An alternative way to cover Europe’s refugee crisis

As the U.S. news organizations focus on a presidential campaign that’s more than a year from concluding, a refugee crisis is big news in Europe this summer. The latest news involves the deaths of 71 people in the back of a truck in Austria and as many as 200 people killed off the coast of Libya.

Here’s how The Associated Press wire story on those incidents was presented on page 15A of The News & Observer today:


The digital version adds a photo gallery and video. Neither version has a map.

This story is about geography. The AP story mentions Austria, Libya, Italy, Greece, Syria and other countries as well as the Mediterranean Sea. So let’s create a large map that shows what locations refugees are leaving and where they are trying to go.

This story is also about people and politics. Let’s address that in an FAQ format and discuss what’s behind the crisis. Why are people risking their lives to leave their home countries? Are they “migrants” or “refugees“? What are governments doing to address the situation? How can we can help? What’s next?

That approach to this news would make it harder for readers to turn the page or click to the next website, and it would make the story more memorable.


Q&A with Leo Suarez of The Raleigh Connoisseur

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. (Photo by Leo Suarez)

Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh during Capital City Bikefest in September 2014. (Photo by Leo Suarez)

Leo Suarez is a blogger and a server engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He runs The Raleigh Connoisseur, a blog that focuses on the city’s downtown. In this interview, conducted by email, Suarez discusses the blog’s origins and purpose as well as his thoughts about downtown Raleigh.

Q. What is The Raleigh Connoisseur, and what inspired you to start it?

A. The Raleigh Connoisseur is a blog that focuses on new developments and the planning of downtown Raleigh. There are two perspectives that I take with it. The first consists of things that I see from walking the sidewalks while the second has a more civic angle that follows City Council and committee meetings. The two perspectives usually complement each other through the writing and photos that I post.

After being pulled into the online conversations and news articles about downtown’s Fayetteville Street makeover in 2006, I couldn’t get enough of it. There wasn’t enough content online to feed my hunger for urban development chatter in Raleigh.

I found myself talking about it so much in front of friends and family that they saw me as a downtown know-it-all. At the time, I was looking for a platform to post photos about downtown, and a blog seemed natural. The writing slowly grew around the photos and almost nine years later, I’m still posting.

Q. There’s a lot going on in downtown Raleigh. How do you decide what to write about?

A. lot of it revolves around any changes I see taking place while just being in downtown. If a sign for something new goes up, I’ll check it out. If something is removed, I’m curious to know why. When something is out of place or can be done better, I’d like to know how it can be improved. Walking the sidewalks does inspire topics that you can’t get while being at home or in an office.

If anything does stick with me for a few days, that usually means it’s something I want to put into writing. In some cases, a single photo can tell the whole story without that many words, so the camera is an important asset too.

Q. Where do blogs like yours fit into the media landscape in Raleigh? How do you complement and contrast with larger news organizations like WRAL and The News & Observer?

A. I want the blog to be more about conversations rather than news. Conversations involve more than just what is happening but why it’s happening. This can also be mixed in with a little history and data. Trends and the analysis of them are what I think is missing in the Raleigh media landscape.

I think that larger news organizations are experts on answering, “What is going on?” but haven’t mastered answering, “Why is it happening?” Data, history and personal experiences are what I’m trying to bring into the blog in order to allow readers to step back from an issue and really understand it.

Q. You’re a fan of downtown Raleigh. What are some of its key accomplishments and issues, and where do you see the city going from here?

A. Downtown revitalization projects are happening all across the country, and the city has done a good job of ensuring that our downtown is ready to meet today’s demand of businesses and residents who want to be there. I’m happy that the city recognizes downtown as a key ingredient to the overall city’s success and takes time to plan appropriately.

I do think the city is heading in the right direction, but I’m worried that we’re following the standard “downtown revitalization playbook” that all other cities are reading. I haven’t seen strong leadership come from the city council on how to make urban Raleigh unique.

When we face a new issue, like parking or noise, we always look to other cities for the answer rather than create a solution that fits Raleigh. I’m not saying we discount what other cities do but soon, as Raleigh keeps growing, new leaders need to take us to the next level where we think more independently.

Follow Leo Saurez on Twitter and learn more about him on his personal website.

Skimming the news

Two years ago, I wrote about how journalism students at UNC-Chapel Hill got their news. It’s a question that I always ask on the first day of class. In 2013, most mentioned newspapers — in digital form, not in print.

This week, I asked the same question to my three classes. There were still many responses that mentioned newspapers: The New York Times, The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel. Again, the focus is on digital, but the DTH remains popular in print, perhaps because it is free and readily available across campus, and has a crossword puzzle.

A few students say they turn to magazines, including Garden & Gun. Others like and National Public Radio. Local TV news and Reddit each got one mention.

But one new name stuck out from two years ago: The Skimm. Out of about 45 students total, two dozen receive this daily newsletter, delivered each morning by email. These Skimm readers said they like its breezy tone and straightforward approach to current events as well as its smart use of links. It’s easy to skim.

