Multimedia journalism and the WordPress block editor

I recently finished a really interesting course in my graduate journalism studies program, focused on cross-platform, multimedia storytelling. It was fun in part because it wove together a lot creative disciplines I had already been experimenting with, including writing, photography, audio production, video production, interviewing people, and assembling the results of those efforts into a coherent, interesting final product that would engage the attention of readers and visitors. I got academic credit for doing things I love to do — nice!

It was also an experience that opened my eyes further to the power of the WordPress block editor for multi-media journalism and storytelling, and I want to share a bit more about that.

(If you're not already familiar with it, the WordPress block editor, also known as Gutenberg, is the updated content editing experience introduced into the WordPress publishing platform back in 2018. It transitions content authoring and editing in WordPress from a fairly linear "title plus paragraphs of text plus maybe some images" workflow into a much more flexible and powerful workflow that can include a wide variety of multi-media, interactive elements positioned throughout the body of a page or article. If you were talking to someone using a few tin cans and some string before, now you're enjoying the wonders of a smartphone.)

Like others I've had some skepticism in the past about the block editor and its place in the world of everyday WordPress users who may not want the additional power it offers. And at a personal level, old habits can die hard; I found myself writing this very post in the "classic" editor because it's how I've mostly always done things. So I haven't always been sure when and were I could definitively say to others that the block editor would be an essential part of their publishing toolkit.

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Helping out at the local newspaper

I'm excited to be able to say a bit more about one of the ways I've been spending time professionally in recent months. Since January, I've been consulting with the folks at Hometown Media Group, the parent company of two weekly newspapers here in Wayne County, Indiana, as their Digital Editor to help them update, streamline and manage their expanding digital offerings.

It's been a really fun and challenging application of my longtime interests in news media, technology, small business and community building. It's been rewarding to bring to bear my skills and experience previously helping national and global publishers, now for the benefit of reporters covering the place where I live. It's been a geeky delight to help them shore up their technical foundations with the tools and best practices that I've used, implemented or created elsewhere. And I love being a part of the strategy conversations around how and where people get their news in our region, and what kinds of improvements will serve readers and subscribers best.

All of this work is a part of answering that recurring question around what I can contribute to the field of journalism. I'm so glad for this experience along the way.

And although the ground-shaking that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic makes a lot of the future uncertain for newspapers (and everyone), it's also highlighted the essential nature of local news with high standards for factual reporting. We have some neat projects and updates in the works for the weeks and months ahead to honor that responsibility, so I'm looking forward to helping them out for as long as I can be useful.

At some point down the road I'll look at sharing more about some of the technical work I've done here that might benefit other newspapers working on improving their online publishing efforts.

If you're living in or connected to this part of Indiana, I hope you'll consider buying a subscription and supporting local journalism. Their prices are incredibly affordable, but more importantly the staff and ownership of Hometown Media Group are doing impressive work, especially these days when advertisers are especially cautious and the breaking news is truly nonstop. They care deeply about the community and the people they serve, and would appreciate your business if you're able.

What can I contribute to journalism?

What can I contribute to journalism?

It's a question I’ve been asking for years now.

My questioning has taken a variety of forms, including:

  • writing and editing for my high school and college newspapers,
  • hosting a weekly podcast with analysis of the local news,
  • blogging as a media critic,
  • serving on the local daily paper’s editorial board,
  • having letters to the editor accepted in local and national publications,
  • working professionally to advise and support some of the biggest news publishers on the web,
  • helping to organize a three-day national conference for publishers, and
  • researching business models for local journalism.

I’ve been rewarded and challenged in all of those things, and in most cases I’ve been told that I’ve made a positive difference. And yet...I feel more concerned than ever about the waning appreciation for journalism and pursuit of the truth in modern society. I also feel more drawn than ever to trying to do something (else) about it.

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WordCamp for Publishers Denver

I'm excited to be a part of the team that is organizing the first WordCamp for Publishers happening in Denver, Colorado this coming August 17th to 19th.

In my work on Automattic's VIP service offering I've been able to see some of the incredible things that journalists and publications of all types are doing with WordPress - really interesting stuff that pushes the software in new directions. So when I saw some of my colleagues discussing an event that would bring engineering, product and editorial teams together around all the things WordPress can do in the publishing world (for publications big and small), I wanted to be a part of making it happen.

We're looking for speakers and sponsors now. If you know someone who might want to be a part of this first-of-a-kind event, please point them in our direction. And if you're involved in publishing with WordPress at any scale, or just want to learn about how media organizations are using it to modernize their publishing  workflow, I hope you'll consider attending. Tickets ($40) will go on sale soon!

The Palladium-Item Paywall

At the beginning of September, the Palladium-Item newspaper in Richmond implemented what many other newspapers have in recent years, a "paywall" that requires users to have a paid subscription when viewing more than a certain number of articles per month on the paper's website.  The paper launched some new features with their digital subscription, including a tablet version and new mobile versions.

I think this approach is a great thing, and is probably something they should have done a long time ago.  Here's why.

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Tales of two newspapers: NYT and P-I

Tales of my recent encounters with two newspapers of note, The New York Times and The Palladium-Item:

The New York Times

NYC: New York Times BuildingAccording to The New York Times website, home delivery of their Sunday edition is available where I live in Richmond, Indiana.  Earlier this year I tried to take them up on that, buying a subscription online and eagerly awaiting that first Sunday morning when I would get to indulge in a paper-reading experience long enough to get me through at least one cup of coffee.

But that first Sunday, the paper didn't show up.  "Oh, yeah, that's probably just some issue getting you in the circulation system," the phone rep said when I called.  "We'll get it to you next week."

Week two, no paper.  "Sorry about that, don't know what happened there.  Hold on while I call the distribution center."  They concluded it was just another circulation issue, and assured me it had been straightened out for sure this time.

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Why I'm canceling my print newspaper subscription

Damon on FireI believe the time has finally come to cancel my subscription to the local newspaper, The Palladium-Item.  It's a decision I've wrestled with even as I've supported and found excitement in the possibilities for renewal at the paper (and blogged about some of that thinking here, here, here, and here), and it's not something I'll do lightly.

I've gone from subscribing to the paper seven days a week, to just the Friday/Saturday/Sunday package, to just the Sunday edition.  Here's why I'm going to finally let go of receiving a print edition altogether:

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Recommendations for the Local Newspaper

Jason Truitt at the Richmond Palladium-Item has requested input from the paper's readers on its current strategic planning conversations, saying "we want to do a better news operation in 2010."  As I've done in the past, I'd like to try to answer some of Jason's specific questions here, and while they're somewhat particular to our community, my recommendations might be useful for other papers too:

1. Watchdog journalism involves writing stories that hold public officials accountable for their actions or stories that help to right wrongs in the community, for example. In what ways could we improve in this area?

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Arresting journalists, preventing protest

Journalist Amy Goodman, along with two other members of her crew, were roughed up and arrested at the Republican National Convention despite clearly displaying their press credentials.  Other journalists hoping to provide media coverage of the convention and the protests around it were pre-emptively arrested before it even began.  And of course, many other people attempting to protest peacefully at both major-party conventions were rounded up, assaulted, arrested and more.  For anyone who still had some shred of hope that the media have the ability (let alone the interest) to cover actions and speech that dissent from the mainstream, these incidents may not leave you with much hope left.

Here's an interview PBS did with Goodman about her arrest, including video from the scene: Continue reading "Arresting journalists, preventing protest"