» Best Practices Covering the Business of Nonprofit and Independent News Thu, 12 Mar 2015 19:10:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Media law guide for today’s startups Mon, 09 Mar 2015 23:36:40 +0000 One of the last things media entrepreneurs think they need to worry about when they prepare for launch is legal liability.

It’s a bad practice that can come back to bite them later.

To that end, the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism has just published one of the most comprehensive legal guides available: “Law for Media Startups.” Free on the web and detailed with resources and anecdotes, it covers everything from incorporation to copyright to privacy to defamation.

The legal issues involved in operating a new media venture involve much more than classic First Amendment law,” the authors—Jan Schaffer and Jeff Kosseff—write in the introductory chapter.

Kosseff is a communications and privacy attorney with Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Schaffer is executive director of J-Lab and Media Entrepreneurship professor at American University.

We talked to Schaffer about the genesis of this project and what readers can take away from this guide.

JOURNO.BIZ: Your guide serves as a “primer on the kinds of legal issues media entrepreneurs … encounter in running their day-to-day business operations and in their newsgathering activities.” Why is it so relevant now?

SCHAFFER: Media entrepreneurship is at an all-time high. But not every startup has a big angel investor or an infusion of venture capital. Hyperlocal sites, nonprofit investigative startups, single-topic sites may be bootstrapped to start. They need to know how to jumpstart forming their businesses without having to hire expensive legal help.

Or, if they need legal assistance, the guide may help them focus their questions or do some preliminary paperwork that might cut down on the services they need to buy.

How did you get involved in this project? And how long did you work on this?

I have wanted to do this project for a long time. I felt that media law courses, as now taught, are akin to history of journalism courseS. They focus on on the past—past history, past cases—and fail to focus on current needs.

I proposed this project to CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center and recruited Jeff, who also teaches at American University, to help me do it.  We began the project last October and wrapped up our reporting and writing in early January. CUNY worked on web production from there.

What are the thorniest legal issues that media entrepreneurs must face today?

There are several, but fair use looms large. News sites may not have many photographers on staff, so they need to know what photos they can use without violating copyright, or how much of someone’s else’s story they can cite.

As important, they need to know how to protect their own content, which is their major asset. As well, you cannot repurpose your content in books, video or other products unless you actually own it, so you need to attend to ownership for anything you commission.

The rules around hiring freelancers and interns can also trip up some startups, who understandably don’t want the commitments of full-time staff, to start.  And this is where you need to establish who owns copyright and whether a freelancer can use any part of their reporting for you in a blog post or something else.

Terms of use and privacy policies are things most people don’t read, but as a startup you need to adhere to the promises you make concerning data you collect from individuals.

What are some of the legal issues that are constantly changing due to technology or the adoption of technology?

Well, the FTC is supposed to come out soon with new guidelines around native advertising, or sponsored content, which is turning into a significant revenue stream for some startups. Right now, for instance, the sponsored posts labels often don’t travel with sponsored content that is shared in social media.

For-profit startups need to figure out state-specific rules for business formation, wherever they are located.

Was there anything in particular that you learned along the way that was surprising to you?

I welcomed the clarification on user-generated content. A site is generally not liable for user posts, no matter whether a site editor “touched” it or not.

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How CIR measures impact and finds new audiences Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:15:33 +0000 Futures Lab—a weekly segment on innovation in journalism created by the Reynolds Journalism Institute—takes a look at the Center for Investigative Reporting and how it expands its audience and tracks impact. This post appeared on the Futures Lab blog and has been republished with permission.

PART 1: Partnerships to reach new audiences

Central to CIR’s ethos is collaboration and partnership with other organizations. Recently that has grown to include performance groups, which are turning weighty investigative reports into live productions that engage and inform live audiences in a different way. We hear from Meghann Farnsworth, director of distribution and engagement, about how the partnerships work.

For more information:

Storyworks is the collaboration between CIR and the Tides Theatre in San Francisco. The latest production, “Alicia’s Miracle,” premiered in January. It explores the potentially harmful chemical fumigants used on strawberry farms throughout California. Dramatizing the plight of five fictional characters, the play conveys key factual information uncovered during a 15-month CIR investigation and also illustrates the complexity of addressing the issue in the real world. In addition to English-language performances, the play was translated in Spanish; and plans include taking the show on the road for performances in some of the affected areas across the state.

