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What We’ve Learned: Good Stories Stick.

Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting big lessons from the Stry.us team. Up next: Zach Crizer, and what he learned about the value of communication — and the need to make readers think.

story by Zach Crizer
published August 16, 2012

Editor Jordan Hickey and I were meeting with a couple sources last week when one referenced a story we published earlier this summer. The story, the source said, was about Springfield’s E-Verify controversy. Crowded around a small circular table near the front of Mud Lounge on a quiet afternoon, my editor and I turned to stare at each other in confusion. Unless our memories were seriously mistaken, Stry.us hadn’t penned a word about that topic.

Seeing that we were clearly perplexed, he continued to explain that the story showed how local political issues often make it difficult or discouraging for moderate voices to be heard, for moderate citizens to be engaged. And then we knew what he was talking about. He had mixed up his local political battles, but the same concepts dominated both the E-Verify debate and the smoking ban saga, which is the topic I covered with my first story in Springfield.

And while it may seem less than desirable for a reader to misremember what a story was about, it was actually a victory that he had found a salient concept that applied to more than just the topic at hand. See, when I showed up in Missouri — actually, when I interviewed for the chance to earn my most-expenses-paid summer in Missouri — I was told our stories would explore a theme: an “Interconnected America.”

Turns out that was accomplished without really trying. Many a night in the Stry.us apartments-slash-offices was spent dissecting the underlying themes of stories we were writing — discussing and distilling until we had one word that cut to the heart of the matter. One of the advantages we had, as reporters coming to the Springfield area from afar, was fresh perspective. Arriving with no preconceived notions, the stories we found in this community could and should be described by a whole bevy of adjectives that are listed in the thesaurus under the listing for “unique.”

So much of what goes into forming a story idea is focused on what makes the topic surprising, one-of-a-kind. Everyone has heard the tired adage: “Dog bites man” isn’t news. “Man bites dog,” is. Stories should have a certain level of shock value. Stories are about what’s new, what’s different. But working with the Stry.us team, I repeatedly found myself trying to express what made our stories familiar.

What I’ve learned in Springfield: Great ideas may be novel, but great stories are relatable.

The fact is, my story on Springfield’s smoking ban told a story of outside influence and polarization that epitomizes the political struggles in hundreds of communities across America. Roman Stubbs’ piece on Fast Eddie evokes the sort of shock that so many have felt upon learning the true identity of their neighbors. Much like a song that people sing themselves into, stories — especially works of long-form journalism — offer readers the chance to empathize with neighbors and those facing similar situations across the country.

News of the weird is great for online pageviews, but getting people to read thousands of words about a nuanced subject requires a different level of thinking. And trust me when I say we have racked our brains to deliver that level of thought in all of the stories on this site this summer. Our stories have revealed previously unspoken details and explained previously murky trends with in-depth reporting and analysis. But at the end of the day, even the notable sociologist I was interviewing at the Mud Lounge didn’t remember the specifics of the data in my story. He remembered the implications of it. He remembered what it said about this community and about the current American political landscape.

Hopefully, our stories allow readers to better understand the world around them a little bit more completely — in addition to providing interesting reading material. Hopefully they immerse people in narratives that leave them with a thought or two. And in a week or a month or a year, hopefully those people express that thought to a friend over a drink somewhere. If so, then our writing has done its job, it has left its mark.

My time at Stry.us has, more than anything, reminded me that what we are doing is, above all, a form of communication — one that seeks to inspire further communication. In my fellow reporters and editors, I’ve found a group of thoughtful journalists — and people — who will continue to give the world things to talk about, things that allow people to understand their lives in the grander scheme of their community, things that help them to relate to the man they see on the sidewalk.

What We’ve Learned: The Reporting Is Everything.

Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting big lessons from the Stry.us team. We continue the series with Roman Stubbs, who learned all about hustle this summer.

story by Roman Stubbs
published August 10, 2012

Stry.us reporter Roman Stubbs

In the middle of June, I was in Ozark, Mo., retracing Fast Eddie Maher’s footsteps. Fast Eddie was a British armored car robber who was on the lam for 19 years before being caught in Ozark in February.

I had a good chunk of the story, but I needed to do some reporting on some of the history of the region. I was anxious to tell the story. I had been reporting the story aggressively for about five weeks, and had a singular focus on it.

