Mizzou researchers figure out how to rescue the newspaper industry


Professor Murali Mantrala showed how one newspaper could raise profits through data analysis. (Photo courtesy of the University of Missouri News Bureau)

If you’re wondering whether the newspaper industry can avoid colliding with irrelevance, there may be a way to change course, according to two University of Missouri researchers.

Murali Mantrala, the Sam M. Walton Distinguished Professor of Marketing and chair of the Department of Marketing at MU, and Vamsi Kanuri, a former doctoral student at MU’s Trulaske College of Business, surveyed more than 1,000 readers of a West Coast daily paper to determine not what news they read, but how they got the paper in the first place. The researchers presented the survey participants with a range of purchase options much wider than what the newspaper already offered.

These options ranged from print-only subscriptions to combinations of print, online and mobile subscriptions. The options also varied in price based on the mix of channels, the frequency of distribution, and whether or not they were advertisement-free.

Mantrala and Kanuri combined that information with data on advertiser spending across the variety of channels to create an algorithm that determines what precise menu of subscription options a newspaper should offer to maximize total revenues from subscriptions and advertising.

Given the customizable options for readers and advertisers, the potential benefit of a subscription menu to the West Coast newspaper equaled a 17 percent increase in the publication’s profits.

“Newspapers are in a quandary; they need to find ways to increase revenues without raising prices or creating barriers that will cause them to lose readers,” Kanuri said in an MU news release. “In developing this algorithm, it was important to determine readers’ preferences for how they wanted to receive their news, as well as to determine readers’ willingness to pay for different types of subscription plans. Once we gathered that data, we were able to streamline a process for making decisions about which subscription and advertising plans to offer in order to maximize profits without losing readers.”

And readers will buy news as long as they know the content they receive is unique, convenient, and relevant to their needs. For proof, look at the way members of the Millennial Generation – ages 18 to 34 – consume content. As a group, almost 90 percent of them purchase music, movies, television, and video games. Other research has determined that people willing to pay for entertainment are also willing to pay for news.

Mantrala and Kanuri said their model works for any newspaper or subscription service, including Hulu, Pandora, or Spotify. Publishers and broadcasters must first conduct audience and advertiser surveys, then organize the collected data by audience segment to determine the optimal subscription menu algorithm.

“Any subscription-based service can use this model if they do the requisite research to determine subscriber interest and willingness to pay for various tiers of service,” Mantrala said. “Using this model, as opposed to years of costly trial and error, can help newspapers and other online businesses greatly improve their profits.”

The study by Mantrala and Kanuri is titled, “Optimizing a Menu of Multi-format Subscription Plans for Ad-Supported Media Platforms,” and is scheduled for publication in the Journal of Marketing.

Kanuri is now an assistant professor at the University of Miami. Esther Thorson, a former professor at the MU School of Journalism now at Michigan State University, also coauthored the study.

6 tips for using Twitter like a professional

Twitter logoTwitter has been with us for almost a decade, yet we remain amazed at the things people tweet about. Personal beliefs. Private conversations. Elicit behavior. Groundless criticism. Uneducated perspective. Even public relations people, journalists and other professional communicators are guilty of excess and irresponsibility in their tweets.

Of course, plenty of twitterers in these fields set excellent examples. People such as Kenna Griffin, Callie Schweitzer and Sree Sreenivasan employ the platform in ways the rest of us should observe closely.

But what remains out of billions of tweets often resembles boorishness and self-aggrandizement, impugning and assuming, snobbery and effrontery.

When I was a newspaper reporter and editor, any attempt to garner attention through public channels was frowned upon and seen as ethically dubious, if not forbidden by company policy. Today, persistent and effusive social media use is considered essential to one’s employment, if for no other reason than to continually trumpet a media “brand.”

This deep knee bend to branding is ominous, thanks largely to such popular social media measuring sticks as Klout assigning overstated significance to digital socialization — a significance weighted in favor of quantity instead of quality. If we agree to hold up these sticks as accurate, then news reporting and corporate communications via social media will suffer the same dearth of quality.

Media consumers derive a certain assurance from a professional communicator’s detachment. That assurance peters out when, say, news providers shout above the loud partisan polemic drowning out rational thought — a polemic they help create.