Off/Page Project is the collaboration between CIR and the literary nonprofit Youth Speaks. Some examples:

  • This Is Home,” written by three young poets who explore the troubles with the Richmond Housing Authority at the center of a CIR investigation.
  • Whispers From The Field,” a short film in which a young poet offers a different take on the story of female agricultural workers being raped, harassed and assaulted on the job (inspired by an in-depth investigation by CIR and other partners)
PART 2: Tracking impact

CIR staff members track and observe how their journalism brings about real-world outcomes, thanks to an in-house tool built by Lindsay Green-Barber, an ACLS Public Fellow working in their newsroom.

For more information:

A series of blog posts on the CIR website offers more details about how the organization is defining and measuring change and how various stories generated micro, meso and macro impact.

PART 3: Radio show and podcast

CIR is re-centering its journalism around a new radio show and podcast called Reveal. The hourlong program, produced in collaboration with the Public Radio Exchange, provides a new avenue for working with partners to deliver in-depth investigative work. We learn more about the initiative from CIR’s Chief Executive Officer Joaquin Alvarado, Managing Editor Amy Pyle and Director of Distribution and Engagement Meghann Farnsworth.

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Kevin Davis: What the ‘Lens’ story teaches news nonprofits about editorial independence Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:56:29 +0000 “Unfortunately in today’s society, good journalism doesn’t necessarily translate to plentiful funding,” writes Paul Maassen, general manager of WWNO, in NetNewsCheck’s piece about the saga of how the Lens of New Orleans lost its office space on the Loyola University campus there.

He’s right. Today, nonprofit newsrooms around the globe have to scramble to keep the lights on, rely too heavily on too few funding sources and, as a result, are susceptible to influence exertion and retribution from funders, supporters and suppliers. 

While the case of Loyola’s decision to not renew the Lens’s lease for office space was ostensibly about resource constraints, the appearance of this move being punishment for the paper’s coverage of the university’s president, the Rev. Kevin Wildes—who then chaired the New Orleans’ Civil Service Commission—being in bed with city officials is very troubling.

Not only is this bad for the Lens (costing it more than $30,000 per year to relocate and pay for new space), it also deprives Loyola’s journalism students the opportunity to work on the forefront of civic journalism. And it negatively impacts the media environment in New Orleans, which continues to struggle with the information needs of its citizens. 

Unfortunately, this is not the only case of apparent backroom attempts to punish a nonprofit newsroom that aims to inform its community while also helping train a future generation of journalists. In June of 2013, legislation was introduced by the Wisconsin legislature that would have evicted the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its UW-Madison offices and barred faculty from working with its reporters.

Despite these attacks, both the Lens and the Wisconsin Center are able continue to report on the type of civic stories that commercial news organizations often can’t or won’t do. (Full disclosure: both the Lens and the Wisconsin Center are members of the organization that I run, the Investigative News Network.)

This is not an issue just for university-based nonprofit news organizations. Any nonprofit that accepts grants from a philanthropist or foundation also inherits the legacy of the funder or founder. Nonprofit news organizations that accept monies from foundations or directly from well-known philanthropists such as George Soros, John Arnold or the Koch Brothers are often painted with the funder’s political brush and suffer attacks based on that presumption.

But there are concrete steps a nonprofit can take before it accepts funds, services or enters into any contract with an outside party:

Be transparent. Producing ethical journalism in the public interest isn’t easy, but it’s what the 100-plus nonprofit news organizations that are members of INN do. Helping people understand what you do, why you do it and where you’re coming from is proving to be even harder. It starts with mission-driven organizations acting in the public interest by disclosing their donors and encouraging their readers to make up their own minds about the ethics and motivations of a story or the organization behind it.

Adopt strict editorial independence and conflict of interest policies. Under the review of leading ethicists in the field of journalism, INN recently crafted and adopted an Editorial Independence Policy, specifically to provide our nonprofit newsrooms with a clear statement to provide to their funders, supporters and suppliers that states up front and center:

“Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We will maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.”

By adopting, posting and providing this policy to all its funders, supporters, suppliers and readers, along with a clearly stated Conflict of Interest policy, an independent news organization can go a long way to setting expectations up front. By educating the supporter at the outset, we believe that it will prevent and rebuff future attempts to influence the organization’s editorial content. 

Tell your own story, before someone else does. While journalists and practitioners pride themselves on their ethics and ethos, the battering that our profession has taken in public opinion means that it is now easier for bad actors to attack the source of a story than to deny the facts. Now more than ever, it is incumbent on investigative reporters and mission-driven news organizations to proactively tell their own stories and educate their audience rather than let others, who may or may not have the public’s interest at heart, do it for them.