After the interview, as I was leaving Sparta, I stopped in at a barber shop on the edge of town. The shop was very old and rustic. There was a young barber there named Adam, and he had a long line of customers. I waited and waited for a haircut, and it was almost closing time. After all the customers had left, Adam and I struck up a conversation — and he started to tell me the history of the shop. A local legend named Virgil had cut hair here for 70 years, and Adam was trying to carry the torch.

It was a simple story, but I was fascinated by it. I wanted to know more. That accidental discovery led to another story: “A Chair of His Own.”

Having a singular focus on the reporting process of a feature is important, but it also ties in with another big lesson from Springfield: reporting is an investment game. You must invest time and energy in story ideas, and have the gumption to deliver on them even though you know the process will likely be long and arduous. That hit me that day in Sparta. It hit me a month later in Joplin, where I had spent two weeks reporting on the Muslim community in Joplin and the hate it’s faced. The story was brought to a tragic conclusion earlier this week after the mosque burned down. These stories have been great lessons in taking risks as a reporter, and understanding how stories can materialize in unexpected ways.

I learned a few other things this summer:

1. The reporting is everything — Stry.us reinforced this mentality for me. There should be no disconnect between the reporting and writing process. You solely write your way out if you haven’t done enough reporting for a story. Readers will know when you haven’t laid the groundwork for a story. There are simply no shortcuts — you must put long hours of work in, over days, weeks or months at a time.

2. You’re only as good as your editor — My editor this summer, Jordan Hickey, spent countless hours helping me with processing ideas and structure. Each week, he would test my focus and understanding of the ideas I was taking on, always pressing about the relevance and impact of my reporting. He grilled me on the backgrounds of sources, wanting to know where they fit into the narratives we were trying to tell. He pushed me to be more concise in my sentence structure. I became more detailed and effective because of Jordan’s editorship. Finding an editor you trust and respect is essential for your confidence as a young reporter.

3. Take risks in your career — Sure, it may backfire on you. But it may also turn out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. When I first heard about Stry.us, I identified it as a project with incredible ambition. I had no idea what would happen to me in the Ozarks after I got the job. But the reason why I became attached to Stry.us was because Dan Oshinsky built this visionary project with old school values. He’s put everything he has on the line. That’s rare in this business these days. This project had a summer camp feel from Day 1, which isn’t the most secure feeling for a 24-year-old recent college graduate. In the end, that’s all I needed. Dan not only assembled a group of incredibly hungry journalists, but also a group of very authentic people. I’ve made lifelong friends here in Springfield.

You take risks when you try to identify great stories to tell. But you must take risks in your own story, too.

How We Told The Exclusive Story Of The Joplin Mosque.

On Aug. 6, a “suspicious” fire burned the only mosque in Joplin to the ground. Many stories were written about the fire. But only Stry.us went inside the mosque to bring you the story of the people who worship there. Here’s how we pulled it off.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published August 8, 2012

Roman Stubbs and Imam Lahmuddin, on the day of the fire.

It’s about 6:30 a.m. on Monday, and I’m checking Twitter. I see this come across my screen:

I can’t believe it. The mosque in Joplin — for the second time in a month — had caught fire. It had burned to the ground.

Arson is suspected.

And I knew right then that we had the story that no one else did. Stry.us reporter Roman Stubbs had visited the mosque twice back in July, meeting families and hearing their stories of resilience in the face of hate. He had taken photos from inside the mosque.

We had the full story, and no one else did. If you read our final product, there isn’t another news organization that’s come close to matching what we did in Joplin on Monday.

But there was still so much more to report and so much that had to get done between then and the time the story actually went live on the site — about 1:30 a.m. the next day. Here’s what happened:

7:15 a.m.

Roman and I leave from Springfield for Joplin. We’ve got all the business cards and contact numbers that we can find from Joplin. We don’t have a phone number for the Imam — Roman says the only number he has was the mosque’s main line, and that’s not much use now. But we’ve got plenty of numbers from our previous reporting in Joplin. That’s a big plus.

The bad news, which we get quickly: The city of Joplin isn’t taking on this case. The mosque is slightly outside of city limits. It’s a Jasper County case. We have no experience with Jasper County.

We decide to go directly to the mosque.

8:30 a.m.

We arrive on the scene of the mosque. There are a few TV crews there, and a few other reporters. It’s still pretty calm. Police haven’t roped off the scene just yet. I drive directly into the mosque parking lot and start taking photos. (Cops, realizing this, then immediately grab yellow caution tape and rope off the scene.)

Imam Lahmuddin is there doing interviews. He and Roman talk for about 15 minutes (see photo at top). A neighbor, Ross Humphrey, walks over and says hello. Lahmuddin introduces us as “our friends from Springfield.” Roman continues his interview while I speak with Humphrey.