The solution, short of avoiding social media altogether, is to exert greater care in separating personal from professional Twitter content. Despite claims that a personal touch demystifies media and makes information more consumable, personalization also blurs the line separating judgment from fact. When journalists and corporate communicators get too personal, they damage their own credibility and the credibility of their employers and put their professions at risk of being marginalized.

So, preserve your credibility and avoid marginalization in the workplace by following these six tips for better Twitter usage:

Separate personal from professional tweets — If this means creating separate Twitter accounts, then do it. At the same time, refrain from using the company logo or any derivative as a personal avatar.

Exercise care with criticism — Do you love Danielle Steel’s latest novel? Do you hate the plot twist in “Game of Thrones”? Fine, but avoid posting those opinions unless they are relevant to the job. Opinions water down the objectivity that professional communicators need for peak performance.

Avoid discussing company matters — If discord exists between management and staff in the workplace, or personnel matters prove irksome, then venting discontent via veiled insults on social media will undermine others’ faith in you and could prove actionable in a court of law. Similarly, honesty and accountability regarding one’s own errors denote respectability.

Rein in the urge to be defensive — By their nature, news media and corporate communicators invite criticism. Some of that criticism can be mean-spirited and vindictive. Avoid driving a conversation further down the same dark road. As humorist Mark Twain once said, “Never argue with stupid people; they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

Resist posting vacation and food photos — It’s always good to get away from it all, but avoid dragging readers and viewers too far along with you. That beach picture showing Diamond Head in the background, while pretty, smacks of braggadocio, and may even suggest a laxity about work — especially if the picture puts you in one place while the calendar says you should be somewhere else. Food photos, on the other hand, pose a problem rooted in esthetics: Food never looks as good in social media as it does sitting on the plate in front of us.

Avoid making sales pitches — Ensure personal and business brand integrity by not distributing or re-tweeting sales pitches or links to special deals. Leave that up to the sales people at work who are supposed to market those products.

John Oliver: Journalist of the year

John Oliver (Photo courtesy HBO)

John Oliver (Photo courtesy HBO)

The best journalist in America in 2014 isn’t American and isn’t a journalist.

He intends to change only one of those things.

“I would like to get into a situation where I’m not suffering taxation without representation, which I’m suffering right now,” British comedian John Oliver told ABC’s “This Week.”

As for the journalist part, Oliver insisted on PBS’s “News Hour” that the title is misapplied.

“I have no moral authority. I’m a comedian.”

Given his latest performances on television though, one is left to wonder otherwise.

The British expatriate and Cambridge University graduate settled in this country upon joining the staff of Comedy Central’s popular “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2006. Between assignments, Oliver continued to do stand-up routines and podcasts on both sides of the Atlantic, each refining a style of wit reminiscent of Monty Python. He obtained a Green Card in 2009 and considers himself a permanent U.S. resident.

Then in the summer of 2013, Oliver sat in the “Daily Show” host’s chair for eight weeks while Stewart was off directing the movie “Rosewater” and in that time Oliver displayed a formidable enough stage command to establish himself as Stewart’s likely successor. But before the notion could percolate longer, HBO plucked him out of Stewart’s stable to host the premium channel’s brand new Daily Show-esque enterprise.

What followed was a masterful mix of humor and social commentary that major news media should watch carefully — and learn from.

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” does indeed borrow from the “Daily Show” style of squeezing satire out of social and political events and blowing them up to absurd, sometimes mocku-mental proportions. But where the 30-minute “Last Week Tonight” truly distinguishes itself is in the show’s feature pieces, which can last half the program. Among the notable long-form bits in the show’s first 25-episode season were an analysis of Miss America scholarship claims, a look at chronic corruption by World Cup organizer FIFA, and a breakdown of the hypocrisy endemic in the American lottery system.

Oliver does not just parse words. His staff includes former magazine researchers as well as comedy writers who sift for truth as much for laughs. Oliver and his crew understand that a little bit of bizarre behavior floats on the surface of authority and that by shining a light on it we can peer down into, and be less intimidated by, the darkness beneath.