While these steps may or may not have prevented the turn of events in New Orleans and Madison, it is likely that by adopting these ahead of time, news organizations will be more effective in establishing clear boundaries up front, while at the same time increasing the level of trust with their discerning audience members.

This post originally appeared on NetNewsCheck and has been republished with permission.

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Building journalism with community, not for it Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:36:53 +0000 At the end of last year Kristin Hare of the Poynter Institute was collecting tech resolutions for 2015 and asked for mine. Here is what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to help more journalists build with their communities, not just for their communities.

At so many publications, journalists are rebuilding their newsrooms around new technologies from smartphones to social networks. But for the most part, the community is left on the other side of the screen. In 2015 there is a huge opportunity to engage communities in the work of helping build powerful journalism.

I want to help newsrooms design reporting projects, engagement strategies, web apps and more, through deeper collaboration, listening and empathy with our communities. Building for the community puts people at the end of the process. Building with community puts them at the start.

In the new year, let’s start the debate about journalism and technology with our communities.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation we believe that journalism sustainability is rooted in building stronger relationships between communities and newsrooms. While the distinction between “building with” instead of “building for” feels at first like semantics, when we begin to use it as a lens to examine journalism as both a process and a product, we see numerous ways it challenges the status quo.

In the words of longtime editor Melanie Sill, it begins to “reorder the fundamental processes of journalism toward the goal of serving communities.” But it does so by recognizing that to serve a community we have to work with that community.

Transactional versus Transformational

The chart below by the former head of digital engagement for the Guardian, Meg Pickard, offers a pretty good indication of the gaps and opportunities that exist.


Chart by Meg Pickard, recreated by Joy Mayer.


The old model of building for audiences is rooted in a transactional approach to news. In Pickard’s chart the transaction is essentially the Y axis when the journalist hits publish. We create, you consume. We report, you decide. The importance of this transaction is baked into the business model for much of the news industry. We print, you pay.

But we are starting to see the disruption of that transactional approach. Community engagement increasingly tries to fill the gaps identified in Pickard’s chart above. At their best, membership programs focus on building community around the news, not just building a paying subscriber base.Solutions journalism is recognizing the expertise that exists in local communities and is finding ways to share it. Listening projects are helping reshape what stories get covered and whose voices get included.

The diagram below from WBEZ’s Curious City is a prime example of how building with can reshape every part of the editorial process.

A slide from WBEZ’z Curious City.

A slide from WBEZ’z Curious City.

Together, these and other shifts hold the potential to help journalism move from a transactional product to a transformational process for local communities.

Creating in-roads for community participation and giving people more power to contribute to local journalism efforts is complex and time intensive. However, the end result can be a public that is more engaged in their communities and in supporting local news. After participating in a Curious City reporting project Janice Thomson wrote, “Many times I’ve asked myself ‘Why am I doing this? Isn’t electricity a tedious subject best left to experts?’ Knowing that the staff at WBEZ’s Curious City cared what I did, that they valued citizen input as much as that of experts, kept me going.” Based on her experience with Curious City, Thomson created Electric Community, “a series of interactive community-based activities to engage Chicago residents in ‘greening’ our electricity. Who knew a radio program could have so much power?”

Prior to this experience Thomson didn’t think local energy issues or journalism were any place for non-experts. But having reporters at WBEZ honor her curiosity and respect the expertise of her lived experience was transformational. When we build with our communities we build space for more people to shape our stories and cultivate a sense of ownership over the process. This shifts to locus of journalists’ authority from the act of publishing to the process of engaging. It makes journalism more accountable and more valuable.

Regardless of your business model, having your community deeply invested in what you do, is key to the long term sustainability of your work. Building with community is also about building more resilient organizations, rooted in relationships that can help both challenge and support you.

Close to The Ground

With funding from the Knight Foundation, we are working with local news start-ups in New Jersey and New York on how these ideas can help strengthen their work and their organizations. We are experimenting with creative revenue ideas rooted in community engagement and developing ways for newsrooms to listen more deeply to communities.

In my work with local news start-ups I see a hunger for new tools and models to help small teams of local journalists build new networks with their communities. These local journalists have the benefit of being close to the ground, deeply enmeshed in their communities and nimble enough to listen and adapt. But they are also stretched incredibly thin trying to run every aspect of the newsroom. Every community and every newsroom is different, so while we are looking for replicable intelligence, we are not searching for silver bullets. Building with our communities means that while we might share strategies, those models have to adapt to diverse local contexts.

We need to be more intentional about finding spaces and places across journalism to build with, rather than for our communities. But to do that we have to understand even more clearly what those two models look like.