Lahmuddin gives us the name and number of the mosque’s treasurer, who knows more about the mosque’s insurance policy. We discover that the mosque’s main phone number is actually Lahmuddin’s cell phone. It’s listed on the mosque’s website. Roman and I both nod to each other; that phone is about to get very busy.

9:30 a.m.

We start making more calls — to the FBI, to the treasurer, to the realtor mentioned in the opening of the story. We set up HQ at a pancake house in Joplin — they have electrical outlets and WiFi. (Also: pancakes.) We start scrolling through the media reports already online. I edit photos. There are a few tweets about the fire so far, but not many. It’s still a small story.

11 a.m.

We switch locations, to the public library on Main St. Roman writes the opening scene of the story. Meanwhile, I start transcribing interviews from the morning and feeding Roman quotes. Throughout the day, he’ll have me look in every few paragraphs to make sure he’s on track with the story. Our goal is to write and edit this story simultaneously, and to bring the rest of the Stry.us team into the editing process as soon as possible.

I start adding photos to an empty story page in our CMS.

We see what the Associated Press is running on this story. AP has a photo of Lahmuddin, his head in his hands “That’s inaccurate,” Roman says, and I agree. We were there for a good chunk of the morning. The photo makes it appear as though the Imam is crying, but Roman’s spent enough time with him to know that he’s not that animated. Personally, I was shocked at how calm he was. He even smiled a few times during the interview with Roman.

The AP’s just playing into the standard post-disaster narrative. They’re missing the larger picture. We know we’ve got the story no one else does. Everyone else is focusing on the fire. We’ve got the story of the people affected.

2:30 p.m.

Roman and I head off to the Jasper County Sheriff’s office. The office is in Atlas, Mo., a town so small that it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps. We spend the next 90 minutes getting terribly lost. Dispatchers at the office direct us all over the county, but nowhere near the office.

We find it just as the press conference is ending. Someone at the office leads us to the Sheriff, and he gives us 10 minutes alone. This ends up being a break for us, because he gives us a few nuggets that he hadn’t revealed at the press conference.

4:30 p.m.

We go back to the scene. There are more cameras there. Lahmuddin’s phone is ringing constantly. He introduces us to an elder in the community, and then he runs home for evening prayer.

5:30 p.m.

We set up at a McDonald’s. Roman keeps writing, and I edit what’s been written so far and add it to the WordPress document. I’m also transcribing quotes from our interview with the sheriff.

Back in Springfield, Jordan Hickey and Zach Crizer are doing research, finding additional links and data for the story. Once the story starts to go into WordPress, they start editing it.

7:30 p.m.

We head back to the scene. It’s quiet now, so quiet that two law enforcement officials on the scene run our drivers licenses just to keep busy. We take down some additional notes. We’d originally hoped to join one the affected families in their Ramadan celebrations that night, but in the chaos of that day, those plans didn’t pan out.

8:30 p.m.

We set up at a different McDonald’s. Roman’s still writing, and I’m helping to guide him through the remaining sections. I’m emailing back and forth with the team in Springfield as they make some changes and edits. Roman and I collaborate on a few edits, and I add more of his words to the story. Before we leave, we have the entire story — save for the final section — into the CMS.

10 p.m.

We make one more pass by the mosque. We think Lahmuddin might be there, but he isn’t. The scene is empty.

We start the drive home. I pull up all of the notes on my computer, and Roman starts writing in the front seat as I drive us back to Springfield on I-44. Roman’s reading his work aloud, and I’m trying to line edit from the passing lane. We’re at the final paragraph when we pull back into Stry.us HQ. We finish that section and head upstairs, where Jordan and Zach have edits.

11 p.m.

The serious editing begins. We go through the final section, and then we go back through the entire piece, working to get the tenses and details straight.

The story goes live Tuesday at 2:01 a.m.

¶ ¶ ¶

I’m incredibly proud of the final product. There isn’t a news outlet anywhere — including the Joplin Globe — that had the depth of coverage we produced. No one else had photos from inside the mosque.

I’m so proud of the effort put in by the entire Stry.us team. Through a combination of email, Google Docs and WordPress, we were able to write and edit this story in a timely fashion.

One thing we didn’t do that we should have: tweet more. I sent out a few tweets during the day, but not enough. And I failed to tell the Stry.us team back in Springfield that we should have been tweeting and retweeting information and links about the mosque story. By doing that, we might have established ourselves early on as the source for information about the fire. Instead, we let the AP’s coverage dictate the story.