“Last Week Tonight” even displays key information over Oliver’s right shoulder on the screen, noting also the source and publication date. Not even network newscasts do that.

“It is reporting in no sense. But there is a lot of research,” Oliver says. “If a joke is built on sand, it just doesn’t work. … It’s very, very important to us that we are solid.”

This commitment has enabled Oliver to navigate stridently dense, solemn topics such as America’s wealth gap, civil forfeiture, and student debt — topics journalists have reported on many times but with a predilection for the somber seriousness of suffering by which most events are judged newsworthy.

“There is something about playing with toys that are that difficult which become more satisfying to break by the end of our week’s process,” Oliver says.

Not just break — shatter, really. “Last Week Tonight” garnered 1.1 million viewers on Sunday nights. Across all platforms including DVR and on-demand showings, overall weekly viewership topped 4 million. But on YouTube, where “Last Week Tonight” continues to show its vigor months after signing off until February, a feature broadcast in July on the wealth gap has been viewed since then nearly 6 million times. The piece on civil forfeiture has more than 4 million views. The piece on student debt has 3.6 million.

A feature on the typically arcane subject of national elections in India has garnered 2.5 million YouTube views. (HBO releases each segment separately onto YouTube after their initial broadcast).

“It didn’t make any sense to me that the largest exercise in democracy in the history of humanity was not interesting enough for (the major news media) to cover,” Oliver says of the India feature. India has 1.2 billion people; the United States, 320 million.

Even Oliver’s exposition on events in Ferguson, Mo., in a piece mixed with equal parts humor and outrage just one week after Michael Brown’s shooting now has more than 5.5 million views. That number has grown by about 10,000 weekly. Meanwhile, Oliver’s most talked-about feature, the one about net neutrality that was blamed for crashing the Federal Communications Commission’s website, is cruising toward 9 million viewers.

All these numbers constitute a larger audience share per feature than the major news networks can muster per night.

What Oliver and “Last Week Tonight” have managed to do is find a way to engage viewers and keep them engaged on complex, contemporary issues long after the initial broadcast while managing to be informative, a puzzle that network news and newspapers still struggle to accomplish two decades into the digital era.

Journalism in its most basic form is the gathering, processing, and dissemination of information related to a particular audience. By that simplistic definition, Oliver qualifies as a journalist.

“I think that becomes more of a sad commentary on news than it does on us” as comedians, Oliver says. “The only responsibility as a comedian is that I have to make people laugh. If I don’t do that — and I am sure that I often don’t — I have failed.”

But in making people laugh, Oliver goes to journalistically admirable lengths to do it. In the feature on Miss America scholarship funding, which the nonprofit Miss America Foundation claimed was $45 million annually, the “Last Week Tonight” staff spent days sifting through 990 tax forms on nonprofit spending from 33 states right up until broadcast to try verifying that number. The amount turned out to be unjustifiable, but “Last Week Tonight” nevertheless discovered that the Miss America Foundation is indeed the largest provider of scholarships that are just for women — which news media then reported.

“I just want it to be funny,” Oliver says, describing the course he and “Last Week Tonight” have charted. “That is the key responsibility that you have to hold yourself to as a comedian. If you’re not making people laugh, what exactly are you doing?”

This is not to say America’s daily news needs a thick layer of humor to help it glide along, or that professional journalists are less capable of engaging audiences than Oliver & Co. But if an expat Brit can reach more people on tough topics than the major news media and incorporate impressive feats of news gathering and accountability while doing it, then the “journalist” label will stick to Oliver no matter how hard he tries to shake it off, and major news media will be compelled to watch him try.

So, Oliver’s success and that of “Last Week Tonight” raises the question: If the major news media have a responsibility of informing and enlightening the public and still struggle at it, what exactly are they doing?

You won’t believe what this journalist did using clickbait

Clickbait IconSee? I knew you’d click on the headline. Clickbait heads are useful that way.

Sure, clickbait promises more than it delivers. But in an age when mouse clicks can bring profit, clickbait heads are effective hooks for websites to attract business.

Clickbait is deceptive, misleading, and irresistible. That’s why headlines such as “Tricks Car Insurance Agents Don’t Want You to Know,” and “How iPads Are Selling for Under $40,” attract readers who should know better. These headlines promise content that reveals secrets, validates rumors, solves mysteries — and who doesn’t love that?