Photo by Andreas Nadler, used via creative commons. Words added by me.

Photo by Andreas Nadler, used via creative commons. Words added by me.

Laurenellen McCann offers this description:

“With” implies togetherness, a network: a larger group, possibly, a messier group, but a group (meaning 2 people+) nonetheless. Acting “with” others implies certain degrees of collaboration, collective action, coordination, and even unity. You run a three-legged race with your partner (or you’re going to fall). When you use the word “with” it means that, however many people are involved, whatever their individual roles, they’re acting as one — or at least, towards a shared goal.

By contrast, when we use the word “for” we center on the experience of individuals in a relationship, with one unit acting on behalf of or doing something to another. (“For another.”) In the “for” universe, there’s usually a receiver and a giver. There can be many people involved or few, but there are almost always actors and those acted upon. In a democracy like ours, where we have government of, by, and for the people, we understand that when we vote for an elected representative, they are then empowered to speak and act for us. To govern for us….but with our consent.

McCann argues that “‘For’ is the thorn in the paw of the ‘civic’ movement today. We espouse to build new, collaborative systems, new technologies, new relationships […] but we do so wielding old systems of power.”

And this last point is one we don’t talk about enough. When we talk about building with our communities we have to talk about power, and about new systems of power where we gain strength and sustainability from connections to each other not transactions between each other.

 This post originally appeared in the Local News Lab blog and has been republished with permission.

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Rutgers law professor’s legal tips for local news publishers Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:01:05 +0000 Like any publisher, people who provide community news or information have legal concerns. Especially, how can you minimize the risk of lawsuits that could threaten your scarce resources and time — without compromising your ethics, mission, or community?  In a Jan. 8 call-in podcast, Rutgers University law professor Ellen Goodman  answered general questions about local publishers and the law.

Goodman, who authored the nonprofit media section of the landmark 2011 Knight/FCC report on theInformation Needs of Communities, shared her legal expertise related to local news gathering and publishing. Currently she’s working on a project in which journalism and law students are collaboratively developing a legal FAQ for local news reporters and publishers, focusing on digital media and relatively new entrants to the field (such as bloggers and citizen journalists)

In this podcast (presented by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, N.J.), Goodman took a call about the difficulty that local news publishers often have in acquiring libel insurance. She offered the context that U.S. courts generally tend to support publishers in libel and defamation cases; it’s very hard for plaintiffs to win. Still, the time and cost of responding to such lawsuits can be overwhelming. Liability insurance usually is used to cover the cost of fighting claims (or getting them dismissed), rather than to pay damages.

Organizations such as the National Newspaper Association and the Investigative News Network offer discounted media liability insurance to members — but it can be difficult for publishers to find many affordable libel/defamation insurance options.

Podcast host (and former Baristanet publisher) Debbie Galant shared a relevant story from her past. Her father, who published a food safety regulation newsletter, was once sued for defamation by a local gadfly — claiming that even though he made remarks in a public forum, he wasn’t a public figure and shouldn’t have been “held up for ridicule” in the newsletter’s coverage.

“My father had libel insurance, and his insurance company wanted to fight this claim,” said Galant. “They lost the court battle at several levels. It got to the point that the legal fees were nearing the $1 million coverage of his libel policy — after which, he would have been responsible for further costs. Fortunately, my father won at the appellate court level. But his entire nest egg was threatened by this, even though he was ultimately vindicated.”

Goodman noted that legal guides from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the now-defunct Digital Media Law Project, as well as journalism organizations in your state (such as SPJ state chapters), can be useful resources for making such decisions.

For deciding how to cover controversial public statements more safely, Goodman explained that if the person being quoted or characterized is deemed a “public figure” under the tests of defamation law, it’s much harder for a plaintiff to claim defamation and demonstrate damages.

“Just standing up at a public meeting does not make you a public figure,” said Goodman. “That’s when you need to be careful to have corroboration to support your reporting — a transcript, public record or recording. The Fair Report Privilege can offer some protection. Neutrally report on what’s happening in a public space or at a public event, and get witness corroboration. That should minimize your risk of defamation liability.”

While defamation and libel currently present relatively low legal risks for local news publishers, Goodman noted that courts are getting more aggressive about protecting privacy. “There is a retrenchment and concern around privacy issues, especially due to social media and mugshot sites.”

According to Goodman, because of what amounts to extortion practices by websites that publish mugshots (and then pressure people who were arrested to pay up in order to have their mugshot taken offline), several states have reacted by rescinding the public record of mugshots.

