AAJA Experiences

Official Blog of the 2011 AAJA Ford Foundation Recipients

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Watchdog Journalism 101

On Thursday, I also attended a workshop on watchdog journalism. I initially thought the session would discuss the ethics of watchdog and investigative journalism in a digital age. Instead, a reporter, editor and executive from The Detroit Free Press presented a how-101 class.

Jeff Taylor, a senior managing editor, said that even in an age where celebrity gossip generates thousands of hits on a news site, well-written investigative stories, too, draw high readership and high reader interaction.

Investigative journalism doesn’t only mean watching City Hall. It could also include partnerships between a seasoned investigative reporter and one with an expertise in the arts and nonprofits.

Journalists often say they don’t have the time to do watchdog. Taylor said despite writing daily news, journalists must also be creative and carve out the time to stay relevant to their community. You can chip away at a story, one find at a time, he said.

For Jennifer Dixon, investigative reporter, one story led to another. She started with a basic minimal story on how much pensions were costing the city, which led to articles on middle men hired to pitch deals that fell apart, the deal on the pension lawyer and a follow-up story one year later on how pensions ultimately cost the city $480 million. Her relentless pursuit of the issue led to another infamous one about Mayor Kilpatrick taking bribes.

In honor of keeping watchdog journalism alive, the Detroit Free Press offers a yearly $5,000 award for original watchdog and digital innovation stories, open to all.

— Dominique Fong

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What’s Your Risk Tolerance? What it Takes to Become a Foreign Correspondent in Asia

I really enjoyed the session, “Working Abroad in Asia or Middle East,” because panelists openly shared personal, lengthy stories about cultural experiences in another country.

Panelists emphasized, first of all, that being a good correspondent means knowing the logistics of working in a rural combat zone: how to dig a latrine, building a fire with no matches, making sure you don’t step in the wrong puddles to avoid cholera.

Beyond dealing with the physical risks of working in a different country, reporters must also balance their reporting with political implications. It can be a moral, ethical and professional dilemma, panelists said. Sometimes, there are road blocks, literally, with child soldiers holding Ak-47s. Other times, being an American during tense political situations can help you across borders or land you in jail.

Then, once you get around to writing the story, often it takes extra effort to stay relevant to American readers. For example, most Americans can relate to a story about China’s emerging middle class. What could be fascinating to a correspondent could also drive away American audiences. Occasionally, however, the news value will trump that fear.

News organizations are looking for people who are culturally aware, bilingual (without an accent) and ready to sacrifice much of a personal life to remain committed to the job.

Even better, said Tomoko Hosaka, a reporter with the Associated Press, go to the country and establish yourself there rather than wait for a news organization to send you, since it’s less expensive for them if you’re already settled.

And surprisingly, foreign correspondence, though cut from many newspaper budgets, is a growing area of journalism.

"If you have those skills, it’s a booming market," Hosaka said.

— Dominique Fong

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Day 4: Last day! HIghlights

It is a breezy and bright morning for a tour of The Henry Ford Museum. For the first time, I was able to come face-to-face with the chair where Lincoln was assassinated; the original Rosa Park bus (I was able to sit in the very spot!); the White House vehicle where the attempted assassination of President Reagan happened (including the bullet holes); and not to mention…my winning bid to see ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in L.A.!

Thank you to the Ford Foundation and AAJA for the hospitality and growth I have achieved during my time here in Detroit. I made many friendships that will last a lifetime and will carry my new skill-sets with me for the rest of my life!

— Amy Pholphiboun

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Day 3: Highlights

Here are some highlights:

- Nokia N8 is a good basic camera.

- Google+ is a growing medium as competitor to Facebook.

- Did you know…that you can link Facebook and Twitter to talk to each other?

- To enhance memberships…try a monthly happy hour. D.C. Chapter gains 1 - 2 members per meet-up.

- Adobe Audition is available for $35 for non-profits.

- Resource: http://journalists.org/

- Vietnam War and it’s after effects: http://www.vietnamreportingproject.org.php5-21.dfw1-2.websitetestlink.com/

— Amy Pholphiboun

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FRIDAY: Needed a break from technolgy, so dropped in on session on “How to Write & Publish Your First Book.” Minal Hajralwala, author of “Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents,” summed up the process in one sentence: It was hard!” All panelists discussed need to be disciplined and to set deadlines. Also a good agent can make all the difference. How to you find an agent? It’s like dating… one of the panelists said. “you just have to go out and meet them and pick the one that feels right.”

