Who else is counting?

I launched this blog to help find meaning in the scads of information I’m gathering for my thesis, which is focused on the role of women in emerging online news organizations. My methodology is still in the works, but I’m lucky to have some fantastic research to build upon. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to create a literature review — a document that describes “the critical points of current knowledge” on a topic.

But it won’t be your typical lit review. There will be video, photos, maybe even an interactive graphic, all designed to help understand what data is available, who’s collecting it and — perhaps most importantly — why. I’ve written already about some of the sources I’ll cite, including this list of blogs and books, a public Zotero bibliography and a post about The Gender Report, a byline surveillance project that’s found an underpresentation of women in online news.

I’m also talking to the Columbia Journalism Review in hopes of gleaning some useful information from its fantastic Guide to Online News Startups. There’s also some interesting research happening at MIT and in conjunction with the Boston Globe’s innovation lab. One or both of those projects could make for interesting video.

Who else should I include?

On becoming a visual storyteller

It’s mid-March here in New Hampshire, which means several things: spring skiing, mud and town meeting — a centuries old form of direct democracy where eligible voters in a community gather annually to decide public matters. Should the town mandate recycling? Give the teachers a raise? Buy a new wing plow for the highway department?

It’s fantastic — especially if there’s a bake sale in the lobby.

I long ago lost track of the number of town meetings I’ve covered, but this was the first year I thought to document any part of the experience with photos. (My former colleagues in the Concord Monitor’s photo department, on the other hand, take town meeting visuals seriously.) But on Saturday morning, as I sat in the back corner of a sunny community center, I noticed how the light touched the pinstriped curtains on the voting booths. It was simple, beautiful and iconic.

Here’s the picture I took with my iPhone, toned up a bit with Instagram:

Road repair was the big issues at the 2013 town meeting in Northfield, NH. Photo/Meg Heckman
Road repair was the big issue at the 2013 town meeting in Northfield, NH. Photo/Meg Heckman

In the year since I joined Instagram, I’ve learned to see photos in my daily life. It grounds me, helps me notice details and write with a sense of place.  Sometimes I’ll take a picture of an item I want to describe in words later on or share a moment on Twitter or Facebook like something out of a visual reporter’s notebook. It’s immediate, provisional and accessible.

This kind of thinking is crucial to modern journalism. As this piece on Poynter.org points out, “the web is a visual medium.”

It didn’t start that way, back when HTML truly was all about marking up text. Over the years, though, the options for shaping the appearance of a Web page have grown more plentiful and sophisticated.

Now, of course, Web producers have a wide range of design tools at their disposal. Color, typography, imagery, positioning and many more design elements can be tuned to exacting detail. Emerging technologies like CSS3 and HTML5 make it easy to implement these visual ideas.

In the right hands, an array of design choices can produce impressive results. Misapplied, they can create a visual cacophony.

Effectively using visual elements has been a challenge as I’ve evolved from writer to post-platform storyteller, but so worth the effort. I love the idea of grabbing whatever tool will best tell a story organically. Pen and notebook. DSLR camera. iPhone. Sound kit. Data visualization software. All of the above — or something we have yet to imagine.

It’s an overwhelming prospect at first, but, done right, one that allows us to create the kind of narratives in which, as Ken Burns says, one plus one equals three.

Will tech narrow the gender gap in music journalism?

This great story about women in music journalism makes a strong case for why technology has the potential to help close the media gender gap.

As author Joe Rivers explains, music writers have historically been mostly men, but the web is giving aspiring journalists of both genders new ways to build their reputations: 

If you wanted to be a music writer forty years ago, what would have been your route to success? Most likely it would have involved attempting to live the rock n’ roll lifestyle, developing contacts and a personal connection with the movers and shakers of the music industry, and the gumption to doss down in London wherever the story was. That’s not to mention having a Y chromosome, which was practically a pre-requisite. Nowadays, it’s how you utilise the internet to fit what you want to do, and your genetic makeup is going to have far less of an impact on whether you succeed.

Let’s hope that’s true.

Women and #theendofbig

As Andrew Sullivan’s recent solo venture demonstrates, journalists with the right kind of digital street cred can cash in on their individual brands.

Sullivan parted ways with the Daily Beast at the end of last year, launching his political blog behind a metered paywall. The move seems to be paying off. Mashable reports that he’s made more than $600,000 so far, and PaidContent predicts that similar persona-based news organizations might become more common:

There are a number of other bloggers and columnists who could arguably pull off a standalone, Sullivan-style model:New York Times foreign correspondent Nick Kristof, for example, has a huge following through social media like Twitter and Facebook and is a popular author…Other columnists at the NYT and similar mainstream outlets like Tom Friedman or Ezra Klein could probably make a go of it, as could some writers such as Felix Salmon at Reuters.

These guys are great journalists, and it would be interesting to see any one of them launch a solo venture, but why are there no women on this list? Ann Marie Lipinski, the curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, posed a similar question on Twitter. It led to an insightful exchange with author Nicco Mele:

The End of Big is a soon-to-be-released book by Mele that examines how the social web is shifting power from organizations to individuals. His argument is exciting to anyone who sees the web as a place to cultivate a diverse chorus of voices. But it’s also pretty frightening when we consider that many women trying to make a name for themselves online are as likely to be critiqued on their as looks as they are for their ideas.

Women may also find it harder to build the kind of professional identities suitable for standalone ventures. Last year, just 25 percent of guests on Sunday morning political talk shows were female, according to the latest report by the Women’s Media Center. That same report found that male experts were used as sources far more than their female colleagues, and men continue to write the majority of op-ed pieces.

The above example of Kara Swisher is a good one. She’s the co-executive editor of AllThingsD.com. What other savvy female journalists have the right stuff to strike out on their own?

Pastor banned from using the word “feminist” in her blog

A blogging contract between a minister and the spiritual website BeliefnetBeliefnet fell apart recently because the minister wanted to use the word “feminist” in her blog, according to JimRomenesko.com.

Kristine Holmgren, a Presbyterian minister, suggested two titiles for her blog: “Feminist Pulpit Notes” and “Sweet Truth – Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist.” But Beliefnet had a problem with that, Romenesko reports:

The pastor/writer says she asked (a Beliefnet employee) over the phone why she had a problem with ‘feminist.’ The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that ‘we know our readers are offended by the word.’

In case you’re wondering, Merriam Webster defines “feminist” as the adjective or noun version of the word “feminism.” Here’s what that word means:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

What’s so offensive about that?