Similarly, on Jan. 1 this year, a controversial California law took effect which gives teens in that state the “right to be forgotten” — by requesting that online services providers permanently delete content that the teen posted. Also, some courts are pulling back on access to court documents in the name of protecting privacy.

Galant shared that when she published Baristanet, she personally tended to respond sympathetically to requests from community members to remove or amend stories on that site which they claimed led to unfortunate or inaccurate portrayals of them via search results. She acknowledged that this practice is controversial among journalists.

In the podcast, Goodman also tackled the issues of whether to publish content from Facebook or other social media. “That depends on whether you’re talking about something that was posted publicly or privately, and how you got access to it. Did you have direct access, or did someone forward it to you? There are many shades of grey here.”

However, discussion groups on social media generally pose less legal risk than an individual’s social media posts, Goodman noted. Many communities have local discussion groups on Facebook, Reddit, online bulletin boards or other social media. Sometimes these are wholly public; sometimes access is limited only to approved members.

“With discussion groups, that’s when conversations start to look more public, even when access is limited. People who post in such forums need to assume that what they post will not necessarily be kept private.”

Goodman and Galant also discussed whether local news publishers should release the IP addresses of commenters — a privacy issue concerning the right to post anonymously or pseudonymously. Here, court opinions have varied widely.

“Some courts are very protective of a news publisher’s right to protect the anonymity of commenters,” she said. “Other courts don’t think divulging that information is a problem.”

Goodman noted that in a recent lawsuit involving Yelp, a court required Yelp to release to a business owner the names of people who left negative reviews about that business — so the business could prove that those people had never been customers (which could influence a decision in a defamation suit).

“For publishers, the protection of the IP addresses or names of commenters has not yet risen to the sacred space of protecting the names of your sources,” said Goodman.

This post originally appeared in the Knight Digital Media Center blog and has been republished with permission.

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5 things we learned about innovation in 2014 Tue, 23 Dec 2014 20:14:39 +0000 Innovation in nonprofit journalism had quite a year in 2014.

It was the year the INNovation Fund jump-started 16 nonprofit journalism projects that stood out from almost 200, each proposing an idea to engage with new audiences, experiment with new revenue models, and achieve sustainability.

The projects ranged in scope, area of focus, and originality, from native advertising to event journalism to mobile app development. Using a large grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Investigative News Network selected match-ready projects with the best chance of success and funded them with micro-grants of up to $35,000 each.

While it’s still too early to see final results from all of these projects—which you can see here—we have gotten enough of a glimpse to know what seems to be working. What we found provides a set of guidelines that should be useful for anyone hoping to replicate these projects:

  1. Have a clear vision of your goals and process: The proposals that stood out articulated quantifiable goals and their methodology. For example, Southern California Public Radio sought to experiment with native advertising on its digital platforms, and it has made good on its promise to set guidelines ahead of testing the ads. Earlier this year, SCPR’s digital team and its top editorial staff set the criteria for how native ads could be distinguished from regular editorial content. In the coming months, we’ll see how those native ads play out and whether they will be welcomed by SCPR’s web audience.
  2. Acquiring assets is not a quick process: Even with a clear vision, some projects take time to execute a plan or come to fruition. IowaWatch got to work right away and produced many high-quality stories for its experimental radio program without a hitch. The nonprofit had anticipated securing underwriters by September, but it took three more months well beyond its original deadline to secure two funders for 2015. The IowaWatch Connection is now slated for at least another six months worth of radio episodes.
  3. Offer stakeholders a seat in the table: Innovation projects are hardly the work of one person or one organization. Take InvestigateWest, for example, which is working with Seattle NPR-PBS affiliate KUOW to produce a branded series that will live on a number of mediums. The key to make a journalism partnership work is understanding each organization’s own incentives, whether it’s money or content, says associate director Jason Alcorn. We’ll find out the name of the series and its contents in the next phase for this collaborative project.
  4. Get outside help: There’s no shame in hiring people with the right experience outside your organization. The Food and Environment Reporting Network wanted to launch a branded “food journalism event,” but even its own staff lacked the right experience in event marketing and planning. So it hired contractors to cater the needs of the event, which sold-out to an audience of 250 people in New York this past November. What remains to be seen is whether we will see it replicate in another city in the future.
  5. Utilize (unpaid) personal investment: Yes, INN gave thousands of grant dollars to help these organizations accomplish their goal. But every one of the people behind each project has invested personal, unpaid hours of labor as well. That’s unbudgeted investment that often goes unnoticed, and we fully acknowledge it.