Well, journalists, for one. They insist clickbait content devalues news sites and demeans the journalism profession. A Google search with just “clickbait” and “journalism” in the search field turns up pages and pages of claims that the former is ruining the latter.

To some degree, this is true. Mislead any audience and you risk losing it.

What many journalists fail to remember however is that clickbait has been around much longer than the Internet — and they were the ones writing it.

Visit any library or newspaper database and scan the print headlines from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Headline writing was an art, a craft. News editors had limited space and time to explain a story no matter how complex, and it was a struggle almost every time. (Go ahead: Try explaining tax increment financing in six words or fewer, without using “tax,” or “increment,” or “financing.)

The goal was to make a big impression with small words.

That goal remains much the same online, but the audience is larger and there are many more news providers fighting for attention and survival. That’s why such sites as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and my former employer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — which is where I found the car insurance and iPad headlines mentioned above — resort to clickbait despite the criticism it brings.

Yes, clickbait is a necessary evil of doing business online. But if journalists believe clickbait is ruining their reputations, then journalists must take greater responsibility for solving a problem they helped create.

(A version of this post appears at KolbeCo.net.)

Region 7 represents at Mark of Excellence Awards

SPJ's Mark of Excellence AwardsMissouri had three honorees and the states of Iowa and Nebraska had one each to represent Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri) in the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2013 national Mark of Excellence Awards, announced Tuesday.

Allison Pohle of the University of Missouri-Columbia, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was a finalist in the feature-writing category among large schools for her work, “Kirkwood Father Tries to Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death;” the staff of VoxMagazine.com at the Missouri School of Journalism was a finalist in the online feature reporting category for “Matters of Faith;” and Vox Magazine’s iPad app was chosen best digital-only student publication.

Suhaib Tawil of the Iowa State Daily at Iowa State University was a finalist in the general news photography category among large schools for “ROTC Training During Spring 2013.”

Jenna Jaynes of the Time-Warner Educational Access Channel and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was a finalist in television feature reporting for “Nebraska’s First Male Color Guard Member Lives His Dream.”

The national awards recognize exceptional collegiate journalism in all 12 of SPJ’s regions over the previous calendar year and are chosen from the first-place winners at the regional level. This time, instead of first-, second-, and third-place awards, SPJ named a winner and two finalists for each category.

Not all categories were mentioned, however. If the judges determined that no entries were excellent by SPJ’s standards, the category was left blank. All judges have at least three years’ worth of professional experience in their respective fields. They are not permitted to review entries from their own regions.

(Complete disclosure: I have been an MOE judge the past three years, first as president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro Chapter and now as Region 7 director.)

School divisions were based on cumulative undergraduate and graduate enrollment, with large schools having a minimum of 10,000 registered students. For some categories, school size was not a factor.

Winners in each category will be recognized during the Student Union event at the Excellence in Journalism 2014 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 4-6. A full list of MOE Award recipients is available on SPJ’s website.

SPJ salutes its best student journalists with MOE awards

Society of Professional Journalists logoFor the third consecutive year, I served as a judge for the Society of Professional Journalists‘ annual Mark of Excellence awards — honors that recognize the best print, broadcast, and digital journalism at large and small colleges and universities around the country.

The honors are handed out regionally each spring. This past weekend, the awards for my region, Region 7, were handed out during the annual regional conference, hosted this year by Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Region 7 comprises Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Little else inspires me as much as the students who win these awards and the faculty who nurture the students’ interests and endeavors. The collective display of drive and determination, and the quality of the work, assure me more than anything that journalism is far from dead, and in fact has a bright future.

This year, Kansas University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Baker University had the most MOE recipients. Kansas came away with a total of 14 awards and Nebraska-Lincoln received 11 among large schools submitting entries. Baker University, a private, Methodist-affiliated institution in northeast Kansas, led the small-school category with 14 awards. Certificates were given to the winners and finalists during a banquet at the conference.

The first-place finisher in each category qualifies for a national MOE competition that includes all 12 of SPJ regions. The national winners will be notified later this spring and receive recognition at SPJ’s 2014 Excellence in Journalism convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 4-6.

