COVID-19 exposes limitations of local pubmedia journalism

COVID-19 has been a slow-moving disaster since the beginning. There was no terrorist bomb or mass shooting or natural disaster. The virus was a creeping, insidious mole slowly burrowing into our consciousness and then into our lives and our news agendas. And unlike any crisis in recent history, it will be with us for a long time to come.

Whether we like to admit it or not, there are “scripts” for most types of breaking news. There’s a big event followed by a period of special coverage that’s intense but relatively short – usually a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Then, there’s an off-ramp of aftermath coverage when newsroom operations and schedules can get back to normal. 

To the extent newsrooms have prepared for breaking news at all, they’ve prepared for that kind of breaking news.

COVID-19 is not that kind of breaking news.

Continue reading “COVID-19 exposes limitations of local pubmedia journalism”

COVID-19 exposes limitations of local pubmedia journalism

How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers

Recently, I went looking for reliable data on local and regional public media journalists’ salaries and came up frustratingly short. Here’s what I found:

  • The CPB salary survey is no longer readily available.
  • My friend and colleague Mike Marcotte was commissioned to do an extensive salary survey in 2010, which he updated in 2015 based on the inflation rate, but even those numbers are out of date now.
  • RTNDA’s annual local newsroom salary survey groups public and commercial stations together. The most recent report says noncommercial salaries are almost 50% higher, so the median and average numbers aren’t too helpful for public media employers.

There’s no doubt it’s time for a new system-wide comprehensive salary study, but in the meantime, I decided to do a little research of my own.

I created an informal survey and shared it through my mailing list and Twitter feed, as well as on several public media Facebook pages. Between February 19 and March 7 of this year, 121 people from over 70 public media stations and collaboratives took the survey. While not scientific, its results provide a snapshot of the situation on the ground.

Continue reading “How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers”

How much are local and regional pubmedia journalists paid? Here are a few answers

Firewall Shmirewall: Three warnings from the WUTC case

For the second time in as many months, I find myself writing about the firing of a public media journalist over matters related to journalistic integrity.

Last month, it was Marketplace reporter Lewis Wallace. This time it’s Jacqui Helbert, fired from WUTC in Chattanooga after state lawmakers complained to the station’s license holder, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, about one of her stories.

The lawmakers said Helbert hadn’t properly identified herself as a journalist in meetings they’d held with high school students about a proposed transgender bathroom bill. They said they were unaware the meetings were being recorded for broadcast, although multiple accounts suggest Helbert was wearing press credentials and carrying conspicuous recording gear.

Continue reading “Firewall Shmirewall: Three warnings from the WUTC case”

Firewall Shmirewall: Three warnings from the WUTC case

What my wine blog is teaching me about digital media: Part 1 – Localism

I have a wine blog.

Yes, in addition to being a public media nerd, I’m also a wine nerd. I go to at least a couple of tastings a week, I hang out with sommeliers, I sniff, I swirl, the whole bit.

Last year, under pressure from – and with the encouragement of – a small group of wine enthusiast friends, I started the blog.

It was called My Wine Blog. (Scribbles & Scruples is the only clever blog name I will ever dream up.)

Continue reading “What my wine blog is teaching me about digital media: Part 1 – Localism”

What my wine blog is teaching me about digital media: Part 1 – Localism

New Overtime Rules Inspire Necessary Newsroom Soul-Searching

New overtime rules that go into effect next month are forcing newsrooms to do some much-needed soul-searching.

(I can speak with authority only about my own field, but I know these conversations are going on in many organizations, particularly nonprofits, which also pay relatively low salaries to passionate people who usually aren’t in it for the money.)

There’s been a lot of consternation about this change, from news managers and employees alike. There’s no doubt implementation will be painful at first, but if the next administration doesn’t reverse the new rules, I think they could begin to correct our society’s longstanding and extremely detrimental work-life IMbalance.

Continue reading “New Overtime Rules Inspire Necessary Newsroom Soul-Searching”

New Overtime Rules Inspire Necessary Newsroom Soul-Searching

Good Journalism Doesn’t Come Cheap

Despite the swirling criticisms of “the media” these days, there have been several recent examples of high-quality public service journalistic efforts. They provide good opportunities for a closer look at how this important work gets done.

News flash: It’s not cheap. It involves big investments of people, money, and time.

Here are a couple of case studies.

Continue reading “Good Journalism Doesn’t Come Cheap”

Good Journalism Doesn’t Come Cheap

How long does it take to edit a story? I can tell you. And I have proof.

I’ve written plenty about the importance and craft of editing – about how it’s a collaborative process that starts with helping the reporter shape the pitch and plan the story, continues through the reporting process, and doesn’t end until the facts and audio have been checked and the text and photos in the digital piece are in place.

I’ve also written about how editing tends to be undervalued. After all, it happens behind the scenes, and managers rarely understand how time-consuming and labor intensive it can be.

I now have data that sheds light on the time question.

Continue reading “How long does it take to edit a story? I can tell you. And I have proof.”

How long does it take to edit a story? I can tell you. And I have proof.

Don’t ignore pubmedia core values in podcast debate

Public media has become obsessed with podcasts in recent months. Many think they may be the silver bullet that will finally bring coveted millenials into the public media fold. Many more feel threatened by the success of podcasts in the commercial world and fear public media is missing the boat.

I’ll be honest. This conversation is making me nervous. Not because podcasts are bad or because I’m scared of new things, but because the debate and many of the resulting actions seem to be minimizing three core public media values:

Unbiased news, localism, and public service over profit.

Continue reading “Don’t ignore pubmedia core values in podcast debate”

Don’t ignore pubmedia core values in podcast debate

What NOT to do? The hard part of setting newsroom priorities

When Michigan Radio News Director Vince Duffy shared my last post, Journalists aren’t superhero content machines, on Facebook, he highlighted this quote:

News organizations need to realize that reporters are not superheroes. If you want more content, hire more people.

Vince should know. His newsroom has spent the past several months covering the Flint water crisis nonstop, to a great deal of critical acclaim. But Vince says his staff is working at an “unsustainable pace.”

“The audience is appreciative and congratulatory,” he wrote in his post, “but we’ve set a standard we can’t frequently meet.”

That’s despite the fact that his staff has more than doubled over the past five years and the station has significantly expanded news resources, as this post from the Columbia Journalism Review details.

“Good people don’t work for free, nor can they work 60 hour weeks forever,” Vince wrote.

But then he put his finger on the crux of the conundrum. 

“I also don’t want to work in a newsroom where the culture is ‘Meh, let’s not rise to the challenge, we’re understaffed.’ So I don’t really have an answer for this.” Continue reading “What NOT to do? The hard part of setting newsroom priorities”

What NOT to do? The hard part of setting newsroom priorities

Whither the News? How podcasts and storytelling are blurring the lines between news and entertainment … and why it matters

Judith’s Website

“Infotainment.”

I heard a public radio station’s podcast describe itself that way the other day, and it made me cringe.

That word tapped into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – whether the popularity of the podcast style of audio storytelling is blurring the lines between news and entertainment … and whether public radio’s panicked rush towards podcasting will prompt stations to put their scarce resources into entertainment (perhaps dressed up as “infotainment”) rather than news.

Continue reading “Whither the News? How podcasts and storytelling are blurring the lines between news and entertainment … and why it matters”

Whither the News? How podcasts and storytelling are blurring the lines between news and entertainment … and why it matters