Remembering Mark Binker

One of North Carolina’s best journalists, Mark Binker, has died at age 43.

For a dozen years, Binker covered state government and the General Assembly for the Greensboro News & Record, WRAL and The Insider, a newsletter affiliated with The News & Observer. His Twitter feed was an essential follow for anyone interested in North Carolina politics.

Here’s a sampling of reaction to his sudden passing:

  • “Mark Binker was an outstanding journalist who uniquely understood complex issues and explained to viewers and readers why they should care.” — Gov. Roy Cooper
  • “Binker always called himself a ‘scruffy old reporter,’ but his humility couldn’t hide his sharp intellect – he was a policy wonk at heart who always did his homework.” — Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger
  • “In many ways he represented the very best of North Carolina, and no one knew or covered the General Assembly better than Mark Binker.” — House Speaker Tim Moore
  • “Binker would be laughing at all these politicians praising him. ‘That’s not what they said before. They want something.’ ” — John Robinson, former editor at the News & Record

I never met Mark Binker in real life, but we did communicate via social media on occasion. He was helpful, humble and humorous.

I’ve also mentioned Binker to journalism students interested in covering politics. Whether in print or on screen, he exemplified the best of journalism: careful, thorough, ethical and open-minded. Binker was a role model and mentor to many.

On Twitter, political strategist Alfredo Rodriguez suggested that the North Carolina Press Association create a Mark Binker Award “to honor journalists for their dogged and honorable pursuit of truth.” I support that idea and hope that the NCPA will consider it.

In the meantime, I offer my condolences to Binker’s family, friends and colleagues. We will all miss him.

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Student guest post: Should Facebook Live be deleted?

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 13th of those posts. Avery Williams is a junior studying editing and graphic design at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the campus editor at The Tab – UNC, an online newspaper.

Facebook Live was launched in April 2016 as a reaction to consumers of media becoming media producers themselves. More than ever, major news events are filmed by civilians on their smartphones and shared with their friends and followers. News outlets have picked up on this trend and now use Facebook Live for many of their own events or coverage, including using Facebook Live footage from their viewers for their own news coverage.

Using Facebook Live rather than posted a video shortly after recording it has some benefits. This function allows the user to see how many people are currently watching them as well as any likes or comments along the way. If a comment brings up a certain question, the person(s) in the Facebook Live video has the ability to respond in real time. It has become a popular tool to many since its launch, especially to those with a large following.

What started out as a way to better interaction and interconnectedness has now shown some of its negative side effects. On Easter Sunday 2017, Steven Stephens killed an elderly man and recorded the entire ordeal and posted it to Facebook. He later allegedly posted several videos bragging about killing more random civilians throughout the day.

Close friends of Stephens say they have no idea what the motivation could have been and have never noticed violent tendencies or clues toward this behavior.

Facebook has come out saying the video of the homicide was not live, but other videos throughout the day were. Even if this particular event was not done through Facebook Live, this opens the question of what would happen if it actually were.

Social media sites have a certain responsibility to censor posts to their viewers without too much restriction, but Facebook Live has always been in the moment with no previous review, censorship or filtration.

Even if this homicide was not committed on Facebook Live, it has proven that this could very possibly occur on the social media site.

Should users have this much power? Is no censorship and the ability to go live socially responsible for everyone, or should only trusted sources and media organizations have this power?

Many may argue that Facebook Live does more harm than good, allowing entertainers and public figures alike a chance to speak to their audience directly in real time. The issues that have now arisen deal with what happens when this power gets into the wrong hands. This is certainly not the first time illegal activity was filmed on Facebook Live, and it will not be the last.

Steven Stephens was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot on April 18, two days after the homicide.

One-and-done digital news

This week, I visited the website of the Louisville Courier-Journal for the first time. I did so via links on Twitter to a couple of its stories about a passenger being dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight.

The newspaper covered the story extensively because the flight was bound for Louisville and the roughed-up passenger lives in that area of Kentucky. A follow-up article that looked into the criminal past of that person drew heavy criticism: What did drug-related offenses from 13 years ago have to do with the incident on the plane? Here’s how the newspaper tweeted about that story:

united

The Courier-Journal’s executive editor defended the story as newsworthy to a local readership and as a part of the newspaper’s overall coverage of the airplane incident. He also said this:

We didn’t account for the fact that some people might just hit on that piece, and we didn’t put the necessary context for a national or international audience to understand. We’ve since done that.

Editors need to understand how readers get to news on their sites. Readers do that largely through social media and search engines. Those paths lead directly to individual articles, not home pages.

