets.
But the panelists agreed, it’s easy to overdo it.
Charisse recalls a news conference about Ray Tensing, the university police officer who killed an unarmed man, Sam DuBose, in a traffic stop last year. All of the journalists at the scene were looking down at their phones.
“We’re so busy looking down that none of us had been paying attention enough to formulate a good question to ask,” she said. “So when does it stop?”
Producing a story with multimedia: When is enough enough?
Fara Warner has a cautionary tale. She points to a Wall Street Journal special project, Cocainenomics.
It was the first big project at Wall Street Journal Custom Studios, sponsored by Netflix and with promotion to the show “Narcos.” Fara oversees editorial design, web development and video to create commercial journalism as the Global Content Director — “I live on the revenue-generating side,” she said.
There are things about the project that are great. On the home page, if you “click to interact” you can “cut the cocaine.” “What this says at the top of the story is, ‘stop and pay attention,’” Fara said.
There are video elements, a map with data and even a game — if you don’t answer quiz questions fast enough, you get shot. She knows Wall Street Journal’s audience loves long-form storytelling — the story was almost 4,000 words — but Fara’s question about all the flashy elements is: “Does your audience actually want this?”
“We put literally every possible thing in this that you could make,” she said. “At some point we just did too much.”
Focus instead on the most effective elements. She points to Ryot’s use of 360 video to immerse people in what it’s like to be in a refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan as a strong example of storytellers using a new tool well.
Once it’s published: Look at your analytics.
Gannett provides its reporters, like Chris, with a dashboard of analytics — how many people read stories and how they get to them. She can also see if her long pieces are keeping people’s attention. A recent 5,000-word piece, for example, has many people staying for four minutes. She found that 60 percent of the traffic was coming from social media. This is potent information for when she is pitching ideas to her editor,
One JAWS CAMPer in the audience said that it is important to learn how to look at analytics because it can give you a way to advocate for the editorial choices you think your organization should make.
Here’s more about the session, which was moderated by freelance editor and University of Cincinnati associate professor Elissa Yancey.