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Poynter.
  • 5 journalism tips from Mark Leibovich
    Leibovich. Credit: Ralph Alswang

    Leibovich. Credit: Ralph Alswang

    Mark Leibovich says his 2013 book, “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital,” did not make his job harder.

    “Its actually been easier,” The New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent said in a recent phone interview. “One of the interesting things about the book is everybody seems to think it’s about everybody else.”

    The book certainly didn’t seem to affect his relationship with former GOP nominee Mitt Romney. In fact, Romney — who himself gets 11 mentions in “This Town” — recently invited Leibovich into his summer home for a nearly 2,500-word profile that ran Sept. 30.

    So how does Leibovich maintain access to contacts like Romney in a town he spends his professional life turning upside down? Liebovich offered tips on running a precarious beat, conducting productive interviews and holding onto his outsider status while chasing insider information.

    1. To get access, think carefully about your pitches
    2. Leibovich still remembers scoring an interview with Sen. Marco Rubio in 2012, when rumors abounded he was mulling a run for president. Rubio was a highly courted interview subject back then, due in part to the presidential hype, and so was stubbornly “resisting a blitz of news media interest“. Like the rest of D.C.’s press corps, Leibovich wanted access. But unlike them, he had an edge.

      “I knew he loved football,” Leibovich said. “And not only did he love football, but he had this incredible, obsessive interest with the Miami Dolphins.”

      So, Leibovich reached out to Rubio’s camp and asked: Would the senator be interested in attending a Dolphins game with him? To sweeten the deal, Leibovich agreed to a ground rule not to ask questions about politics. Rubio agreed, and the trip resulted in a 2,500-word takeout that added personal dimensions to a national political figure.

      When Leibovich snagged an interview with Romney for his recent profile, the strategy was similar. Knowing that he and the former GOP nominee shared a sense of amusement over the unforeseen demand he’d found himself in as the election creeped closer, he reached out to Romney’s people with a pitch along those lines and got a green light.

      The lesson? When crafting pitches for sought-after subjects, do your research and think of an angle they’ll be receptive to, Leibovich said. They might not agree, but there’s a chance you’ll get lucky.

      “It’s hit or miss,” he said. “Many, many people say no. And I’m always surprised that as many people say yes as they do.”

    3. During interviews, keep your options open
    4. When Leibovich agreed to take politics off the table during his interview with Rubio, he was making a rare exception, he said. Leibovich tries to go into interviews with as much freedom as possible.

      When handlers or press people ask him whether he can submit questions in advance, Leibovich demurs, preferring to see where the interview goes. Though he researches his subjects in advance and has some idea of what he wants to ask, Leibovich leaves his conversations open-ended in the hopes he’ll find something to seize upon.

      “I’ve always been, for better or worse, a big proponent of winging it and sort of trusting that your experience or your holy terror will lead to something that’s worthwhile,” Leibovich said.

      Take, for example, the time he was watching the Dolphins game with Rubio. Right before an important play began, Leibovich decided to ask the senator point-blank whether he was running for president, clearly flouting the one ground rule for their conversation: No questions about politics. Although Rubio didn’t announce his electoral plans then and there, he didn’t abort the interview, either.

      “Trust your inner wiseass if it feels right,” Leibovich said. “Because you never know what it’s going to yield.”

    5. When writing, ‘keep your ass in the chair’
    6. Leibovich’s writing process — if it could be called that — goes something like this: he sits down to a blank screen without an outline, confronted by the empty space in front of him. Then, he writes the top of the story, something he’s perfectionistic about. After that, he pounds away at the keyboard until he has a draft.

      Although he prefers to be immersed in a busy newsroom while reporting, Leibovich says he likes to be left alone while writing. And he resists giving his editors a sneak peak at his work before it’s ready because early feedback will “stick in his head” and make turning out a draft more difficult.

      “Don’t be afraid of a really really shitty draft because it’s always preferable to empty space,” Leibovich said.

      When writing, he tries to cut down on distractions, leaving only dictionary.com and an online thesaurus open on his browser, rewarding himself with the occasional peek at Twitter or ESPN.com. This simple act — “keeping your ass in the chair” and gutting out a story — has “never been more important from a pure, getting-over-procrastination standpoint,” Leibovich said.

    7. Hold on to your independence
    8. Leibovich frequently acknowledges that he belongs to the media-political class he’s made his professional bones dissecting. In his 2010 profile of Mike Allen, Politico’s chief White House correspondent, Leibovich fesses up to being part of the insider-y Playbook community, having once alerted Allen that he “spotted” former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at an organic Chinese restaurant.

      And in the beginning of “This Town,” Leibovich writes that he is “part of this culture” that “reinforces my worst tendencies at times — vanity, opportunism, pettiness.”

