ProPublica reporters use social media for investigative reports

Credit: Mindy McAdams (macloo/Flickr)

Credit: Mindy McAdams (macloo/Flickr)

Columbia Journalism Review has coverage of a talk at Columbia Journalism School’s Social Media Weekend, where two editors/producers from ProPublica talked about how their reporters have incorporated social media into their investigative process. Investigative reporters are indeed skittish about giving up their motives before formulating their projects, but ProPublica has no shame about using Facebook groups to gather sources for an ongoing report they’re doing on medical error.

By contacting potential victims of medical error on message boards and inviting them to join their Facebook group, ProPublica’s reporters (including award-winning investigative reporter Marshall Allen) can see how prevalent their issue remains and who to talk with further. They actively monitor and comment on their group to create a lively but controlled environment where no one gets hurt prematurely (doctors don’t get named, etc.).

“This will never replace reporting tools,” said senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora, “but it will augment them.”

Freelancers Should Start Creative Collectives

Al Jazeera English newsroom–the old school. (Wikimedia Commons: Wittylama)

Ann Friedman at CJR has a post for her series #realtalk that suggests freelance journalists should consider forming collectives. She’s seen it work well with her friends in the graphic design community and in groups like the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, where writers are rarely at a loss for ideas.

“One of the most tangible benefits of working in a shared office space is having officemates who pass along assignments when they’re too busy,” said The Grotto’s co-founder Ethan Watters, according to Friedman’s post. “Over the years, I can safely say that I’ve covered at least half of my office rent through such overflow work. I’ve also profited from having a stable of writing pros on hand to pick up my slack, critique first drafts, and give me advice.”

Though writing is thought of as a solitary pursuit, Friedman argues, journalists benefit from a newsroom atmosphere.  It “makes a lot of sense for those of us who work freelance,” she says, because most freelancers have left newspaper and/or magazine offices. In a collective space, journalists can collaborate to complete projects, share story ideas, learn each other’s skills (I’ll take your website design and raise you my photojournalism…)

The point is, really, why not? Of course, you have to know people you trust and whose work you admire, but if you’ve ventured off into freelancing chances are you do.

L.A. Times and Other Papers Publishing Much Less Longform Journalism

Three of the world’s largest newspapers published significantly fewer longform stories in the last year, according to Dean Starkman at CJR. The L.A. Times, for example, ran 256 stories longer than 2,000 words last year. In 2003, they published 1,776.  It’s an 86 percent drop. Starkman got similar numbers for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The papers experienced even larger drops for stories longer than 3,000 words.

Starkman notes that papers are generally publishing fewer stories, period. This suggests that the decline in longform stories in prominent American newspapers may just be reiterating what we already know: newspapers are having a hard time.

But if print can’t sustain the bulk of longform articles, the web has proven that it can. In fact, Poynter pointed out sometime ago that print is actually adapting to how the web handles longform journalism. No doubt that the web breeds versatility, but these findings both suggest that the content and the form are not in trouble, but the print medium is.

(Dean Starkman / CJR)

(Dean Starkman / CJR)