That being said: At the start of the day, as we were driving out to Joplin, I told Roman we had only two duties:

  1. We had to tell a great story.
  2. We had to do justice to what the Muslim community had been through.

In the past 48 hours, we’ve started to hear back from the Muslim community around the state of Missouri, and the word so far has been very kind. That’s fantastic to hear. I think this story is Stry.us at its best — long-form journalism about a story and an issue that deserves more coverage. And we did it all on deadline, which was fantastic.

Earlier this spring, Roman told us that he was determined to do a story on Islam in the Ozarks. And he did.

Even still, I don’t think any of us could have predicted that it would be quite like this.

A Tale of Two Editors (And Their Storytelling Tools).

When it comes time to edit a story for this site, Jordan Hickey and Dan Oshinsky are the editors in charge. Here’s how they use two very different tools to get stories edited.

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Jordan Hickey
published August 2, 2012

Jordan's whiteboard

I have known Jordan Hickey, the managing editor of Stry.us, for seven years. By now, we’ve got almost an “Odd Couple” kind of routine down. We’ve only got a couple of things in common — off hand: The Black Keys, hockey, deep-dish pizza, M-I-Z chants and, oh yes, long-form journalism — but in a work environment, we get along really well.

I only considered one person for this managing editor job, and it was Jordan. We just trust each other, and when it comes to telling stories, we know how to work together to get the results we want.

But we come at stories from very different perspectives.

  • Jordan’s always thinking about the narrative.
  • I’m always thinking about the details.

And it’s easy to see exactly that in the way both of us plan out stories.

The Whiteboard

More often than not, the stories we’ve told have gotten their start in conversations Jordan has with the team. Up in one of the Stry.us apartments, ideas get scribbled out on a whiteboard that reporter Zach Crizer brought with him to Springfield.

This summer, this whiteboard’s been wiped clean over and over again. It’s where Jordan and the reporters go to visualize the big picture of a story, the arcs and themes of a piece.

When Jordan and the team look at a story, they see it from 30,000 feet. On the whiteboard, they’re all able to give a story the basic outline it needs — the flow, the pacing, the narrative.

Jordan and the reporters look at the piece from every angle, and then they figure out how to structure the thing. They do all this before a single word gets written.

Then it comes my way.

Dan's Want/Need Lists

My Lists

Last week, I had a mini-breakthrough when working with Sarah Elms on her Jerry Jacobs piece. I read through it, and the arcs were all there. Jordan and Sarah both deserve credit for that.

But the details weren’t. Big questions were going unanswered, I thought.

The good news is, that’s where I’m strongest: at the details. I sketched out a simple chart on a legal pad.

“Let’s talk about the readers,” I said. “When they get to the end of the piece, what do they need to know, and what do we want them to know?”

  • Need to know is the hard details. For this story, it included Jerry’s job title and description, his feelings about his job and his role in changing the Army’s age limit.
  • Want to know includes themes that aren’t as explicitly hammered home in the story. With Jerry’s story, we wanted readers to get to the end of the piece and understand that Jerry’s a hero — even though local TV viewers probably still just think of him as a local reporter.

There was a lot in the initial draft that wasn’t on either list — so we cut it. If it wasn’t essential, and if it didn’t tie in with the big themes of the story, then why would we publish it?

The whiteboard helped give that story shape, and my list helped flesh it out.

Together, they’re part of a system that we feel is helping us tell some really great stories here on Stry.us.

What We’ve Learned: Lessons From A Dead Bunny.

Over the next month, we’ll be spotlighting big lessons from the Stry.us team. We start with reporter Bari Bates, who — one day earlier this summer — accidentally ran over a bunny with her car. Here’s what she learned from the experience.

story by Bari Bates
published July 29, 2012

Bari Bates

In early June, I accidentally ran over a bunny on my way back to the Stry.us apartments in Republic, Mo. It was dark, and the poor chap was making a quick hop across a side road. He never saw me coming. I felt the steady thunk-thunk of my right front tire, slammed on my brakes, not daring to look behind me, hands glued to the wheel for a few moments while I realized what happened.

I was shattered and horrified. I’d never killed anything before. I walked into the apartment and immediately crumpled to the ground, unsure of what to do. The other reporters, Zach, Sarah and Roman, stood there and looked at me, as I flapped my arms out of nervous frustration.