— Esther Wu

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Neat Tweets

FRIDAY: At social Media 1: Status Updates, Tweeks and Geo-What? At last a remedial session for dinosaurs like me. Owen Lei from KING-TV, Jewel Gopawani with Detroit Free Press and AllisonLooney,  technology recruiter from Gannett gave an overview of Face Book and Twitter. The session was advertised for newies — and they kept  their  word They explained how Face Book and Twitter work, advantages and disadvantages of each and why.  Jewel explained difference between Face Book profile and public pages. Obviously ethnical reporters would not use materials from someone’s Face Book page without verifying and obtaining permission. Unfortunately there are no rules about using material from Face Book. Allison said we are still in “Gray area” and things may change — but in the meantime we just have to trust reporters not to do anything unethnical. (Tell that to Congressman Weiner!) All three panelists reminded us to NEVER post anything you wouldn’t say in public.  Also learn to use the privacy settings to control who sees what you  want them to see. Lei uses Twitter to help gather information  as well as sources. IE: He used CROWDSOURCING to help Military personnel who may be concerned about getting paid during federal budget crunch. He also tweets when his is on assignment, gives updates as available and right before airtime to remind followers to tune in. I can see how Face Book and Twitter can help reporters gather information. But as Owen reminded us, technology is not a replacement  for good old shoe leagther reporting— but it is a great way to generate leads.

— Esther Wu

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What’s Next?

Thursday: Checking out “What’s Next for Journalists After the Newsroom?” Blown away by the number  of young people in the room.  It does not bode well for the 50-Somethings like me if these 20-Somethings are now thinking about life after the newsroom. Panelists Varon Brown, Katherine Lewis, Jennifer Chung and Moderator Ling Liu shared their stories about why they left the newsroom and what they are doing  now.  VERY ENCOURAGING! All are very successful, no regrets. Only minor concern was  when one panelists admitted that she still thinks of herself as a reporter first.

Each said their journalism skills easily applied  to their current jos.

Katherine Lewis, a successful full-time  free-lance writer said  reporters take their skills sets for granted. One example, Reporters are used  to making  cold calls. Reporters are natural salesmen — we sell our  stories to editors, we pitch sources and we talk about our  stories. All valued skills.

So there is  life after the newsroom.

Esther Wu

Texas AAJA


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The RenCen

The strange and beautiful building where we’re holding the convention this year is the Renaissance Center.  This city within a city was designed by John Portman in 1976.  GM bought it for less than the cost of construction, and then sank a half billion dollars into it.  The effect?  AAJAers feel like they’re living in a science fiction movies for four days in 2011.

— Shawn Wen

Sunset from the 72nd floor of the Detroit RenCen.

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Stepping forward with fellowships

Imagine journalism with more freedom for ideas and coverage, without the pressures of audience and finance, and a sea of resources at your feet.  This is the utopic world of fellowships. 

I was so surprised to see such a lack of bleakness in the faces of the panelists as they talked about the opportunities and funding offered by their endowments.  Their key tips:  Honesty.  Write your essays from your own perspective.  It will be clear what you think the judges want to hear and what you mean.

Shawn Wen

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One strand to another: Ideas, Skills and Connections

One thing I cherish at AAJA conventions is making connections, between skills learned in one workshop to those in another, tightening strands of ideas I’ve been ruminating awhile and then talking them over with friends old and new.

In Friday’s “Google For Journalists,” Sean Carlson showed how  multiple data points can be drawn together in all kinds of maps and graphics to share complex information in a way that are easy on the eyes but make a lasting impression.

That got me thinking about a business story I’ve been thinking about regarding a burger chain, and how I could add new dimensions to it by taking advantage of those tools in a different way.

I went back and forth between “Social Media I: Status Updates, Tweets and Geo-What?” and “Facing the Future: A Look at ELP’s Media Demonstration Projects,” trying to get something out of two workshops at the same time.

Owen Lei, a reporter at KING-TV, shared many examples of how he had used Facebook to reach out and make connections with folks in the Seattle area for story ideas and sources. He also gave an overview of how he had set privacy settings and created groups and lists, separating his online personal and professional lives and making his work more efficient.

The ELP Media Demo Projects are exciting in making connections with the ethnic press in Chicago, Arab American youth in Dearborn, Mich., and in the Chinatown community in New York. The “Our Chinatown” project and the “Living Textbook” project in Dearborn are making these connections through emerging technology platforms to advance awareness in the greater community.

We heard directly from experts at Facebook and Linked In during “Social Media II: Becoming a Social Media Maven,” with examples of how a series of posts can become a story in itself and how to find experts with very specific parameters to match exactly who you need for a story.

In “Is Hyperlocal the Future or Just Hype?,” interesting points emerged on models of connecting journalism with advertising - a question few journalists have the luxury of just leaving to someone else to consider anyone.

My night wound down on a sweet note, not just because of the pastries from a Dearborn shop we nibbled on but because I lucked into a quiet conversation one-on-one with Katherine Lewis.

I was only able to catch a bit of her sharing her success stories as a freelancer in “What’s Next for Journalists Affter the Newsroom?” panel because I was in another workshop.

We talked for awhile about what I had learned that day in workshops and how I and a lot of “ronin” journalists are trying to piece together new phases in our careers while trying to make a living to support our families.

It’s clear to me that whatever happens, I always want to be a journalist in some way, getting out the untold stories.

We talked about freelancing as a way to make that happen. She emphasized what she had shared in the panel, about evaluating opportunities by how they might add to one’s journalistic pay, prestige or passion.

Katherine generously offered to keep in touch and lend a hand. I promised to be judicious in what I ask in brainstorming ideas or getting feedback on story pitches.

So many people helped me get started as a freelancer, she said, “I want to pay it forward.”

— Maya Blackmun, Portland Chapter

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