The awards for each region are determined by a team of SPJ judges who each have at least three years’ worth of professional journalism experience. Directors are discouraged from judging their own regions.

Not all categories receive awards. If judges determine that none of the entries rose to the level of excellence, no award is given.

Large- and small-school divisions are based on total graduate and undergraduate enrollment. Each of the large schools has more than 10,000 students; each of the small schools has fewer. Some awards incorporated both divisions. Listed below are the Region 7 winners and finalists in each category. The spellings and titles reflect those that were submitted in the award-entry process.



Breaking News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Explosions Shake Students” by Katelynn McCollough, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Police Arrest Suspect in U.S. Bank Robbery” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, The Daily Collegian, University of Kansas

Finalist: “University Distances Itself from Journalism Professor’s Controversial Tweet” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas


General News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Mental Health Issues on the Rise Among College Students” by Jakki Thompson, The Collegian, Kansas State University

Finalist: “Health Insurance on Campus” by Leah Wankum, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “UNO Makes History as First U.S. University to Trend on Twitter in India” by Sean Robinson, The Gateway, University of Nebraska at Omaha


General News Reporting (Small)

Winner: “Domino Effect” by Kavahn Mansouri and Spencer Gleason, The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec

Finalist: “CU CARES for Students” by Amanda Brandt, Creightonian, Creighton University

Finalist: “BU Enrollment” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University


In-Depth Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Human Trafficking Series” by Danielle Ferguson, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “$1,163,237: Bookstore Director Admits to Stealing for 10 Years” by Megan Gates, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Where Does the Student Activity Fee Go?” by Kristin Gallagher, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri


Feature Writing (Large)

Winner: “Kirkwood Father Tries To Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death” by Allison Pohle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Can My Boyfriend Rape Me?” by Bailey McGrath, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “We’re the Working Poor” by Jourdyn Kaarre, Lincoln Journal Star, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Writing (Small)

Winner: “Living the Life He’s Always Wanted” by Steffi Lee, The Simpsonian, Simpson College

Finalist: “Carrying the Weight” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Sarah Harris at the Boston Marathon” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Sports Writing (Large)

Winner: “Welcome to Woody’s World” by Alex Halsted, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Jeff Withey Finds New Friend in @FakeJeffWithey” by Blake Schuster, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Ukulele-Strumming Faifili Plays Different Tune as KU LB” by Mike Vernon, Topeka Capital-Journal, University of Kansas


Sports Writing (Small)

Winner: “Former BU Punter Puts Best Foot Forward” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Purdum Reflects on Extension with Jets” by Chris Duderstadt, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Editorial Writing

Winner: Editorial Board, The Campus Ledger, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: Sarah Hayes and Devese Ursery, The Florissant Valley Forum, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley

Finalist: Evan Holland, Creightonian, Creighton University


General Column Writing (Small)

Winner: Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Sports Column Writing

Winner: Mike Vernon, The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University


Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas


Best All-Around Non Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec



Non-Fiction Magazine Article

Winner: “Field Notes From Missouri” by the staff of Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Dennis Dailey: A Decade Later” by Laken Rapier, Jayhawker Magazine, University of Kansas

Finalist: “When Liberty Goes Sour” by Abigail Eisenberg, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism


Best Student Magazine

Winner: DUH Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: Drake Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: OneWorld Magazine, St. Louis University



Breaking News Photography (Large)

Winner: “Coach Rhoads’ Reaction to Referee’s Call” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “President Obama” by George Mullinix, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Take Back the Night” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University


General News Photography (Large)

Winner: “ROTC Training During Spring 2013” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Bacon Fest” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University


General News Photography (Small)

Winner: “Intoxicated Olympics” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Feature Photography (Large)

Winner: “Harrisburg Football Photo Essay” by Kevin Cook and Elizabeth Pierson, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Step Show Draws a Big Crowd” by Andrew Mather, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “Not Quite Ready” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University


Feature Photography (Small)

Winner: “Jazz Concert” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Man With One Leg Rides Bicycle 150 Miles in Two Days” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University

Finalist: “Downtown Farmers’ Market” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University


Sports Photography (Large)