The INNovation Fund cycle will continue for at least another two rounds, and we’re excited to see what will come in the next round in February 2015.

Our second-round winners are already working on their projects and we’ll soon be reporting on their challenges, their lessons and their results. You can read more about them here.

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Fact-checking Guidelines: A resource for your newsroom Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:51:17 +0000 Over the last few weeks, Rolling Stone magazine has been the center of a cautionary tale in journalism ethics and one that offers a sobering reminder that fact-checking always matters.

The key scene of Rolling Stone’s November 19 story about a gang rape that reportedly went ignored by police and officials at the University of Virginia was called into question after other journalists asked about its vetting process.

Following criticism and a vast amount of reporting by the Washington Post, the magazine has retracted the story saying it failed to meet the most basic of industry-wide standards, including talking to sources and verifying a first-person account. But we’ll let Eric Wemple of the Washington Post dissect the finer points of the entire episode.

The story and the reaction that followed sparked a conversation on fact-checking among journalists, including industry veterans inside the Investigative News Network.

In a private Facebook Group discussion, several editors and reporters shared their experiences in fact-checking: who checks what, how much, and how to annotate facts.

Many of the answers were illuminating—and reassuring. (Yes, INN members do a great deal of fact-checking.) After all, nonprofit news organizations are very much part of the journalism ecosystem, even more so when they produce investigative stories.

And in the interest of sharing best business practices, we sought out permission from a few members to share a few fact-checking guidelines that help ensure accuracy and truth in their reporting.

Andy Hall, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, shared their recipe for fact-checking, which was modeled from a set of guidelines set by the Center for Public Integrity.

Thanks to WisconsinWatch and the Center for Public Integrity, we are happy to to share the full set of guidelines with you. Below is a condensed version you can borrow for your own use:

  • Proper names – generally, any word that is routinely capitalized:
    • Persons: Verify and document both spelling of name and proper title. Best sources: Website of employer; interview (note that spelling was confirmed).
    • Organizations: Subject to the AP Stylebook (see “company names” and “organizations and institutions”), use the style that the organization has adopted, as far as capitalization, internal spaces, periods after letters. Best sources: the organization’s own website or spokesperson, or for businesses Hoover’s Online (
    • Product names and other trademarks: Verify and document spelling and ID/description. Best sources: manufacturer’s or trademark owner’s official website; International Trademark Association (see Nexis is not always a reliable source for spelling names – mistakes can get picked up and recirculated.
  • Numbers – must be documented, in virtually every case: Ordinarily, we will identify the source – ideally, the primary source – of the information, if it is not self­-evident. Best sources: government reports, Center databases (“according to the Center’s analysis”), other reports, including from research organizations, media/journalists, academics, etc.
  • Scientific, technical or other specialized terms: Document the definition or explanation (which usually should be spelled out for the reader as well). Best sources: standard or authoritative reference sources, including websites.
  • Quotes.
  • Details: Verify each. If we report there are three federal lawsuits, confirm there are three suits. And that all three are federal.
  • Everything else: If a statement could theoretically be proven true or false, it should be documented. Some exceptions:
    • Introductions or other summaries – these are “documented” by the text they summarize, which in turn is documented.
    • Common knowledge – e.g., “… Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.”
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Six ‘key elements’ that explain why some journalism partnerships work and others do not Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:50:33 +0000 Pew Journalism last week released a report on journalism collaborations titled “Journalism Partnerships: A New Era of Interest” in which it looked at five case studies and the “key elements” that challenge or aide such partnerships.

The report, available online or in printable format, looks at collaborations between the Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress; I-News Network/Rocky Mountain PBS and KUSA-TV; The Texas Front-Page Exchange; The Lens and WWNO Public Radio; and The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Heraldo. I-News Network/Rocky Mountain PBS and The Lens are member organizations of the Investigative News Network.

We have covered the topic of newsroom collaboration on this journal, looking closely at the experimental project of InvestigateWest and Seattle-based NPR/PBS affiliate KUOW. But unlike that collaboration involving two nonprofits, the case studies named in the Pew Research report involves for-profit and nonprofit models.

Houston Chronicle editor Nancy Barnes is quoted in the summary of the report, offering some optimism for content collaborations, especially between for-profit and nonprofits:

“As non-profits become more established and credible, they will become an increasing asset to traditional news organizations. Readers don’t care where the content comes from so long as the quality is consistent, fair and accurate. Our job as editors is to make sure that’s the case.”

