Streams and digests — and my hope for The State Press

When I was back at ASU last month for Cronkite Day, Student Media Director Jason Manning mentioned that The State Press would likely change from a daily to a weekly newspaper.

Little did I realize how concrete and impending those plans were until I saw these tweets from a State Press sportswriter tonight:

As a State Press alum who worked to expand the scope of the print edition, I of course have mixed feelings about the change.

From everything I hear, it's a smart business decision. Jason told me it's what advertisers have been asking for, and it opens up a new distribution channel — dorm-room delivery.

Still, being a daily newspaper is a traditional source of journalistic pride. When I worked at The State Press, we were in the same league as The Arizona Republic and the East Valley Tribune, despite our smaller size in terms of circulation and staff. That was when the Tribune was still a daily newspaper, though. Things have changed since then, and more change is due.

I'm confident the current crop of State Pressers can do as good a job online as any news organization, collegiate or otherwise, but I hope they'll do a better job.

As good as newspapers and broadcasters have become at publishing online the news we did/will/would have run in print or on air and as good as some have become at creating content that takes advantage of the Web's capabilities, something is still missing. It's something more structural. It's the sense of completeness and comprehensiveness.

Walter Cronkite, the namesake of the school where many State Pressers (like myself) earn degrees, signed off the CBS Evening News each night with, "And that's the way it is."

The New York Times' front page carries the slogan, "All the News That's Fit to Print."

Even if they don't have a similar tagline of their own, most newscasts and periodicals present themselves as at least somewhat comprehensive. The fact that someone consciously picked the news items for this regularly recurring package implies that reading or watching will fill the audience in on what was most important in a given area over a given time period.

Newspapers and evening newscasts arrive once a day, and even the old Headline News started anew every half-hour.

But now, questions of timing are often anyone's guess in the age of TiVo and the Web.

Timing is something we're wrestling with presently at MyDesert.com, where I work: Barring breaking news, how often and how much do we change the composition of the home page? Who are we trying to reach at certain times of the day? How often do we expect our audience to return to us on a given platform?

Truth is, there can't be easy answers to these questions.

Traditional news products were able to set their own frequency, and some still can, but the Web puts that power in the audience's hands and allows infinite and asynchronous changes to how often people seek or receive news.

The trouble for a modern news consumer is staying up-to-date without overwhelming oneself.

Letting 24 hours go by without opening Echofon, TweetDeck or Twitter.com would have roughly the same effect for me as skipping a day's newspaper, but sometimes tuning out for just an hour or two can be the equivalent of getting a newspaper with no front page. I can miss the big story of the day if the tweets fly by too quickly for me to catch up.

The rest of the Web is similarly geared toward streams of information. Blogging, the reverse-chronological collections of posts and the software they've yielded, is a dominant force online. Even StatePress.com runs on WordPress, a blogging platform that has grown to be capable of much bigger things.

What's harder to find on the Web is a reliable digest — the way it is, all the news that's fit to transmit — in real time. Most are just digital equivalents of traditional news products — all the stories in today's (or tomorrow's) paper, everything on the last (or next) newscast.

Those traditional products demand a lot of attention, which can keep those of us who work with them from really figuring out how to get our audience caught up — to deliver all the news the reader or viewer sees fit to consume, to tell our audience the way it is and was, going back to the last time they caught up on the news and still fitting into a user-defined time period.

It's a software challenge and it's a journalism challenge, and my hope is that The State Press' move to weekly print publication not only brings in the big bucks but also allows the space for big thoughts on how best to deliver news online.

It’s time to wise up.

I'll admit: I've been pretty bad at taking my own good advice. More than three years after I delivered a graduation speech asking my fellow J-school graduates to keep learning as we moved into the professional world, I've realized that I've lost sight of my own mandate to "learn from the past and grow into the future."

Sure, I've learned more about my craft since I've left journalism school, and I have a Storify account that proves I've dabbled with a bit of new technology. But I feel like I do a better job of living a college-like life on the weekends and at the bars than at The Work, where I could also use some skills from that same era — though not the same daypart.

Luckily, the tide started turning in recent weeks as some colleagues and I hatched a plan to be more intentional about sharing successes with and learning from each other, and I also took a step or two of my own in the right direction today.

Tonight, I drove out to UC Riverside to hear former Des Moines Register editor and current USC J-school director Geneva Overholser give a lecture on the promise to be found amid the tumultuous times the news business is going through that was full of food for thought — and grist for the Twitter mill, of course.

Who knew that a university right in our backyard held an annual journalism lecture that's attracted the likes of Katharine and Don Graham, George Will, Tom Johnson, Tom Curley and Walter Isaacson?

Well, I only knew about it because I happened to see it listed on the UCR home page today, and I was only poking around there and on Cal State San Bernardino's website after realizing that The Work really does still offer tuition assistance.

I mean, it's listed in the employee handbook that I got when I started in '09, but I figured that program went the way of the acronym VDT — which also appears in the handbook and seems to mean "computer" — when the economy tanked, if not long before. But there it was again (the tuition assistance section, not the archaic acronym) in the newly overhauled handbook we got earlier this year.

So now I've got that tool in my toolbox, but more importantly, these past few weeks have reignited my drive to not just get the job done and not even to simply do good work but also to be a more thoughtful, ever-learning journalist.

Well, they’re both windy cities

At TDS, we often joke about desert connections — those opportunities for localizing seemingly any story, no matter how farflung the dateline's location. Although we jest, there actually are a lot of desert connections out there, and last week, all roads seemed to lead to Chicago.

I'd imagine the Coachella Valley is home to a lot of former Chicagoans seeking an escape from Midwestern winters, but last week's two big Chicago-related stories here in Palm Springs were about former valley residents who now work in the Windy City:

@btindrelunas  @aheram Dude, if your mother says she loves you, check it out. #journalizing #wordstoliveby

three stories that needed telling

Tragedy at heart of epic traffic backup

Two weeks ago, three drivers died on our local roadways in a series of unrelated crashes that spurred a traffic nightmare on the freeway that everyone loved to talk about, we at TDS loved to write about and our online readers loved to click on.

The day after the crashes, it occurred to me that no one at our news organization had made any calls trying to track down the family members of the three people who were killed. So I made the rounds, left messages at questionable numbers with nondescript voicemail greetings and heard, well, nothing — at first.

Gradually, though, I got messages on my own voicemail from those long-shot cold calls, and soon I had successfully pitched the idea of a family-based folo to my editor. Then, the reporting really began. On Thursday, I talked with a woman who lost her stepfather. Friday, it was a man who lost his brother. And Tuesday, four children and a widow... and then I had to sit down and put all of their stories — and all of their loved ones — into words.

The result was the story that appeared on the front page of The Desert Sun this morning, and I actually spent most of the morning upset about how it turned out. An editor's attempt to add more detail to the story ended up introducing a small error, and what had been my first three paragraphs had been expanded quite a bit to become a six-paragraph intro that I didn't quite recognize when I saw it underneath my name in print.

But in my frustration, I lost sight of the fact that the bulk of the story was still pretty much how I had written it, and it was still my reporting that informed the words.

Luckily, the story was so well received throughout the newsroom and, really, throughout the company that I had to take a second look at how I had managed to get insight into three families and tell the three uniquely engaging stories of how they're dealing with loss and who it is they lost.

These were stories that needed to be told, and I'm glad I was entrusted (by editors and families alike) with the responsibility of telling them.