By Ashley Carnifax
The Working Press
Records of Disaster
Mark Schleifstein, an environmental reporter for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, and Michael Morisy, co-founder of the website MuckRock.com that helps users submit and track Freedom of Information Act requests, spoke Monday morning about the challenges of accessing public records in times of disaster.
Schleifstein said one of the biggest challenges in getting records relating to the BP oil spill was agencies’ reluctance to release information that might be necessary should legal action be taken against BP. For example, information about the spill’s effect on wildlife is hard to come by, Schleifstein said.
One source that he found particularly helpful, though, was the National Response Center, part of the U.S. Coast Guard. Anytime anything is spilled in the ocean or body of water connecting to the ocean, the NRC requires a report, Schleifstein said. The reports don’t have all the information journalists may want, but the case number on the report can be used to get more information from the local Coast Guard, Schleifstein said.
Schleifstein emphasized that one of the most important things to keep in mind is that reporters can’t always rely on FOIA requests and that, especially in a disaster, journalists have to do research and interviews on site to ensure they get the story.
The takeaway: Tips from Michael Morisy
• Know your local FOIA officers and don’t be afraid to file requests with them
• Use search engines to see if similar documents already exist on the Internet
• Follow up on requests to ensure they made it to the right person and someone is working on them
• Read documents thoroughly; good information is sometimes buried
• Having software to make your documents keyword searchable saves time and energy otherwise needed to read hundreds of pages
• Understand your rights and challenge agencies that deny you information you are entitled to
Creating Multiplatform Stories
More than 50 journalists crammed into a meeting room Monday morning to hear Victoria Lim, Bright House Sports Network reporter, share tips for making any story into a multiplatform story.
Lim said she began doing multiplatform reporting in the ‘90s when her television station gave her the opportunity to write a print piece to supplement her work. She said one of her early pet peeves was when a print or television story would direct readers or viewers to the Web, but the story there was identical to the one on the paper or on television.
She made a point to make sure her reporting provided unique information in each medium after that.
For example, some viewers contacted the television station about being scammed on online auction sites, Lim said. She decided to use the television piece to focus on the individuals who were victims of the scam. In print, Lim wrote a story about the business aspect of online auction sites. For the website, she compiled a tip sheet on how to safely buy and sell in online auctions.
Lim emphasized that journalists need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each medium when working on a multiplatform story. For example, Twitter is good for breaking news and quick updates, but the character limit makes detailed reporting difficult, she said.
Lim also warned attendees that social media can be a useful tool, but journalists need to remember that the basic foundations of reporting – attribution and accuracy – still apply.
The takeaway: Pros and cons of multiplatform reporting:
• Being more familiar with your story
• Cross promotion for your stories
• Improving your marketability as a journalist
• Multiple deadlines
• Multiple bosses (sometimes competing)
• Time crunch
• No additional pay (usually)
J-School in the New Media World
Jerry Ceppos, Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communications dean, led an informal discussion Monday afternoon about how journalism schools adapt to the new media environment.
Ceppos started by saying he had two main thoughts on the subject: Schools should not be afraid to take modest risks and should work to distinguish their schools in some way.
It is “a shame” that more schools don’t take advantage of unique geographical advantages, faculty specialties and alumni resources, Ceppos said.
For example, Ceppos said he was “troubled” in his first month as dean at LSU, because there was little talk or excitement about technology. He decided to give every full-time faculty member an iPad to foster the use of new technology within the classroom and establish the journalism program as one emphasizing technology.
Ceppos said this kind of monetary commitment is not possible everywhere, but it may be worth it to do fundraising to help establish each university within the specialty it seeks to be a part of.
Alternately, journalism departments should try to form partnerships with other departments within their university, such as health or business, to give students unique journalism experiences, he said.
Following the Money: College Sports in America
Steve Berkowitz, sports projects editor for USA Today, and Tom Farrey, ESPN enterprise reporter, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd Monday afternoon about the business of college athletics and how to determine where the money comes from and goes.
Farrey said it is important to pay attention to how the NCAA and universities choose to report their revenues and expenses. For example, the NCAA reported that only 14 athletic programs turn a profit, Farrey said. These numbers don’t take into account student fees and other money from the university, he said. When you add this money into the equation, about 60 athletic programs are profitable, Farrey said.
Berkowitz said the best way to get athletic departments’ financial records is to request the reports they submit to the federal government and the NCAA. Schools submit reports to the Department of Education in October, but these records are not as thorough as the ones the schools submit to the NCAA in January.
Requesting these forms from the university is the best way to get financial information, because the NCAA does not release data for individual schools.