Here is a synopsis of six takeaways from the report:

  1. Economics were and still are the driver for these partnerships.
  2. Paradoxically, often little if any money changes hands.
  3. Things can easily go wrong.
  4. Imaginative ad hoc partnering may be the next wave.
  5. Oddly, though digital disruption and competition is the change agent, digital partnering may be secondary.
  6. Quality counts; quality plus engagement is even better.

Check out the full report here.

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Kevin Davis: Public interest focus beats commoditization Tue, 04 Nov 2014 17:36:01 +0000 INN CEO Kevin Davis

INN CEO Kevin Davis

Like many people in the news business, I still subscribe to my local paper. And like most consumers today, I rarely read it.

Why? Because, frankly, I know that I’ve more than likely read most every national, sports, business and entertainment story online, elsewhere before the ink is dry and the paper hits my driveway, newsletter hits my inbox or even before it’s up on their home page.

And it’s not just print. According to the FCC Report “Information Needs of Communities ,” the average local television station produces less than 20 percent or about one-and-a-half minutes of civic news in every 30-minute local television broadcast.

One can find information about the latest Kardashian to begin a modeling career anywhere and everywhere. Information about the salaries and perks the local city council just voted for themselves is increasingly difficult to find. Just ask the citizens of Bell, California how long it took for a beat reporter from the Los Angeles Times to uncover the corruption in their city.

So why do I still subscribe? Besides a vague sense of allegiance to the news economy, I read the newspaper for the occasional information that I can’t get anywhere else. Mostly, that’s confined to information about local and regional issues tucked inside the B-section that helps me better understand the problems my community is facing and what the elected and unelected are doing about it.

And there’s strong indication that I’m not alone.

All one has to do is look at the growing news businesses of folks like Texas TribuneVoice of San DiegoChalkBeatMinnPost and other public interest-focused nonprofits that see the gaping hole left by commercial media not just as a problem, but an opportunity.

These nontraditional, noncommercial news organizations not only look to provide the type of information that commercial media — both print and broadcast — produce less and less, but they also look to monetize those efforts.

Case in point, the Texas Tribune produces TribFest, a three-day event that “brings together some of the biggest names in politics to explore the state’s and nation’s most pressing issues: public and higher ed, immigration, health care, transportation, energy, the environment, criminal justice and government transparency.”  With attendance around 3,000 people range, the Knight Foundation reports that Texas Tribune nets over $400,000 annually from the event.

Voice of San Diego and MinnPost are embarking together on membership programs that are explicitly focused on providing citizens greater access to civic information and the people that provide it. With a historical average of $150 in donations per annum per member, Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis is looking to grow membership for his organization from approximately 1,500 in 2012 to 5,000-10,000 members per year. That’s a realistic goal of $1.5 million in annual revenue directly from a population significantly smaller than the subscribers to a small to midsize newspaper.

Unlike the commercial news organizations in the same markets, these small, nimble news organizations are not looking for more efficient and cost-effective means of producing and distributing the typical news stories (world, national, business and sports); they are not producing that type of content at all.

These organizations aren’t competing with the Yahoos, Bleacher Reports and social networks for highly commoditized, non-differentiated content. Rather, they are focusing on the time and expertise-intensive, yet highly prized and differentiated content that is most valued by the communities (not advertisers) they serve.

If the leaders of these nonprofit news organizations are figuring out how to sustain their operations with civic and accountability news products and services, why haven’t local news organizations (presumably with greater resources and reach) followed suit? It’s good for the people, it’s good for democracy and it’s good for business.

This column originally appeared in NetNewsCheck and has been republished with permission.

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Review: iFOIA vs FOIA Machine Fri, 19 Sep 2014 19:55:05 +0000 Freedom of information requests are a vital process of doing investigative journalism. Under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and similar state laws, any person has the right to request non-classified documents from governmental agencies.

Modern technology has facilitated the tedious process with tools to collect documents and data, all while saving time and effort.

A one-stop resource for filing, tracking and even sharing requests can be found in iFOIA and FOIA Machine. Both automators make it easier to process FOIA requests at the state and federal level.

To highlight the technology that processes modern FOIA requests, we looked at these two web-based automators. Both are available to anyone, including journalists, at no cost:

The two are great, robust FOIA request automators that do the job. Both offer a handful of useful tools to accomplish their mission, including a glossary of state laws and their legally required response time. However, the two also offer slightly different features. To compare the two, we looked at three key features of each web-based system: Letter generator, project management and support.