Winner: “My Ball!” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “One Last Lap” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Pick Party” by Romain Polge, The Legacy, Lindenwood University


Sports Photography (Small)

Winner: “Women’s Soccer Playoff” by Tera Lyons, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Women’s Soccer” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Winning a Point” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University



Feature Reporting

Winner: “‘War of the Worlds’ in Context” by Kalen Stockton, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Max Brooks: Zombies, Vampires and Cultural Anxieties” by Chrissie Noriega, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “A Little Help From My Friends” by Kassi Nelson, KRNU FM, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Backpacks: Tools, Fashion Accessories, Personal Statements” by Justin Wilson, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Vinyl Revival” by Scott Ross, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas



General News Reporting

Winner: “Unknown Circumstances Surround Lincoln Homeless Man’s Death” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Charter Bus Problems for JCCC” by Heather Dace and Andrew Tady, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Sex Trafficking in Nebraska” by Madalyn Gotschall, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Reporting

Winner: “Nebraska’s First Male Color Guard Member Lives His Dream” by Jenna Jaynes, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Profile of Andreas Brandenberger” by Heather Dace and Nichole Schafer, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Exotic Vet” by Aimee Durham, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Medical Marijuana in the Ozarks” by Riley Bean, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Nebraska Law Enforcement Hit By Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “A Closer Look at the Affordable Care Act” by Brittany Velasco, LUTV, Lindenwood University


Sports Reporting

Winner: “Henry Josey: Road to Recovery” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Helias Players Get Second Chance at State and Life” by Jack Wascher, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Don’t Blame Andrew Baggett” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia


News and Feature Photography

Winner: “Owen/Cox Dance Group Project” by Zoe Allen, Bernie Verhaeghe and Nichole Schafer, JCAV TV, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “100 Missouri Miles” by Erica Semsch, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “KC Trends” by Stephen Cook, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College


Best All-Around Newscast

Winner: “LCTV News” by the staff of Loras College Television, Loras College

Finalist: “Ozarks News Journal No. 801” by the staff of the Ozarks News Journal and Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Star City News” by the staff of the Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln



News Reporting

Winner: “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in Council Bluffs” by Katie Kuntz, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Lincoln’s Homeless Population Struggles with Cold Temperatures” by Casey Sill, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Feature Reporting

Winner: “Matters of Faith” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Graffiti: The Art of Expressive Vandalism” by the staff of IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “A Baker’s Dozen” by Katie Thurbon and Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University


In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Matter of Seconds: Tougher Farm Safety Regulation Hard To Come By In Iowa” by Sarah Hadley, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Former Student Attends Class with Pending Default on Student Debt” by Daniel Bauman, The Journal, Webster University


Sports Reporting

Winner: “For Amateur Mixed Martial Artist, a Long Road to Fight” by Maricia Guzman, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Freshman Softball Star Rachel Franck Dedicates Season to Younger Brother” by Sam Masterson and Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University

Finalist: “Six Former Wildcats Chase NFL Dreams” by Chris Duderstadt and Brad Barnes, The Baker Orange, Baker University


Best Use of Multimedia

Winner: “Little Known Secrets” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: The Road to the 29th Presidency” by Sara Bell, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Marquis Addison MSSU Basketball Feature” by Samantha Zoltanski and Sydney Marsellis, The Chart Online, Missouri Southern State University


Best Affiliated Website

Winner: NewsNetNebraska.org by the staff of NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: Kansan.com by the staff of the, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: KJHK.org by Marc Schroeder, Sarah Brennan, Taylor Umbrell and the staff of KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas


Best Digital-Only Student Publication

Winner: Vox iPad app by Breanna Dumbacher, Vox iPad, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: Urbanplainsmag.com by the staff of the Urban Plains, Drake University

Finalist: Think-mag.com by the staff of Think, Drake University


SPJ is an 8,000-member professional organization that promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

Open Reporter requires you to have an open mind

Who can say that Honey Boo Boo inspired them to pursue journalism?

Misha Vinokur can.

Vinokur, a self-described innovator in Washington, D.C., says he was watching CNN when a scroll across the bottom of the screen announced in breaking-news fashion the half-pint reality TV star’s favorite energy drink.

