Saturday, June 7, 2008

Update from IRE

Weather is nice here, conference is great. Some random thoughts:
* Great stories often involve a little bit of luck, but are more the product of hard work than anything else. That's one thing I'm picking up from all the speakers at these sessions.
* Our system of government was created with checks and balances - the ones we all learned about in civics class - but there is no greater, stronger check on our government than the press. I thought about that while listening to a reporter from the Detroit Free Press talk about his coverage of the mayor up there and the private e-mails/text message scandal there, which has led to further revelations about contract-steering and nepotism/cronyism in city government. The legislative branch of city government would never have worked to ferret out that story. The courts? Well, the courts are involved NOW, but only because the press fought so hard to run the story/stories down.
* Editors talking about editing can be really boring. Editors talking about stories is much more interesting. The process of editing, although it is my job, is not that interesting to me. Stories, and finding out new facts or making some great revelation or realization, are what interests me.
* Walt Bogdanich, NY Times reporter and Pulitzer winner, looks incredibly like my friend and former colleague Jay Hamburg.
* When trying to decide which sessions to attend at a professional conference, don't decide based on topic. Decide on the quality of the speakers doing the presentation. A session with some folks on the panel for whom you've never heard of or you've never heard of their work, there's a chance it'll be a really good session, but it also has a good chance of being a dud. A session with great speakers, it'll be a good session, no matter what the topic is.
* I really enjoyed the session last night that included an advance screening of an episode of the upcoming HBO miniseries "Generation Kill," which is based on a book by a Rolling Stone reporter who was embedded with the Marines in Iraq. I think I'll watch the miniseries now.
* I have been thinking for several weeks now about document retention and filing for journalists. Covering government, we routinely get 1,000-page document dumps in response to our FOIAs. Some of that material is immediately useful, some is more useful weeks or months down the road and some is, quiet honestly, not useful at all for our journalistic efforts. But keeping that material, keeping it organized, and keeping it findable over a long term is a challenge. Filing was one of the major issues talked about yesterday on the very good panel about "building the ongoing investigation," in which all the participants shared their personal memories of the late, great Bob Greene. And someone just asked a notes-storage/retention question in the session I was just in about coaxing great writing from reporters. A common piece of advice: Always type up your notes and write memos to yourself after interviews.
* Everyone, everywhere, seems to be being asked to do more with less. Why is it that we live in an era where, thanks to new technology, we have more and more media in the world, but there are less and less resources for the most important work the media does, which draws the greatest attention from the readers/audience and has the greatest impact (see bullet point above about Detroit)?
* The conference hotel is super-nice. I am so excited to hear Dave Barry speak at lunch!
NOTE: I went through this post Sunday afternoon, fixed some typos and added some links, so it's changed a little bit since I first posted it.

1 comment:

Mule Day said...

Document retention policy is a very good idea... Of course it needs to be digital... We have a guy here in San Diego who took a scanned document and made it into a text searchable pdf the other day... I didn't know you could do that... Would help a lot in terms of document mining to take all your paper docs, as they come in, and make them into searchable pdfs.