From headline to hashtag

In recent years, politics in Raleigh, North Carolina, have been pretty polite. Elections for City Council and mayor have rarely seen negative campaigning.

That changed this week when this full-page advertisement with a provocative headline appeared in two community newspapers owned by The News & Observer.


The impetus for the ad is a debate regarding outdoor drinking at some bars. Earlier this year, the City Council narrowly passed an ordinance to address concerns about noise and crowded, dirty sidewalks. Bar owners said the ordinance has failed to address the problems while cutting into their business.

What struck me about the ad is how quickly it became the topic of conversation on social media. The hashtag #DrunkTown began trending almost immediately. There’s already a T-shirt.

The hubbub prompted local media organizations, including The News & Observer itself, to write stories about the ad. Other stories included a look at Raleigh’s “besotted past.” The ad even inspired an Onion-style bit of satire.

The “DrunkTown” campaign has since expanded to radio and direct mail. But it started in print.

It’s interesting that even today, with revenue for newspaper advertising in steady decline, an ad in print would become the talk of the town. The newspaper is sometimes still a conversation starter. I imagine that publishers will make a toast to that.

Why the Charleston shootings should be front-page news in Durham

The Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed  on June 17, 2015. (Creative Commons image)
Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed on June 17, 2015. A 21-year-old man was charged in the racially motivated slayings. (Creative Commons image)

The killings of nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, have shocked the nation this week. The shooter was driven by racist beliefs to enter the historically black church, participate in a Bible study and then gun down his victims. He was captured the next day in Shelby, North Carolina.

Most North Carolina newspapers had the story on their front pages on Friday, with one notable exception: the Herald-Sun in Durham. It published a story about the shootings on page 7A.

Ostensibly, the reason for the story’s placement is that the news from Charleston is “not local” to the paper’s readers. The Herald-Sun places a heavy emphasis on news of Durham and nearby Chapel Hill on its front pages. News of the nation and world appears on inside pages.

Charleston is about 300 miles from Durham. But “local” is not simply geographic. It can also be political, historical and cultural.

Durham has a prominent place in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. It is the home of N.C. Central University, a historically black school. Race continues to be an important topic in the city.

Those characteristics about Durham connect the city to the Charleston shootings. To its credit, the Herald-Sun did publish a story about the killings on its front page on Saturday, focusing on reaction in Durham.

Proximity has long been an important news value, as it should be. But editors at the Herald-Sun and other news organizations should keep in mind that “local” can mean more than mileage on a map.

Q&A with Tracy Boyer Clark of Reportory

Tracy Boyer Clark is founder and CEO of Repotory, an online service that allows readers to create a daily newspaper based on their interests. She is also a senior marketing manager at IBM. Clark started her journalism career as a multimedia producer at The Roanoke Times in Virginia. In this interview, conducted by email, Clark talks about the origins for Reportory and how the service works.

Q. What is Reportory, and how did you come up with the idea for it?

A. Reportory is an à la carte news customization platform that allows readers to create a daily customized news digest based on what news sources they read, which sections they enjoy and any key terms they want to be sure not to miss.

The word “Reportory” is a mixture of “report” and “story” as we see our product being exactly that — a report of multiple news stories. It is also a play on words to repertoire, a collection of things.

I came up with the idea in 2008 while working at The Roanoke Times. I went on a delivery ride one morning and thought about how this model couldn’t exist much longer but that the personal touch of hand-delivering your news was something that readers valued.

Then, at an earnings meeting when I learned that people and paper were the two most expensive components of running the newspaper, I started to think about ways to remove the printed paper and reduce the people involved while still delivering the news in a packaged way — but with a new twist to use technology to customize the news for every person since readers only like certain sections. So now I still “deliver” customized news to readers, just into their inbox, not their doorstep.

Q. The site delivers the news primarily as a PDF. Why did you go with that format?

A. Glad you asked! When I started working on this business, I recognized the plethora of news aggregation apps out there already (Flipboard, News360, News Republic, Circa, Yahoo News Digest, etc).

However, those are just available on mobile with no other reading format. This works great for Gen Y, but I wanted to focus on the two generations before them who have been loyal print readers and are used to that personal news delivery. Not all of them use smartphones or are as comfortable with mobile technology as the younger demographic. So as they cancel their news subscriptions due to rising costs or other frustration, I wanted Reportory to fill this news void for them.

That all being said, even though the PDF digest is the “personalized newspaper” we were first and foremost working on, readers also receive a daily link to read their articles online in their own customized news portal. In early 2015, we will be releasing our iOS apps for phones and tablets where readers can access their articles on the go.

Q. The big question for any startup is how you plan to make money. What about that aspect of Reportory?

A. One of the main differences with Reportory and any other news aggregation site is that we do not use free RSS feeds to link readers back-n-forth across the web. Instead, we license 100 percent of the content in order to use the entirety of the articles to create this new product.

However, since our platform is totally customized in terms of the news it delivers to each reader, we do not pay editors or other journalists to hand-pick what the top news should be. Thus, at this point content licensing and technology development are our two largest costs.

All Reportory readers can receive 10 news articles a day for free, and we will be implementing some customized advertising to offset this cost. Then, for serious readers who want more content, we have a tiered pricing model where they can pay $4.99/month for 20 articles daily or $9.99/month for 30 articles daily.