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Letter Generator

iFOIA has three ways of generating a letter request:

  • Standard Letter Generator – A step-by-step process in which you must spell out the requested documents.
  • Upload Letter – If you have a letter already drafted, simply upload and send off.
  • Text Editor – Type or copy-and-paste your letter into its web-based text editor.

iFOIA is a project funded by a grant from the Stanton Foundation, and the Reporter’s Committee. The iFOIA letter generator has a few more steps to follow when requesting a document than the FOIA Machine, but these extra steps allow for a more detailed request.

Emily Grannis, a Jack Nelson Legal Fellow with RCFP, said the letter generator offers supplemental information to its users.

“At each stage there’s a box to make suggestions on the law on fee waivers, or what the agency is allowed to charge you, or what you have to prove to have the fee waived.” Grannis said.

Requesting the letter on iFOIA step-by-step:

  1. Subject – The title of the document that is being requested.
  2. Type of request – FOIA or Privacy Act Request, and there is another option if a request has already been filed and you would like to file it again.
  3. Contact information -This section allows you to input your or your contact information or your employer’s contact information.
  4. Fill out the information of the agency the letter is going to.
  5. Content  – This step enables the sender to upload a letter, create a standard letter or type a letter one out. If you are creating a standard letter, this step allows you to type a few sentences stating what you are requesting.
  6. Payment – Here the requester has the opportunity to ask for a fee waiver and input an amount they are willing to pay.


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FOIA Machine has two ways to make a request:

  • Letter Generator – This letter generator can be done either as an automated editor or as a custom editor.
  • Upload Letter – If you like to upload your own drafted letter, simply upload the attachment.

The FOIA Machine letter generator was initially funded by the John S. Knight Foundation and Reynolds Journalism Institute and is hosted by The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Kickstarter campaign generated more than 2,000 supporters, helping the project continue to develop. Coulter Jones, FOIA Machine project manager and a data journalist at the Wall Street Journal, said while the system is still under development the generator has been well received.

He added that they’re working on a couple of new features like allowing bulk requests, but their priority is on improving on certain aspects of the system to make it more efficient.

Requesting the letter on FOIA Machine step-by-step:

  1. Subject – The title of the document that will be requested.
  2. Contact information – You can choose from a list of agencies listed on the database or you can simply add the contact information you need.
  3. Content – Write a brief description of what you are requesting.
  4. Payment – Here the requester can ask for a fee waiver and there is an option to have the agency contact you by phone or email rather than mail.

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Project Management

iFOIA and FOIA Machines not only facilitate the task of requesting documents, but both systems allow you to archive documents, track email correspondence, and set reminder alerts.

Jones said the two systems have a lot of similarities, but it boils down to making it easy to write and track records.

“The most important aspect of the generator is being able to track letters…  [you] can have a better way to organize work and collaborate with others.” Jones said.

Here is how you can track records through both systems:

  • Archive – Both generators help you stay organized with their archive system. You can store requests and correspondence in an easy and safe way. However, with iFOIA, you can import additional documents into the folders so you can have all material to a specific project all together.
  • Emails – Automated emails will be sent to your iFOIA and FOIA Machine accounts and or your personal email account.
  • Alerts – The generators will send you alerts to remind you when responses are due, but iFOIA has a calendar feature that helps keeps track of the request by setting automated reminders and enables the user to create and adjust additional ones.

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By far, the biggest difference between both letter generators is the support offered to its users. Privacy settings are a big selling point for both given the sensitive nature of investigative journalism. Both offer degrees of privacy, which can be controlled by the user. Additionally,

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 11.43.46 AMFOIA Machine is safe and private, but you also can share documents with a specific group or with the FOIA Machine forum. After six months of making the request, FOIA Machine sends the user a notification asking if they would like for the request to be public.

Of course, you can opt out and keep your request private or make it public for others to use and learn from.

Jones said that by having the flexibility of making requests public “we want people to get better and writer smarter request and not waste time writing letters.”

iFOIA offers more privacy, yet as a user you can share a specific request with an individual.

“No one can see how many requests come and go—it’s designed to be private—that’s what’s different from FOIA machine, they have an opt out option, iFOIA is not public you can share with anyone you want person by person, request by request.” Grannis said.

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And with iFOIA, you get legal support that walks you through the process of filing appeals and they can even get on the phone with you through their legal hotline.

Final verdict: Both are great FOIA automators and we were particularly impressed by FOIA Machine’s effort to let users work together and answer questions in the form of a community forum. iFOIA’s expertise in legal matters in journalism is impressive, and it’s a true testament of its commitment to its mission when it makes legal experts available for journalists.

Have you used iFOIA or FOIA Machine? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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