      Journalists everywhere battle to separate their own values and allegiances from those held by the people on their beat, and that battle can be particularly difficult in D.C., where there’s “so much cross-pollination between the media class and the political class and the PR class and the business class,” Leibovich said.

      The solution? Struggle against it, Leibovich said. Yes, there are basic rules: Don’t accept outrageously valuable gifts you can’t pay for and avoid conflicts of interest. But ultimately, remaining independent is “more a matter of psychic discipline than anything else.”

    9. Focus on the next story
    10. One of the most common myths of reporting is that the work is easier for the journalist in the cubicle next to you, Leibovich said. In fact, it’s a slog for nearly everyone.

      Even with a well-received book, a portfolio of trenchant profiles and a job at The New York Times, Leibovich says he constantly fears doing crummy work. And that — combined with an appreciation for the fun he gets to have — gets him into the office every day.

      “What gets me out of bed is the next story,” Leibovich said. “I live very much in fear of not doing good stories. So I guess there will always be that.”

      The best journalists are restless, never satisfied, and thirsty to prove that their record of accomplishments isn’t just dumb luck, he said.

      “On some level, all of us tend to believe that every success we’ve ever had in the field has been a fluke,” Leibovich said in an email to Poynter. “We need to work even harder the next time to prevent this fraud we’re perpetrating on the world from being exposed.”

      Mark Leibovich is the author of the forthcoming book “Citizens of the Green Room,” due out Nov. 13

    Read more
  • Tough times at McClatchy — A quarterly loss and four assets sold

    McClatchy closed the books today on a rocky third quarter with an earnings report yesterday showing a small loss of $2.6 million (1 percent on revenues of $277.6 million).

    But CEO Pat Talimantes instead opened the conference call with analysts offering commentary on a much bigger issue, what he described as “important events that have sealed our financial flexibility.”

    An unfriendly commentator might describe those “events” as a yard sale. So far in 2014, McClatchy has sold four separate and substantial assets. The largest of them, in a deal with Gannett closed the first week in October, was a 25.6 percent stake in Classified Ventures’ Cars.com, which will bring in $631.8 million before taxes, $406 million after.

    Earlier this year McClatchy sold its stake in Apartments.com (another part of Classified Ventures)  It also sold its half of McClatchy/Tribune Information Services to Tribune and the Alaska Daily News to wealthy investor Alice Rogoff.  Those transactions generated another $181 million.

    Talamantes said the cash infusion will go to investments in “digital transformation” and to pay down some high-interest (9 percent) debt.

    On the operating side McClatchy had a year-to-year third quarter decline in advertising of 8.2 percent. Print advertising was down 11 percent. Though national advertising makes up only a small part of the total (about 7 percent), it was off 23.2 percent for the quarter compared to 2013, which was not a good year for national either.

    Trends were better in audience revenues and remaining digital businesses, Talamantes said. With continuing diversification the company now gets 64 percent of revenue from categories other than print advertising.

    Under questioning from analysts, Talamantes said McClatchy was unlikely to acquire any of the 76 Digital First papers or others up for sale. “We would rather invest n opportunities in our markets … (with) greater digital resources.”

    McClatchy continues an affiliation agreement with Cars.com and Apartments.com., but going forward it will need to split some the proceeds of sales with the new owners, thus reducing the revenue it realizes.

    Also, while McClatchy will continue to look for savings, he declined to predict that expenses will fall in t he fourth quarter or in early 2015. Digital transformation is essential, Talamantes said, “and that requires some investment.”

    For the day, McClatchy shares were up slightly in mid-afternoon trading. However they have now lost roughly half their value from a 2014 high April 2 of $6.81. Other newspaper-only stocks including the New York Times Company (which has sold many non-core assets in recent years)  and Lee Communications have declined in value since the spring but not nearly so much.

    Read more
  • Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, Anders Gyllenhaal, Alexandra Zayas among additions to Poynter’s National Advisory Board

    The Poynter Institute announced Thursday the addition of five journalism leaders to its National Advisory Board, including Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, senior editor for strategy at The New York Times and Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president of news at the McClatchy Company.

    Each of the board members have gained widespread recognition for their work and developed reputations as journalism innovators, Poynter president Tim Franklin said in a release accompanying the announcement.

    “They’ll be invaluable partners for Poynter as we transform the institute to make it even more relevant and useful for media executives, practitioners, educators and students,” Franklin said. “We’ll benefit greatly from having their expertise and knowledge on the advisory board.”

    The new members will each serve two-year terms on the 10-person board, which advises Poynter’s faculty and staff on trends shaping various media industries. They replace current board members whose terms expire at the beginning of the year.

