Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

from ‘born in a newspaper office’ to … birthing babies?

In Uncategorized on September 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm

In a recent e-mail interview, Beth Ott, 32, a former colleague, told me, “It feels like I was born in a newspaper office.” She’s not far off, but she also recently chose to to pursue another career. Ott got her first taste of journalism at 10 years old with Bear Essential News for Kids. “I was hooked,” she said. Ott was the editor of her high school newspaper and interned at a community paper. After earning a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of New Mexico, she worked at the West Valley View, a community bi-weekly in Phoenix’s West Valley, for just shy of 10 years. She left her position as an assistant editor in August. She has three children and has been married nine years.

You recently left newspapers to pursue a career in nursing. Why?
I tell people I did it because I would have some day regretted not doing it. I have always been interested in health, my mother is a nurse and I became most interested when I was hospitalized with preterm labor for six weeks in 2003. As my kids all got to school age, I decided it was time to make my move. I love journalism. I will always be a writer. But it’s time to make a hands-on difference with the other area I am passionate about.

Your husband, Rich, still is an assistant editor at your former paper. What was your working relationship like and did it affect your non-work relationship that included juggling kids, their activities, family stuff, etc.?
To be honest, it didn’t make much of a difference either way. We work well together. We met at the [Peoria] Prospector newspaper years ago. If anything, he’d probably tell you I played wife/editor a little too much, asking him if stories were done yet, what he was working on, etc.

Newspapers everywhere are struggling to survive. Is it different at a smaller-circulation, community newspaper? If so, how?
No, the community paper is struggling for ad dollars just like all other media outlets. The last two years have been tough. We were on 32-hour, work-week “furloughs” for more than a year when I left. They still are on that mandated reduced pay. It’s unfortunate. The paper has more possibilities than it can explore on a small staff with reduced hours. I felt it was very unstable for my husband and I to be there at this point. I had made my decision to change careers, but felt even more validated knowing healthcare is far more stable.

How do you feel The West Valley View incorporates technologywebsites, social media, etc.into its coverage? Does it do a good job? What would you change?
The View is behind in technology and social media usage. The website is not as user-friendly as it should be, and it’s not updated as much as would be ideal. Again, the limited staffing hinders this further. Social media networking is not being used at all.

What was your favorite story you wrote or edited during your newspaper career, and what’s a story that perhaps you didn’t get to tell that you’d still like to?
Wow. There were many stories that touched me. I suppose not surprisingly, many involved health matters and centered on the lives of families in the community. Breaking news is an adrenaline rush, but I lived for the features. I did several stories on families with autistic children and one on a teacher who works solely with autistic children. Those were fascinating to me. I am rather birth-obsessed and perhaps someday as a nurse will have a way to capture peoples’ birth stories in words for them.

If you could have a byline in any publication in the world, which would it be and why?
That’s tough for me. I never really aspired to work at one certain place or have my name in a particular publication. It seems cliché to say I’d like to have my name in The New York Times. I think writing the best story and having an impact on whatever community you are in is what’s important, whether it’s Avondale, Ariz., or New York City.


piecoro: ‘i have trouble imagining doing anything else’

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Nick Piecoro, 30, is about to complete his fourth season covering the D-backs full time for The Arizona Republic, making him the longest-tenured baseball beat writer in the paper’s history. I’ve known him for 15 years. I predicted in our high school yearbook he’d be the next Peter Gammons, but so far he’s only partway there: Gammons also plays the guitar.

Here are a few highlights from a recent conversation:

Given what’s happened to newspapers the last 10 years, where does The Arizona Republic still fit among the Valley’s media landscape?
Well, I can answer that as it applies to sports: I think The Republic still manages to set the agenda for sports conversations locally. Whereas in the past it was talk radio guys picking up the morning paper and basing entire shows on what was in the sports sections, it’s now constantly changing. Azcentral is still the first place most people go to for local sports news.

When the East Valley Tribune stopped covering pro sports, how did that lack of competition affect The Republic’s sports department?
From my perspective, it was a big loss. While I still try to remain as dogged and aggressive as ever in pursuing stories, not having that other beat writer breathing down my neck does make a difference. As hard I might try, I can’t think of everything to write about all by myself. Plus, there are times when having another reporter around would help to better advance a story, give it depth and expose more details.

In addition to covering the team and writing a game story and notebook every day, how do you incorporate blogs and Twitter and other social media into your coverage, and do you find them useful?
I have a Twitter account that I use sort of sporadically at the moment. I probably should tweet more than I do. I actually don’t think it’s incredibly useful—yet. I think in theory it’s great and all—news and ideas can spread at lightning speed—but there just aren’t enough people on Twitter at the moment. For example, the number of people who will see one of my tweets is a tiny fraction of the hits I’ll get on a story at azcentral. As an aside: I think Twitter can sometimes be dangerous for journalists in that writers will throw unconfirmed things out there with abandon and people will recklessly re-tweet.

How does Republic staff handle furloughs?
As best we can. We’re already pretty barebones as it is, and this doesn’t help, but I think we all realize that furloughs are better than layoffs and sort of just do what we have to do.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
No idea. I like what I’m doing now, and, to be honest, have some trouble imagining doing anything else. If I’m not writing baseball, I bet I’d do something completely different and off the journalistic map.

journalism matters. in phoenix.

In Uncategorized on September 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Paul Zimmerman, probably best known for his outstanding work at Sports Illustrated, once wrote that aside from providing for his family there was nothing in life he took more seriously than selecting his NFL All-Pro team. Every season, in addition to hundreds of interviews with players and coaches and scouts and front-office execs, he would watch and take notes on literally every play of every game. He’d grade and categorize players. He worked independently and fearlessly. And he wasn’t shy about sharing his conclusions.

I feel the same way about journalism.

Bad journalism makes me at least as angry as good journalism makes me happy. And other than the well being of my friends and family, there isn’t anything I consider more important than solid, thorough, transparent reporting.

Speaking of transparency: Look: I’m no sage. I’m not an expert. In ten-plus years of media experience, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, most of which, I hope, I’ve learned from. There’s always something else to learn. That’s one of the reasons journalists becomes journalists: We like learning things. We’re nerds. But we’re social nerds, because what’s the fun in learning new information you can’t share?

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to try and learn as much as I can from as many other journalists as I can, particularly their thoughts on Phoenix media—what’s good, what’s bad, what can be improved, what’s hopelessly beyond improvement and how we can improve public trust in what we do. Which newspapers and magazines still matter? Which local writers should more people be reading? What issues are undercovered or overcovered? Which socioeconomic groups are too often ignored? Can local TV news actually get worse?

I have my own thoughts on a lot of these questions. And on a lot of other questions.

I’m really looking forward to hearing what everyone else has to say.