They asked me if I was sure that I had killed it. I wasn’t, as I’d refused to look in my rearview mirror. I asked them to come outside with me to check: I decided that I needed to know, steeling myself for the worst.

It was a long walk to the end of the road. All the while, Sarah and Zach assured me that I probably hadn’t hit it at all, and that he hopped away. Even so, Sarah brought along a large flashlight. She was ready, she later told me, to end the bunny’s suffering if needed. (She is from Wisconsin and can handle such things.)

Then we saw the poor guy.

Definitely dead. Very dead. Dead.

Oh dear.

I had known these people for two weeks, and they helped me mourn a bunny I had accidentally just run over. An important lesson in teamwork if ever there was one, I imagine: Sometimes, things happen. Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. But you need that sometimes. You need it to learn, to grow, and to do all of those other things that make you a better writer, a better reporter, a better person.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned above all else this summer, it’s to keep it honest. Be human, and make mistakes. And in the interests of such honesty and full disclosure, below is a non-exhaustive list of some personal mistakes and whoopsie-daisy moments (besides the bunny):

At times, I got bogged down in minute details of stories, losing sight of the larger narrative I was creating. So: I learned how important it was to keep sight of the larger picture, and to stay focused.

I jumbled questions during interviews. So: Don’t worry too much about questions and answers. When allowed, make it a conversation.

I left the lens cap on the camera when I was trying to take pictures. So: Remove the damn lens cap, Bari.

Also on the note of photography: For our 4th of July story, I left the camera on manual focus instead of automatic, which meant that a day’s worth of photos came back out of focus. So: When working with fun new toys, check all of the settings before you start using them. (Ed.’s note: Checking the battery power isn’t a bad move, either.)

I tweeted blank tweets. So: For the love of Pete, learn how to manage the Twitter. And quit adding hashtags to everything. You look like a kook when every tweet ends in #nomz.

Deadlines came and deadlines went, and I waved goodbye to them, still furiously writing and hunched over my laptop as they passed by. So: Mistakes turn into lessons. Pay attention to your screw ups. You’ll learn from them.

This summer, there were lessons that I learned while editing stories at 4 a.m. Lessons learned from spending hours crafting an outline, only to throw it all away when the writing actually began. Lessons about when it’s time to walk away and take a nap.

But this little community here, this small Stry.us family that we somehow formed — it was a safety net. We somehow managed to create this space where we could take chances and find different ways to tell a story, knowing that everyone had a hand in every story published on the site. We edited as a group, and stories weren’t published until we all made sure that they were something that we could say, as a group, that we were proud of. It was a remarkable hands-on experience, and it’s what makes standing at the end of this experience so bittersweet.

Here, I had a support system to help me do the things I didn’t know how to do.

Most importantly, this summer taught me lessons on what it means to be miraculously surrounded by people who are just as crazy-passionate about things as you are, and what happens when you’re able to do what you love. It’s about pushing through when things get tough, and helping others push through too, because now you’re all a family in this crazy journalism business.

And the family that can mourn bunnies together, stays together.

We Need More Stakeholders In Our News Conversation.

We’ve always been able to rely on certain organizations — mostly, traditional news outlets — to serve our communities with news, information and discussion. Should we be involving new stakeholders in this conversation?

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Sarah Elms
published July 25, 2012

Dr. Michael Stout speaks at the 'Letters to Springfield' panel on July 17, 2012.

I love libraries. Always have. I was one of those kids who signed up every year for my local library’s summer reading challenge. In high school, I was the student rep on the library board. Wherever I’ve gone, signing up for a library card has been near the top of my To Do list.

But there’s more to libraries than just books or CDs. Take the library system here in Springfield, Mo. They’ve got amazing meeting spaces at their locations, from small meeting rooms to big auditoriums. Groups from across this community often turn to the library first when they need space for an event. When they need a neutral site for a controversial meeting, they turn to the library. When they need a place to discuss what’s going on in their lives and in the larger Springfield community, they turn to the library.

And what’s more: The library is already one of the places people in this community turn to for information and ideas. But it doesn’t have to stop there.

The next step, I think, is turning the library into a hub for stories about Springfield — not just the world, or big ideas, or whatever else is on those bookshelves — and merging that with more regular discussions about this city.

What I’m seeing across the country is a loss of — and an overall decline in — the institutions that used to serve our communities. We’re losing staff at news organizations, especially, and these have always been the places we go for information and debate about what’s happening in our neighborhoods.

As we lose those traditional outlets, we need new stakeholders to step in and keep the discussion and flow of ideas going.