    Here’s the full list of new board members:

    • Arthur Gregg Sulzberger: Sulzberger is the primary author of The New York Times innovation report and the senior editor for strategy at The New York Times.
    • Anders Gyllenhaal: Gyllenhaal is the vice president of news at the McClatchy Company and former editor of the Miami Herald (2007 to 2010) and the Minnseapolis Star Tribune (2002 to 2007).
    • Lori Bergen: Bergen is the dean of the J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University and was named 2014 Journalism and Mass Communication Administrator of the Year by the Scripps Howard Foundation. She is also the incoming president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
    • Emilio Garcia-Ruiz: As managing editor of digital at The Washington Post, Garcia-Ruiz is The Post’s chief strategist for digital execution and the newsroom’s top liaison with business operations for digital programs.
    • Alexandra Zayas: Zayas, a reporter for The Tampa Bay Times, has won several prizes for her investigative reporting, including the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. She was a 2013 Pulitzer finalist for a series of stories that investigated abusive conditions at unlicensed religious group homes.

    The following members are leaving Poynter’s National Advisory Board at the beginning of the year:

    • Philip Bennett, director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University.
    • David Boardman, dean of Temple University’s School of Media and Communication.
    • Mónica Guzmán, a columnist at The Seattle Times.
    • David Nordfors, president and co-founder of IIIJ.
    • Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.
    Read more
Wall of Distinction Honorees
Filter     Display # 
# Article Title Author Hits
1 Hart Seely Lou Gulino 5864
2 Ron Lombard Lou Gulino 7282
3 John Krauss Lou Gulino 4154
4 Janis Barth Lou Gulino 6230
5 Robert Atkinson Lou Gulino 4565
6 Funeral Arrangements for Jerry Barsha Lou Gulino 3406
7 Sylvahn, J. Luther Administrator 3689
8 Graeff, Ron Administrator 7639
9 Bunn, Tim Administrator 7262
10 Green, Maureen Administrator 8383
11 Robinson, Rosemary Administrator 3212
12 Henderson, Emanuel "Blair" Administrator 3676
13 Haggart, Robert Administrator 4446
14 Ennis, Paul Administrator 3565
15 Carey, Bill Administrator 5248
16 Shepperd, Walt Administrator 3321
17 Speziale, Donna Administrator 3251
18 Mareiniss, Joel Administrator 5272
19 Heyman, Fred Administrator 4251
20 Gorman, J. Leonard Administrator 4937
21 Atseff, Tim Administrator 3625
22 Rossi, Frank Administrator 3921
23 Pinckney, Leo Administrator 3172
24 Loomis, Linda Administrator 3922
25 Long, Richard Administrator 4380
26 Hofmann, Phillip Administrator 3257
27 Barsha, Jerry Administrator 4386
28 Smokes, Saundra Administrator 3897
29 Rogers, Stephen A. Administrator 3254
30 Price, Mike Administrator 6526
31 Grunfeld, Walter Administrator 3520
32 Ayers, Liz Administrator 6815
33 Addington, Harold Administrator 3135
34 Sparrow, Kenneth Administrator 3196
35 Robinson, Jackie Administrator 6936
36 O'Leary, Cornelius Administrator 3632
37 Griffin, Eddie Administrator 2994
38 Clark, Wesley Administrator 3329
39 Brigham, Andy Administrator 4753
40 Vanderveer, Karel "Bud" Administrator 4079
41 Schartz, Veronica Administrator 3290
42 Peterson, Art Administrator 3215
43 Morse, Jack Administrator 3936
44 Gallinger, Roy Administrator 2827
45 Edwards, Don Administrator 5079
46 Apikian, Nevart Administrator 3312
47 Wood, Rod Administrator 3853
48 Roth, A. Brohmann Administrator 2850
49 Rogers, Stephen Administrator 3693
50 Parton, Red Administrator 6954
51 Hand-Wright, Laura Administrator 10539
52 Franklin-King, Karin Administrator 3026
53 Eilenberg, Carl Administrator 4571
54 Case, Dick Administrator 4627
55 Vosburgh, Lois Administrator 3004
56 Vadeboncoeur, Joan Administrator 3709
57 Vadeboncoeur, E.R. Administrator 5627
58 Rossi, Mario Administrator 3831
59 Porcello, Joseph Administrator 4629
60 LaRue, Arlene Administrator 3090
61 Jones, Alexander Administrator 3046
62 Hillegas, Fred Administrator 3399
63 Ganley, Joe Administrator 3763
64 Duffy, Nancy Administrator 3333
65 Bliven, Luther Administrator 3848
66 Daugherty, Jean Administrator 5509
67 Curtis, Ron Administrator 6090
 
"News is the first rough draft of history."
--Philip L. Graham (1915–1963), U.S. newspaper publisher

Wall of Distinction

Maureen Green

WTVH-TV
WIXT-TV

Like a lot of Central New Yorkers, Maureen Green came here for the educational opportunities and then never left. A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Maureen came to Syracuse for graduate work at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications.

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