Everybody Say, “Hi Anna!” by Russ
February 28, 2009, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Russ

“Hi, Anna!”

As devoted readers may have noticed, Anna Tauzin is now officially joining me in the AmericanObserved blog. The goal has always been to make this a conversation – Anna and I have many off-line conversations about the Observer and so I’m very glad she’ll join me on the Web. She’s been involved with a lot of the technical aspects of our publication, particularly creating Flash and other multimedia packages – like this one – and so she’ll add a lot to the conversation here.

Anna is quite a prolific blogger on her own, sometimes about the Observer and sometimes not. And that’s great. The stuff she has to say about the Observer can easily be added to the AmericanObserved blog, and the other stuff can exist as it did before, or ideally as part of another group blog that covers other topic areas.

Anyone else who has something to say about the Observer – whether it’s six-times-a-week, once-a-week or just once – is welcome to join. Drop me a line and I’ll add an account for you.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.


Tricky Lobbyists by Russ
February 28, 2009, 4:17 pm
Filed under: Russ

I’ve begun doing a first read on some of the profiles of “advocates” we’ve received this week from Jane Hall’s class (if anyone is interested, please join in – there are quite a few and most need to at least be sent back to the author for at least a little rewriting, so the earlier we can do this the better) and I’ve noticed a couple of trends we should all keep in mind when we’re working on this week’s issue about advocates and lobbyists.

1. The advocates being profiled are apparently really good at advocating. Some of these people are very convincing, and that’s important to convey, but we shouldn’t let them use us to do their convincing.

We need to state what they are doing – who they advocate for, and what positions they support – but we need to make sure we’re not just accepting their position as fact and republishing it. Some of the pieces I’ve read so far veer away from being profiles and into a plain recitation of the position the person is advocating for. We all know to not to do this, but it’s important to keep an especially close eye out for it this week.

2. Their positions are getting lost in the profile. I’ve found some of the profiles have gone completely the opposite direction – they assume everyone knows what the person is advocating for.

One profile I’ve read is an otherwise very good piece about a woman who advocates for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the piece she tries to educate more people about what some of the lesser known but still serious symptoms are… but we aren’t told what she’s talking about. We all mostly know what PTSD is, but it would be helpful and add to the already strong piece if we had that extra detail

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

Time is the enemy by Anna
February 28, 2009, 11:58 am
Filed under: Anna | Tags: , ,

I know Russ talked about our issue with deadlines a couple of times last week, but I wanted to weigh in on the issue as, well, sort of a devil’s advocate.

We produce an issue every Wednesday, the middle of the week. After signing up for stories, most of us have one or two classes that afternoon and/or night, usually lasting into the evening. So that afternoon is shot. The next two days are filled with classes and work, which doesn’t allow much time dedicated for stories, at least not in-person interviews, which we would prefer.

That means that most articles are written during the weekend (not business hours, obviously) or on Monday. We have very talented writers in our program, but given that our deadline is usually late Monday night, one day to write a story can be difficult, especially when we demand heavy multimedia.

Since I am the Flash-0bsessed member of our cohort, this can be even more frustrating. Flash takes time. Not even that… creating the wireframes to base the Flash on takes time. Design takes more time. Execution… even more. I posted last week on my blog that I was creating a timeline for Black History Month, but unfortunately my Monday and Tuesday were completely filled with work, and even though the reporter got the information to my by Tuesday afternoon, having everything ready to go by publish time on Wednesday was next to impossible. Coffey did me a favor by pulling the plug on that one, otherwise I would have been even more stressed out and tired come production time.

I suppose my point of this entry is to remind people that the American Observer is not the only thing we do, and that perhaps our problem isn’t meeting deadlines, but rather communicating to editors when we have problems. I like that we have started teaming up to cover stories so that the responsibility doesn’t just fall on one set of shoulders. I think that’s an easy first-step to our problem.

So take heart, Observers and Observer fans. This is a learning process.

Cross posted to Escapador and American Observer.

Archives, Or Lack Thereof by Russ
February 24, 2009, 11:38 am
Filed under: Russ

There’s something wrong with them.

Edition 29, has nothing in it. Edition 28, is from Jan. 20. What happened to everything in between?

I’m not just pointing this out to give James more work (a possible topic for Drupal Tuesday?) – it’s something to take into consideration as we build packages.

Anna Tauzin made a fairly complex one this week, but when we build everything in Flash, it means that it’s invisible to search engines. And, apparently, invisible to our archives system.

It’s just something we should be mindful of – if we want the Observer to be our collective clip file, the projects that we work so hard to create should be easily searchable and findable by our future employers. If you ever look at our site stats, you’ll see that stories from the Observer’s distant past, written by folks who are now alums in the real world are routinely searched for and read.

People will look at this stuff for years down the line, let’s make it easy for them to find.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

They Can’t Fire Everyone by Russ
February 24, 2009, 11:11 am
Filed under: Russ

Or can they?

David Coffey tells me that not a single person made deadline this week.

“however, everyone did let me know what was going on, so i guess that’s some progress.”

In a sense. But, as Amy Eisman pointed out, content that comes after deadline is content that doesn’t exist.

According to Coffey, “they all offered to hold their stories till next week,” which is nice, but doesn’t help us put together this week’s package. That gesture is a step in the right direction in terms of building a relationship with an editor to make sure your stuff gets good play.

But, it still kind of puts Coffey in that awkward position of possibly having to blow up the whole issue if he sticks to his word and does not allow anything late to get posted… which doesn’t make editors happy.

One lesson I picked up on pretty quickly when working at the newspaper gig I had before coming to AU: there are lots of people who want your job and your editor probably knows it. Nobody wants your job, but they want the space your clips should be in.

In this case, Coffey has five stories from Angie Chuang’s class. I think he should grab the best one from our class, and that’s it for this week.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.

See You At Your New Job by Russ
February 18, 2009, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Russ | Tags: , , , , , ,

There’s been quite a bit of talk about meeting deadlines lately. Here’s more.

David Johnson sent us a rather gentle (in my opinion) email this week about meeting deadline:

“It is important that your stories are filed with enough time for production. If you don’t respect the deadlines, you are disrespecting your colleagues and abusing their time on class day.

File your content.”

He’s right, and frankly, this is the nicest thing an editor will ever say to you about making deadline.

When you’re still working on something Wednesday morning, that means a copy editor is sitting around waiting for you to finish… a multimedia person is creating a graphic that might be all wrong or just doesn’t fit with the content that’s coming… and you’re not helping produce the issue.

Does anybody notice? Maybe not. But after you graduate, someone will.

Continue reading

This Will Make Every Story We Write Better by Russ
February 18, 2009, 8:31 pm
Filed under: Russ

As we were brainstorming issue package ideas today, we kept running into a problem – how can we really say which direction a package will take if we have no idea what we’ll find. Tonight in Wendell Cochran’s computer-assisted reporting class we got a tip that might help us add backbone to any package: D.C. Data Catalog.

It’s a collection of 274 datasets on a wide variety of subjects – downloadable, malleable, chartable. They’re in a variety of formats, but it allows us to very easily shape some interesting data which can add color to our articles or make fodder for helpful multimedia.

Ever wonder how many homicides happened in the District in 2008, broken down by ward and method? Here I found it for you. It took 2 minutes. (click for full size)


There’s a great deal of very accessible data available on housing, construction and building trends. We should never do a story where we mention a neighborhood’s character without checking this site at least once.

Cross-posted at Blog/19 and AmericanObserved.