I think libraries can be an excellent stakeholder in this conversation, and that’s why I’m still so excited about last week’s “Letters to Springfield” town hall panel. I think it was a fantastic showcase for the library as a place for stories, ideas and discussion about Springfield. I hope our event will lead to future events there.

YouTube Preview Image

I’m also thrilled that City Hall came on board to help us livestream the panel. They, too, want to be a part of the conversation happening in this community. They want to be a part of sharing the stories of this city. They’re a newsmaker in this town, but they can also be a major stakeholder in the larger conversation — assuming, of course, that they are fully transparent in the way they tell these stories.

We need more stakeholders like these in our communities, and I think it’s up to news organizations — from Stry.us on up to established newsrooms — to partner with these groups. All of us have resources to offer — stories, space, tools — and all of us want to be a part of building stronger communities.

Let’s start to work together. We cannot afford to let the conversation — and the stories — in our community die.

Can My Integrity Be Compromised By A T-Shirt?

Last month, Stry.us founder Dan Oshinsky wrote a story about Swagbot, a T-shirt company in Springfield. He had previously paid Swagbot to print custom T-shirts for the Stry.us team. Did he violate a big rule of journalism in the process?

story by Dan Oshinsky / photos by Dan Oshinsky
published July 23, 2012

Stry.us swag

If you read my June 19 story for this site — “Juli, Shawn and Their Absolutely Unmistakeable Swag” — then you saw this footnote about halfway down the page:

“Before I get any further into this story, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to mention that at this very moment, I am wearing a shirt made by Swagbot. I first came across Swagbot because of their custom T-shirt business. They made six custom T-shirts for myself and the Stry.us team, gray shirts with white lettering. On the back, they say, “WE FREAKING LOVE STORIES.”; the slogan and design of the shirt was mine. The shirts cost about $16 per, and I am wearing one of them right now. It is very comfortable.

“Again, this is the sort of disclosure that I cannot imagine Bob Woodward writing, but I want to make my potential conflict of interest known here.

“Juli and Shawn Matthews made me a T-shirt, for which I paid money, and now I am wearing this very comfortable shirt while writing a story about the Matthews’ and their business. I hope this does not bias this story in any way.”

The notion of bias — like everything else in the media realm — is changing. Generally speaking, it used to work this way:

  • You are a reporter.
  • If you have opinions, thoughts or any sort of conflict of interest with your sources, you are biased.
  • If you are biased, the public will not trust your stories.

So for decades, we’ve tried to remove all bias from our stories. We write under the banner of complete and total objectivity. Eliminate bias, maintain trust.

I’m not so sure that that’s the way of the future.

We all show up for work with our biases and thoughts and feelings. We have opinions; we’d be awfully dull people — and reporters — if we didn’t.

There is no sense in trying to hide these biases, I think. The public knows we have opinions, and it does us no good to keep pretending like we don’t.

I think media thinker Jeff Jarvis does a fantastic job on his blog of disclosing some of his biases. Look at this list — it’s almost absurdly comprehensive.

This brings us around to an idea circulating in journalism circles:


Previous iterations of journalism were about projecting authority and fairness. What I believe we’re moving towards now is a form of journalism built on authenticity, transparency and trust.

Here’s the question I think newsrooms should be asking: How do we explain our biases? And can we do it in a way that actually builds trust with our readers?

The best way for us to work with these biases, I think, is to:

  • Disclose biases where appropriate.
  • Try to put the sources first and our voices second.

Last month, MIT held a big journalism conference. One of the presenters, homicidewatch.org‘s Laura Amico, had some interesting ideas about the role of the storyteller:

I love that idea. It is the community’s voices we’re here to share, not ours. We’re just the filter through which the stories are shared.

Some personal thoughts or feelings or opinions might pass through that filter, too. I am not going to pretend like they don’t.

We, the Stry.us team, are human. We are not robot journalists. We tell stories in a human way, which means that our stories are painstakingly written and occasionally flawed.

You’re going to get some great stories from us this summer. You also might get a little bit of us in the process.

We are going to try to tell the best, the fairest, the most complete stories we can here on Stry.us. That is both our mission and my pledge to you.

That’s what I tried to do with the Swagbot story, and it’s what the team will continue to do with each piece we report this summer. Our goal is to authentic, transparent and trustworthy, and based on the overwhelmingly positive responses I’ve gotten so far to that Swagbot story, I believe we did our jobs there.

Agree/disagree with me on this notion of bias? Shoot me a tweet using the hashtag #onbias with your thoughts.