People like me are clicking on a link, reading the one story it leads to and moving on. It’s a different experience from picking up a print publication and seeing a set of related stories. If newspapers are to survive in the digital era, journalists must recognize that reality and edit accordingly.

Student guest post: The editor’s edge in breaking news

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Sara Salinas is a senior majoring in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. Originally from Maryland, Sara has previously worked with The Daily Tar Heel, Baltimore Business Journal and Indianapolis Star. She will move to Boston after graduation for an internship with The Boston Globe.

News is getting faster, but reporters really aren’t.

To no fault of training or dedication, reporters are struggling to keep up with the digital demands of a constantly breaking news cycle. You hear a tip, read a blurb, scroll past a vague tweet, maybe, and the starting gun fires.

Who can you call to confirm it? How quickly can you get a story up? How much context can you throw in? Which outlets have already beat you to it?

In an industry more concerned with speed than ever, editors can keep the breaking news from breaking their reporters or their reputations.

As a breaking news reporter at The Indianapolis Star, I spent most night shifts listening to police scanners and waiting for an emergency run worth reporting. The waiting could very quickly turn into scrambling if the right call came in — and that’s when our online producers shined.

The Star’s producers monitored local TV channels and news outlets for updates or confirmation, tweeted initial reports and photos, and published a basic outline of the story to be updated.

In top priority breaking news situations, producers pulled information from reporters’ tweets to update the outline as the story developed.

The added eyes and ears on a breaking news story relieved the need to scramble and made our coverage more streamlined, more accurate and more complete.

Producers used the official Star Twitter account and retweeted reporters on their personal accounts, so there was never any redundancy or confusion — just the opposite. There was clear delineation from the reporter on the scene to the larger outlet.

Though our online producers had a slight edge over the average editor in that their regular task was exclusively digital, any editor can adopt the same practices and strategies to alleviate the chaos of reporting breaking news:

  1. Designate one or two reporters to tweet developing information. If more than one reporter is updating, do your best to assign each one an angle or focus, so information isn’t repeated and time isn’t wasted.
  2. Retweet the most important information from the publication’s account. Pull a photo if the reporter has taken one. (Bonus: using the same photo repeatedly, as long as it’s representative of the full situation, can be a visual cue for continuing coverage — but don’t overdo it.)
  3. Update the online story with information from the reporter’s tweets. The work is already done, why wait to flesh out the breaking shell?
  4. Pull context from related stories and link in the breaking story. Context is the first casualty of breaking news, and including background will give the story legs and increase engagement.
  5. Keep watching your competition. If your local TV station runs with new information you don’t have yet, you know you’re behind on your reporting and, more importantly, you know what to confirm next.

We like to say journalism is a public service — and I do believe that’s still true — but it’s also becoming increasingly market-driven. Traffic to online content is both what nearly killed the industry and what’s going to save it.

And speed in breaking news situations can be one of the biggest defining factors for which news outlet gets traffic over another.

Streamlining breaking news to be useful, accurate and complete demands more than a single reporter. The editor’s edge is a digital-driven curation of updates in a situation where getting the news is just as important as how fast you do it.

Student guest post: With the Facebook Journalism Project, a social media site turns editor

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Sam Miner is a senior from Boston majoring in reporting and sports administration at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has previously interned at Cosmopolitan magazine and Time Out Sydney, and she hopes to go into digital media upon graduation. Miner also loves all things Boston sports, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean related.

We all have that uncle or cousin who continually posts about and shares 100 percent fake news that we all know is fake but it fits his/her point of view so he/she buys in completely and clutters our Facebook timelines with frustrating falsities. This is why Facebook’s announcement of The Facebook Journalism Project should cause a communal sigh of relief through the journalistic community (and with editors especially).

The Facebook Journalism Project is essentially Facebook’s attempt to clean up its reputation as the breeding ground for all those seedy news hoaxes that have been buried deep, deep in the internet and somehow find the light of day. After this past election — where fake news raged rampant (Donald Trump and “Republicans are the dumbest group of voters” and “Hillary Clinton’s child abuse ring being run out of a pizza shop”) — it’s more important now than ever before to monitor fake news and teach news literacy. This is the mission of Facebook’s new project: to create a “healthy news ecosystem” where journalism can thrive by weeding out the hoaxes and promoting news literacy among its users.

Facebook will accomplish this task through:

  • Collaborative development of news products
  • Training and tools for journalists
  • Training and tools for everyone

The portion of Facebook’s project that I want to focus on falls under the category of “Training and tools for everyone”: continuing efforts to curb news hoaxes. Facebook is aiming to weed out fake news from its site with the help of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. While I 100 percent support the filtering of fake news on Facebook, this does raise some ethical red flags for me as an editor.

