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StateImpact Reporters’ Toolbox: Where to Start?

Steven Depolo / Flickr

StateImpact Policies and Protocol:

What are These Things Called “Topic Pages”?

Building Your Posts and Adding Fun Stuff:

Here is a map of some of the wonderful features you can add to your site. Click on any highlighted feature to learn how to add that feature to a post.  Greatest hits include:

Webinar: The Basics of Data Journalism

Data: It’s not just for computer geeks anymore.

There is an awful lot that data can do for you and your stories if you get over the idea that it is something for other, more computer-savvy people and get into the habit of working it into your daily routine. Think of it as simply another–but infinitely more authoritative–source, one that allows you to speak with more authority, see beyond the clutter and the “he said-she said” and find trends and facts that aren’t otherwise available.

The digitization of government records offers great opportunity for reporters to hold public agencies accountable, increase government transparency and inform the public–but only if we know how to ask for, obtain and use it. So don’t be afraid. Be psyched.

In the webinar below, I walk through the basics to get you started. (See below THAT for a mini-recap and a whole bunch of links to the tools and sites mentioned in the video.)

The Basics of Data Journalism (April 11, 2013) from NPR Digital Services on Vimeo.

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Five Beat Reporting Tips You Can Use

“Once a week, buy a key person coffee. Learn what they want from you before telling them what you want from them. When possible, do interviews in person. Build relationships. While on a story, log contact info for good sources you meet.” — Erin Barnett, The Oregonian

Norman Rockwell's "The Runaway" shows a beat cop talking up a runaway child.

In our latest StateImpact webinar, our database reporting coordinator Matt Stiles gave us a run down of some things to keep in mind to really own your beat. Before he was a data nerd, he was a nerdy beat reporter. Stiles covered federal courts in Dallas and City Hall in Houston. Both had challenges. The feds wouldn’t talk to him. And he couldn’t get the folks at City Hall to stop talking to him.

As you know, beat reporting is hard. The best beat reporters are organized, they really care about a subject and they’re asking the right questions. Some tips to remember to own your beat:

1.) Be aware and be around.
The best beat cops are in diners and on street corners meeting people and, in this case, perhaps discovering a runaway. If he were out in his car, or back at the station house, he might not have seen this kid. Or looked close enough to recognize the pack on the floor. This kid might have gotten away.

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Do You Really Need That Question in Your Headline?

If you’ve been asking yourself whether you should put questions in your post headlines, the guidance from Team StateImpact is this: Only use a question in your headline if you have a really compelling reason to do so.

Asking a question in a headline can be a way to get people to click on your post if they see it in social media or through search. But it’s also an easy cop out, especially when your post can go a step further and promise the reader something more definite. Wright Bryan, who heads up’s many, many blogs, adds this:

“Headlines with questions should largely be avoided because they suggest uncertainty. It sends a message to your reader that the story is incomplete, that you haven’t gotten to the bottom of it. Anyone can speculate about the news. Our job is to provide facts and answers, to bring clarity to the story.”

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Eight Interviewing Techniques to Get the Best Sound, Stories

Elise Hu / NPR StateImpact

NPR Education Correspondents Larry Abramson and Claudio Sanchez giving us interviewing tips.

Hello from Indianapolis, where the StateImpact education reporters and editors have gathered for an NPR fly-in sponsored by the Lumina Foundation. There’s no shortage of wonky talk about the big issues in K-12 and higher education, but NPR veterans are also here to offer reporting guidance. Some takeaways from NPR education reporters Larry Abramson and Claudio Sanchez about conducting great interviews for your pieces:

1. Build Great Sources First
Spend time with teachers, administrators and students before you need them. It doesn’t hurt to do a positive story about education or a profile before you careen into a story that’s harder hitting. Continue reading

Matt Thompson’s Dark Secrets of the Online Overlords: A Recap

Matt and I pretending we were at prom, May 2011

For as long as I’ve known Matt Thompson (we first met a concert in Austin, natch), he’s shocked and awed me with his large brain. Over the past half decade, everything I was trying or figuring out or finding success with in digital and multi-platform journalism, Matt had already thought through, unpacked and articulated. He’s not just a close friend who rescues my $20 bills when they go flying into downtown streets, he is my journalism sherpa.