The Skimm started three years ago, and its editors say it now has 1.5 million subscribers, a number most newspapers and magazines would envy. Seeing that success, news organizations from BuzzFeed to The Daily Tar Heel have launched email newsletters. So I’ve added newsletter curation as an assignment (PDF) in my Advanced Editing course.

It will be interesting to see how college students get their news two years from now. Will conversational newsletters that make jokes about Vladimir Putin and embed GIFs still be popular, or will something else take their place? I’ll let you know.

Q&A with Paige Ladisic, editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel

The Daily Tar Heel staff works in this building in Chapel Hill. The DTH is an independent, student-run publication.

The Daily Tar Heel staff works in this building on Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill. The DTH is an independent, student-run publication. (Photo by Sarah Brown)

Paige Ladisic is editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill. She previously served as online managing editor, summer editor and staff writer at the DTH. In this interview, conducted by email, Ladisic outlines her plans for the paper for the 2015-16 academic year.

Q. Describe your job. What does the editor-in-chief do on a typical day?

A. The great thing about being the editor-in-chief, from what I’ve witnessed, is that the job changes a little bit every day. You’re following the same process maybe, but every day, it’s a new problem to solve or a new success to celebrate. I haven’t had a full day as editor-in-chief yet during daily production, so I don’t know exactly what my days will look like, but I envision something like this:

I have 9:30 a.m. classes every day, Monday-Thursday, so I’m up early, checking my phone and figuring out what the day is going to look like. You don’t know when or how news is going to break, so all DTH editors have to stay plugged in throughout the day just in case. I have class in the early afternoon, and I leave some short break periods between class for working on homework, answering emails or messages and looking at what we’ve got planned for the paper the next day.

At 3:30 p.m., all of my editors and most of my management team collect in our conference room for budget. We’ll plan both the print product and the digital product for the day after looking at the day’s analytics on Chartbeat, and we’ll get a sense of what visuals and digital extras we have to work on that night as well. We’ll also highlight what stories we think should be included in DTH At A Glance, our new daily newsletter.

Then from there, we hit the ground running, producing the paper and putting the website together. I read almost every story that comes through each night, and whatever I don’t read is read by Managing Editor Mary Tyler March. Our deadline is 12:30 a.m. each night, so that’s what we do — read, write headlines, check photos and graphics and watch the clock until the print product is sent off.

Q. You have suggested that the DTH take a “digital first” approach to news. How do you see that unfolding?

A. The DTH has to be digital first to survive. The first step to that was hire a staff that is passionate about thinking digitally. I have a great online managing editor, Kelsey Weekman, to head the team, and I found a creative social media manager, Danny Nett, and a bright digital production assistant, Brielle Kronstedt, to work with her. Without people who care about digital first, there is no digital first.

The second step is to start early. Returning staffers got an email from me early in the summer about changes to their workflow. At least one online-only component, be it a graphic, timeline or a few embedded elements, will be required when a story is pitched by a writer. We’ll add more components as we brainstorm. Stories that aren’t always successful digitally will be enhanced with links, explainer videos and graphics to improve reader engagement.

Our new staffers will learn about digital thinking in our orientation session in September, before they even have their first assignment. We want to start as fresh as we can this year, so there’s no time to think about anything but digital first.

Q.You’re a student at UNC-Chapel Hill but also a watchdog on its actions. How do you balance those roles?

A. I see myself as The Daily Tar Heel editor-in-chief first and a UNC student second. That means a lot of things — my grades and my deep love for UNC basketball, for example — come after my responsibility to The Daily Tar Heel and the community we serve.

In our editors retreat this past weekend, an editor eloquently said our goal should be to always “to hold power accountable and account for those without power.” We will always ask the bigger questions and hold our university and our student leaders accountable. We will always push for the access we should have at a public university, and we will identify when our university is not living up to the expectations students have for it. We will identify those in our community who go unheard, and we will give them a voice.

There are times when being a student at UNC is far less important to me than being the editor of The Daily Tar Heel. I think many of my editors feel the same way.

Q. Some college newspapers have reduced how often they publish in print. Do you see a day when the DTH isn’t “daily” with ink on paper?

A. No, I don’t. We’re fighting hard every day to fill the print paper with the best content we can, and I know we won’t give it up easily. In 2016, we’ll be ensuring the DTH is picked up by students and that we are read every day. Our numbers are going down, just like any print publication, but we are fighting for what we love.

I met a lot of news editors from papers from all over the country in Athens, Georgia, this year for an editor conference, and I was sad to see how many papers have had to go from daily to weekly or less than that — The Diamondback at the University of Maryland, for example, just switched to weekly after 105 years.

We see it happen. We know it could happen to us. But I think all of us, from the print staff to the advertorial staff, are working hard to ensure that our tradition of 123 of daily print production continues.

We know that our readers are online. So we’ll be there. We’ll be there in more ways than ever this year — in newsletters, podcasts, videos and regular blog posts, just to name a few. But as long as hundreds line up for a copy of the Dean Smith commemorative issue and as long as we see people grabbing a paper on their walk to class, we’ll be in print too.