We have plans to provide paying users with additional benefits such as a list of stock market data in their digest if they select business as a preferred topical section or a list of sports scores if they select sports. Our goal essentially is to recreate the newspaper from the ground up for these readers but only with the content they want.

Q. You’ve seen many twists and turns in your career in journalism and communications. What advice do you have for today’s students who want to go into the field?

A. I have indeed!

I dabbled in traditional newspapers right after college, then went back to graduate school during the economic crisis to receive an MSIS because I am fascinated with technology and an MBA as I love all aspects of business and marketing. During grad school, I interned at a startup and at Lenovo before finally landing at IBM and now working on my own startup. So I have truly stretched and explored a good deal over the past 10 years!

My biggest advice for students today is to experiment and explore as much as they possibly can. They should realize that their first job out of college is likely not their 20+ year spot as it may have been for their parents. Instead, they should push themselves to try a role that they might not have initially targeted or a company that wasn’t initially on their radar.

Each of my internships and jobs has taught me so much about myself — what inspires me, challenges me, bores me, etc. That self-awareness is so important to determining one’s career path … and one I am still learning as I continue to stretch and explore!

I love the saying, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go” by T.S. Eliot. That is my biggest takeaway for people in their 20s: to heed this advice and take those risks in the early part of their career and never live their lives with “what ifs.”

Remembering Elizabeth “Bricks” House

I am saddened to hear of the death of Elizabeth House, a former colleague at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Elizabeth and I worked together in Greensboro from 1989-1991. My job on the copy desk there was my first full-time gig in newspapers. Elizabeth was always kind and helpful to newcomers like me, eager to show us the ropes.

Bricks, as she was known, did everything in Greensboro: reporter, sportswriter and columnist, copy editor and page designer. She was similarly versatile after moving to Hawaii, where she worked from 1993 to 2010.

In 2013, Elizabeth organized a reunion of News & Record journalists. I was able to attend and catch up with friends and colleagues from more than 20 years ago. The gathering took place on a perfect September afternoon in downtown Greensboro, and it wouldn’t have happened without Elizabeth.

Farewell, Bricks. You will be missed.

A story that’s set in agate and unfolds in a box

This weekend, I plan to attend a baseball-themed “block party” in Durham, North Carolina. The event is pegged to the upcoming all-star game between the International League and the Pacific League.

One of the bands performing at the event is The Baseball Project, which includes two members of R.E.M. Their latest album includes an ode to the box score, as printed in the sports sections of newspapers. Some sample lyrics:

  • “For a half hour every day, let the box scores have their way.”
  • “I don’t need a website recap or highlights on ESPN.”
  • “The box score tells the whole truth. That’s the way it was designed.”
  • “And when the last newspaper goes, we’ll just read ’em on our phones.”

I too have been a reader of box scores since I was a child. The story of a game is in there as much as it is in traditional story text. That goes for sports besides baseball.

So I figure I will sing along to “Box Scores” on Saturday, assuming The Baseball Project performs it at the party. If you cannot be there, you can read the lyrics to the song and listen to it on YouTube.


A lesson above the fold

Worrying about what’s “above the fold” on a newspaper page seems antiquated in an age of digital media. But it still matters sometimes. Here’s an example.

The Sunday edition of The News & Observer included a section of news about the Raleigh area and the state as a whole. The story at the top of the page is about a job fair aimed at luring N.C. teachers to come to Houston, where they would be better paid. The story below that one is about a street festival in Cary.

Here’s how the full page appeared:


My brunch companion, however, saw only the top half of the page, like so:


Her reaction: “I thought those were the teachers in the picture. They sure seem happy with the idea of moving to Houston.”

That confusion is understandable — and easy to avoid. The page designer could put a kicker or even the main headline above the photo. That would create a more obvious visual divide between the stories. A thin line, as used on the N&O page, is too subtle to do that.

“Being John Malkovich” then and now


Returning recently from a visit to Hong Kong, I had 15 hours on a plane to read, to sleep and to watch in-flight movies on a tiny screen on the back of the seat in front of me.

One of the viewing options was “Being John Malkovich,” in which a sad-sack puppeteer named Craig (John Cusack) discovers a mysterious portal into the head of the titular character. Craig teams up with his office crush, Maxine (Catherine Keener), to turn journeys into Malkovich’s mind into a business venture. But there are unexpected consequences.

Released in 1999, “Being John Malkovich” holds up very well as an examination of identity. But some scenes seemed outdated in the era of an increasingly digital media. Here are some parts of the movie that struck me as in need of an update:

  • Then: Craig and Maxine place an advertisement in a print newspaper, inviting people to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes for $200. Now: Craig and Maxine post the ad on Craigslist (natch).
  • Then: Craig calls his wife from a pay phone to say he will be late home from work. Now: Craig texts his wife to say he will be late home from work.
  • Then: Craig takes a surreptitious phone call in his bedroom from Maxine. Now: Craig texts Maxine while hiding in his bathroom.
  • Then: In the first scene in which we see the world through the eyes of Malkovich, he reads a print edition of The Wall Street Journal. Now: We first see Malkovich scrolling through his Facebook feed.
  • Then: Malkovich looks at a print catalog and orders towels over the phone, questioning the customer service representative about differences between products. Now: Malkovich orders towels on Amazon, reviewing customer feedback to guide his decision.
  • Then: People line up to be Malkovich, bringing in big money to Craig and Maxine. Now: People find ways around the Malkovich paywall, denying Craig and Maxine the profits that they expected. Their startup is a bust.