Open Reporter logo“It really caught me by surprise and made me think, ‘Is this really news?’” he said. “So, I spoke to a few people and realized there’s some innovation going on in the news industry, and that maybe this is the optimum time to take advantage of that.”

He also realized there are others like himself who think better of journalism’s ability to inform, and so he launched Open Reporter, a social site with a business component.

Open Reporter, just three months old and still in beta, provides a space for journalists to “connect with others and find opportunities,” Vinokur said. Half the site serves as a social watering hole for sharing journalistic ideas and connections.

The other half is intended to host entrepreneurialism and job prospects. As of early March, Open Reporter had just over 100 members.

Misha Vinokur

Misha Vinokur

“The big thing is that it’s a closed-off environment where journalists can just talk,” Vinokur said. “It’s not designed for the general community. And part of our platform is to create apps to help journalists find stories and vet resources.”

Exactly how Open Reporter will do this, Vinokur isn’t precise. How the site will sustain itself is something of a mystery, too. He suggested that although registration for Open Reporter is free, there may be a price assessed for job hunters and job posters.

There also may be an embedded streaming content aggregator that scoops up and redistributes news media reports to members, but that, along with almost everything else about Open Reporter apart from the discussion boards, is in the discussion stage.

Vinokur realizes it sounds odd that an entrepreneur should offer a networking service for people who are paid to do their own networking, but he’s keeping an open mind.

To underscore his sincerity, Vinokur installed a sepia-toned perspective of the Watergate apartment complex in Washington for Open Reporter’s home background image.

Watergate was a monumental component for journalism,” he acknowledged. “Our long-term business strategy is to help journalists become successful. And like Watergate did, we want to help inspire the next generation of journalists and help them report the news.”

Larry ignored me, and look what happened

Poor Larry. If only he had taken me up on my offer.

Larry Conners, courtesy of  the Post-DispatchThe Larry in question is Larry Conners, the once-ubiquitous, now erstwhile KMOV-TV news anchor. My offer was an invitation that he join the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

I can’t help but think that if he had accepted the invitation, maybe, just maybe, Conners wouldn’t be in such a fix today.

Instead, he’s learning a lesson about the vagaries of celebrity and social media, and those lessons can to be harsh.

Al Roker knows this. So does Anthony Weiner, Ashton Kutcher, Kenneth Cole, and the former Chad Ochocinco: Posting or tweeting with indifference, ignorance or insensitivity can tarnish reputations, perhaps beyond polish.

The Web bristles with examples of questionable social networking behavior, to the extent that a top tip for job hunters is sweeping out offensive material from their networking sites before sending out résumés.

Yet the harsh lessons persist, with no learning evident or behaviors changed. Conners, 66, a 37-year veteran of St. Louis television, sets the latest example.

Conners took a face plant on Facebook last week when he hinted at personal intimidation from the Internal Revenue Service resulting from his televised interview of President Barack Obama in April 2012. During the interview, he issued criticism allegedly passed along from KMOV viewers about the president racking up frequent flyer vacation miles at taxpayer expense.

Conners spoke out only now because he says he was inspired by a recent IRS admission that the agency allowed tougher-than-usual scrutiny of records coming from conservative interest groups seeking tax-exempt status.

On Facebook, Conners, while not revealing his politics, suggested the interview with Obama alone might have brought down scrutiny on himself. He didn’t mention though that his own tax issues predate the Obama interview.

On air a day later, Conners backtracked a bit from his insinuations, but that clarification apparently wasn’t enough. His employer first suspended him, then cut him loose, saying the Facebook post undercut his journalistic credibility and that of the station.

Since then, Conners has defended his intentions on a rival station. His next defense may come in court; Conners has hired an attorney.

I shake my head in dismay.

Three years ago, I was the newly minted president of SPJ’s St. Louis chapter, and as a courtesy to all major media members in the area sent out invitations to either join or rejoin the 114-year-old national society, which among other ideals espouses a Code of Ethics considered to be the standard for behavior among journalists.