Freedom of speech is the foundation upon which the profession of journalism stands; and, yes, sometimes freedoms need a check or two. I don’t think many people would mind their newsfeeds being free of hoaxes. The question that remains is: How can we fight for and defend the right to free speech on one hand and yet decide that some speech shouldn’t be entirely free?

As I see it, there are a few ways this monitoring could be done: leave it to the individual to decide (people can download Chrome extensions like the Fake News Monitor or allow social media platforms to do the curation. The latter, in a sense is what reputable news sources do regularly.

It’s the job of the editor to curate — to weed out the bad and bring to light the necessary. While there are certainly First Amendment implications with sites like Facebook and Google taking aim at fake news, they are essentially taking on a new role as editor and, as editors, I feel we should be excited about that.

Student guest post: How digital news editors can use Snapchat to attract millennials

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the fourth of those posts. Bridget Dye is a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, majoring in reporting and political science.

Snapchat is no longer just a place for selfies. Many major news media outlets have already embraced the app that reaches 41 percent of  18- to 34-year-olds in the United States.

There are two kinds of news publications on Snapchat: those who partner with the app and appear on the Featured section, and those who must ask their followers to add them as a friend.

Publications on the Featured section like ESPN, CNN and The Wall Street Journal have access to extra tools that make it easier to post graphics and embed text stories than it is for the average user.

However, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and The Daily Tar Heel are a few of the publications not in the Featured section that are still taking advantage of the app to connect on a more personal level with their young followers.

The aim of both types of news publications on Snapchat should be to attract millennials to their brand and get them to read more.

The uniqueness of the social media app sets up publications and their digital editors to use alternative story forms to draw in viewers to more substantial content. To do this, posts must be carefully shaped to attract the most amount of attention, and then the transition from Snapchat to more information must be made as easy as possible.

The platform comes with its own set of challenges, which can be turned into an opportunity with the right attention and selection.

Big, bold, and bright: drawing in Snapchat users

To get repeat Snapchat viewers, a publication should take advantage of the reasons why users are on the app in the first place: current, close-up, photo and video. Simple, bold graphics can draw in a user who wasn’t looking to spend a lot of time reading through long pages of text.

Vertical graphics and videos take advantage of the mobile space much better than horizontal visuals. This makes it harder to reuse horizontal content made with computers in mind. Also, stories featured on Snapchat should be topics that most appeal to the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

Switching over: turning Snapchat viewers into readers

One of the biggest challenges for publications on Snapchat is that it is not possible to include links to pages outside the app. Viewers must exit the app and do their own search if they want to find out more about the story.

Snapchat stories also disappear after 24 hours. Part of the appeal for users is that content is less than a day old. For publishers, this means that the story should be current to that day and that their other online platforms should have more information on the same story the same day a story is on Snapchat.

Users come to Snapchat for photos and videos, which should be embraced by publications. Instead of trying to republish lengthy text articles, the types of news stories featured on Snapchat should be the most visually compelling story of the day. The Wall Street Journal does a good job of selecting a visually compelling story about migrants and oranges. The motion text and graphics really stand out and are much more captivating than another story with more generic photos of a trading floor.

wsj-snapThe Wall Street Journal fails to connect Snapchat viewers to more of their content. The migrants and oranges story was not featured on the homepage of their website the day it appeared on Snapchat. It should be easy for a viewer to search for the story they see on Snapchat on a publication’s homepage the same day.

Snapchat’s features should be seen as opportunity rather than a challenge. Content should be specifically edited for the platform rather than reused. Using the right techniques to capture users can hopefully increase a publication’s readership.

Success on Snapchat requires specific attention, but for those who want to draw in the attention of millennials, embracing Snapchat as a major platform is a must.

No matter the type of publication, digital editors should select visually compelling alternative story forms to feature on Snapchat and then make it as easy as possible for the viewer to crossover to the publication’s full content.

What a politician says on Facebook is news

A North Carolina lawmaker’s Facebook activity is in the news, and he doesn’t like it.

Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican from New Bern, linked to a video about the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. He posted: “What a joke that gathering was! That march did not represent any of the women that I know!”

The News & Observer mentioned his post in an item in Under the Dome, a long-running column of tidbits about North Carolina politics. That didn’t sit well with Speciale, who returned to Facebook to attack the newspaper:

speciale

Speciale’s criticism is misguided. The N&O’s reporting was appropriate. Here’s why:

  • Speciale is a prominent person in a position of power. His constituents and other residents of North Carolina have an interest in his viewpoints on a range of issues. That’s news.
  • Politicians across the ideological spectrum, including the president, are using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the public. That’s news.