Few people can describe what’s happening across the media landscape and what audiences need from journalists better than Matt. His world-famous (or at least it should be) ‘Dark Secrets of the Online Overlords‘ presentation explains how we can take the webby sensibility that pervades the most-popular sites on the web and use it to do great, public interest journalism. Yesterday he shared the secrets with our StateImpact reporters and it got a fantastic response, so we will post the video of our webinar soon. But for now, a recap:

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Broadcast Workshop: Keeping Your Audience’s Attention

Thanks, broadcast reporters, for taking part in this week’s webinar with Ken and Cathy on how to keep your listeners hooked during your stories. Here are Cathy’s key tips in case you missed the action.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to ignore a radio story? It’ll start and then a few minutes later you’re lost and you don’t care. Once you get out of the story, it’s hard to get interested again.

The key to getting and keeping listener’s attention is storytelling.
The key to good storytelling is story structure.
That means a strong beginning, middle and end.

This is especially important with policy stories. You have to share your passion and enthusiasm for an issue in a way that makes people care. As Nancy Updike said at Third Coast a couple of years back, “the biggest enemy is not bad-ness. It’s okay-ness.” You need to constantly ask yourself: “Is there a better beginning to my story?” “A more interesting middle?” “A snazzier end?”

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A Guide To Audience Building and Engagement

Those of you who have been paying attention to our webinar themes probably guessed it: This month’s challenge is focused on promotion for your site and engaging your users. Our overall goals for this challenge are:

  • Generating buzz around the StateImpact brand; getting people talking about it
  • Building up followers on Twitter, Facebook, and your site
  • Building a more loyal audience
  • Increasing the reach of your content

(This doesn’t mean we’re going to stop caring about topics pages. In fact, you should have gotten a “report card” in your email with how to improve, based on the monthly challenge assessment.)

For some of you, promoting your stuff comes naturally. For others, it seems a little skeezy to be constantly pushing your content. By the end of the September challenge, I hope it feels more like second nature. Words from our wise sherpa Matt Thompson:

Bloggers design their posts to move. They craft strong headlines, they spread the word through their social networks, they dip in to comment threads, they pay attention to metrics. They work to develop a genuine sense of their community and its predilections, and they adjust accordingly.

But here’s the rub: truly great bloggers lead just as much as they follow. They use their mastery of their crowd to guide its attention, to find ways to hook you into engaging with things you might not otherwise try. This is how Ezra Klein gets his community to indulge him in a discussion of actuarial values.

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Web Writing for Broadcasters: The Webinar weekend web editor Melisa Goh explains how to convert radio scripts for web and passes on some other helpful web writing tips.

Writing for the Web:

  • Text is king on the Web.
  • Your goal for everything you write on the Web is to get the user to stick around.
  • Your Web text needs to hook people in early and get them to keep reading.

Melisa Goh’s Ten tips for writing web text:

  • Think about how to tell the web story before you start reporting.
  • Report for the web while you’re reporting for broadcast.
  • Keep your writing tight and compelling.
  • Think visually: what parts of the story can you tell with images?
  • Use nut graf.
  • Manage your quotes and transitions.
  • Always attribute.
  • Watch your spelling, style and grammar.
  • Consider how the user will get to your story.
  • After your story posts, promote it.

From Broadcast to the Web: Writing Tips from the Digital Editors

Write on.

We’re fortunate to have Melissa Goh, one of’s homepage editors, do a little training for us later this morning on turning your broadcast copy into web scripts. Here are some general tips for you to consider, whether you’re primary broadcast, digital, or something in between:

1. Think Before You Start

  • At the inception of the story idea, ask yourself: What’s the smartest way to tell this story on the Web? Story text? Q-and-A? Reporter’s notebook? Photos? Photo gallery? Audio slideshow? Video? Blog item? Social media?
  • Talk it over with your assignment editor, photo editor and Web producer — before you start reporting.

2. Report For The Web While You’re Reporting for Broadcast

  • Some storytelling elements that can’t fit into a broadcast piece might be great to include in the Web story instead.
  • Conversely, some elements may be better suited for broadcast or otherwise unnecessary to the Web version.
  • As you report, ask questions and gather detail for the Web version – descriptions of scene/setting, details of characters (age, occupation, background), a map, documents, links, pdfs or photos.

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