The society not only posts this Code online, it has printed copies that the St. Louis chapter offers at most of its monthly meetings. High up in the Code’s wording, it exhorts journalists to “exercise care to avoid inadvertent error,” and to “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Given Conners’ lengthy tenure in television news, one might think he wouldn’t need a reminder. But that’s why SPJ posts the Code and prints the cards; we all need reminding.

Today, journalists toe a thin line between objectivity and subjectivity. The former underpins their credibility; the latter seeps through because media companies urge their talent to blog, post and tweet for the sake of higher readership and ratings.

Undeniably, social media has become a tool for news gathering, but it’s also a window into a person’s thinking.

And there’s another problem. Social media lets users believe they’re staring at a screen instead of a potential audience numbering in the millions. The impersonal nature of digital networking masks a deeper truth: We’re actually staring at each other, face to face.

That’s why Conners might be forgiven for his statements against the IRS, and his transgression dismissed, on a claim of social media ignorance. But he went a step further by concluding his Facebook accusation with the line, “Can I prove it? At this time, no.”

Those perhaps were the worst words he could have written. Proof forms the foundation of journalistic credibility and integrity. Absent proof, Conners’ words amounted to a rant. SPJ’s Code of Ethics is clear on this.

So, I wish Larry had taken me up on my offer to join SPJ awhile back. Then he might have had the Code on a card somewhere within view while he was Facebooking.

I’ll probably send him one anyway. He can still learn something from it.

4 tips on freelancing for newspapers

Freelance Writing TipsThanks to the economy, the market for freelance writers and editors has ballooned.

That’s because America’s slow crawl back toward fiscal stability gives daily and weekly print publications hope for revitalization via digital alter egos that prefer original content to aggregation — the hand-me-down stories culled from outside sources. These publications are limited, however, because when media corporations’ stock prices fell, staffs were cut.

The result: too many news operations with too few people to gather news. One estimate puts newspaper journalism’s total staff losses in the United States since 2007 above 40,000.

Enter the freelancer, perhaps now more valuable than ever to news organizations.

Freelancers operate on a per-story or per-project basis; they possess distinct talents and knowledge a news operation may lack; and, best of all — in the news operation’s mind but not necessarily the freelancer’s — their contracts need not include health benefits and retirement plans, the two biggest costs attached to full-time staff apart from salary.

So, while looking around for new clients, freelancers might consider calling the local newspaper to ask if it’s willing to farm out one or two or more writing assignments. But before calling or writing an editor, freelancers should be aware of a few things:

Expect to start small — Any aspirations of uncovering another Watergate-size scandal should stay in a drawer; rarely do first-time newspaper contributors receive a big investigative project to start, regardless of experience. The early assignments will be small — low-level government meetings, high school sporting events, etc. — to help editors gauge a freelancer’s dependability, writing skill and ability to accept criticism. Not even seasoned journalists shine in all of these areas, so being amenable helps land more assignments.

Expect the pay to be small — Typical compensation ranges between $25 and $50 per story, with three-digit sums possible for feature pieces only after a freelancer has a body of work under the newspaper’s masthead. Sometimes, however, newspapers will propose first-time assignments without compensation but dangle a contract if they are impressed with the results. Of course, the assignments may not be frequent enough to yield a steady income.

Know the value of deadlines — Newspaper and online journalism are fast-paced, get-it-done-now businesses that abhor lateness. If an editor says a story has to be completed and in hand by a certain time, freelancers should submit it well before that time, if possible. Otherwise, freelancers should be upfront with editors, ready to explain difficulties and ask for guidance; editors understand that plans can change and circumstances can be nettlesome. But missing a deadline — just one, even — without advance warning or rational cause undermines a freelancer’s credibility.

Read the newspaper — This may sound like a no-brainer, but in fact newspapers often hear from hopeful writers pitching ideas that lack a local angle, ideas that already were printed in some form, or ideas that amount to writers talking about themselves instead of talking to other people. Freelancers first must read either the print or online version of the newspaper (preferably both) and study several editions. Newspapers, like magazines, have writing styles and subjects of particular interest to their audiences; knowing these allows for intelligent conversations with assigning editors.

(Writer’s note: The post is a revised version of one I wrote in 2010 for The Independent Journalist, the freelancing blog of the Society of Professional Journalists, and for my former blog on Posterous.)