More than one of my friends has said “I didn’t go into journalism to do math.” They look at me cross-eyed when I tried to explain how to calculate a percent difference, which always seemed like basic math to me.

The thing is math is important to journalism, especially if you’re going to be diving into budgets, financial reports, polling figures and more. Heck, you need to know basic math in sports journalism to calculate your own statistics (I learned in high school never to rely on the stats given to me by the team).

I was reminded of this fact when I read a story earlier this week about average home prices. The Millburn township administrator popped into my head and all the times he ranted about how “average” is not a proper indicator of a town’s statistics, including taxes and home prices. Instead, you should be looking for the median, he’d argue.

His argument is that if there is a significantly higher than most or lower than most home price, it would screw up your average. The median price would be a better indicator of what most people are paying to buy a home (or sell it) in the town. The same with taxes.

But in order to understand this concept you need to have basic knowledge of statistics, which not everyone has.

There’s been a lot of talk about what journalism students need to learn in college and the disconnect between their education and the real world. The conversation will revolve around things like reporting, confirming information, writing better and multimedia skills. But no one ever mentions math and statistics, which is something nearly every journalist will encounter in their career.

When I was in college a billion years ago (OK, maybe not that long ago), math and statistics were not a requirement of my major. I did have to fulfill a math requirement that was not associated with my major, and my major did require you to take an economics class. In my education, though, I was never taught of the kind of math I’d need in the real world of journalism.

The same thing happened in my graduate education, which was far more recent than my undergraduate education.

I still regret not taking a statistics class, though I consider myself strong and math and understanding statistics. That doesn’t mean I know everything.

As we discuss the things journalists need to know, we need to include math and statistics. Colleges should be requiring it of their journalism students and should develop courses that focus on the type of math, statistics and budget knowledge they’d need. Afraid no one will teach it? I’m sure there are plenty of us (myself included) who would be happy to teach that kind of class.

Five years ago I was out of work when I received an unsolicited email asking if I’d be interested to talk about a mystery hyperlocal project. I sat through an interview with Steve Johnson and Brian Farnham where they detailed how they were planning a national network of local news websites. They had no name for the project, but they were looking to hire their first editors.

Three interviews later, I became one of Patch’s first local editors, starting in October 2008. There was a lot of work ahead before we launched the sites in three New Jersey towns — Millburn (my site), Maplewood and South Orange — and no one was really sure what to expect.

Almost five years to the day of that first interview, there is news Patch is going to lay off hundreds and shutter hundreds of its sites across the country. I haven’t been with Patch for over two years, but I can’t help but be sad, especially considering how the company was one the one hiring the most journalists not so long ago.

In the time since I’ve left Patch, I’ve gotten plenty of requests for interviews and declined all of them. People keep telling me I should write a tell-all about Patch, which I don’t want to do. I’d like to write something about all of my local journalism experiences, not just Patch, some day. I like to think I still have a lot of local journalism left in me before I get to that step. I also haven’t written much about Patch in the years since I’ve left.

It’s mainly because people want to focus so much on the negative about Patch. Anyone who knows me knows I have lots of criticisms about Patch both in the months before I left and in the years since then. But I don’t want anyone to think that everything was negative because it wasn’t. Patch, overall, was a positive experience for me doing some work I still am very proud of. I always will be proud of my time at Patch and having helped start and build that company as one of its first local editors.

Those early years of Patch were fun and innovative in a lot of ways because we got to be ourselves as editors and our opinions were heard. If we did something great, we all would try it to see if it worked. It wasn’t a mandate, just everyone trying out things that worked for someone else. If it didn’t work for you, you moved on to the next thing.

Every site reflected the personality of the editor and the community we covered. I like to public safety issues, so there always was fire log items and the police blotter. Education is extremely important in Millburn (and I like to cover it), so I always made sure I was on top of those stories. It was part of why I was able to own the Millburn High School hazing story and stay on top of the issue even after the national press had left. Other editors had their own focuses on education, the arts, taxes, etc.

Everyone was doing their best to serve the communities we covered, and it was a fun time to be a Patch editor.I could sit here and list off all the things that Patch should have done differently since those first 18 months I was an editor, before the large and rapid expansion. I don’t think it’s prudent to do so because the past is the past and you can’t fix it. Maybe some day I’ll address them, but not today.

I do think Patch shuttering sites isn’t a bad thing because it could help in the long-term focusing on places they can get things to work. Patch also should get back to its roots of letting the local editors innovate and make the best choices for their community.

But for now I’m sad to see so many sites close and so many people losing their jobs.

There was a time when live tweeting an event was the standard in social media, and it wasn’t that long ago. It was part of the social media skill set. Tweet updates from the thing you’re covering.

But the reality is live tweeting in its standard, play-by-play form is redundant and of no service to your followers.

I had the thought — again — as I watched the NHL Draft with Twitter open in front of me. My hope was to see what people were saying about the draft picks (and trades), including the many snarky jokes many of us fans make. But the reality was my Twitter stream was filled with play-by-play. What happened on TV was perfectly described on my Twitter feed.

The reality of today’s live tweeting is that for major things everyone is tweeting the same thing. That’s not a service to our audiences when their streams are filled with the same thing over and over or it’s something they can plainly see on television. I know very often I hold back on tweeting something because I know others will say the same thing. I want to offer something different and unique.

We need to rethink how to retweet. What should we be offering our followers in today’s Twitter world? What do our followers want from us? What should our guidelines be today? When is it OK to do play-by-play live tweeting (because there are times I think it’s still OK)?

I’d like to hear feedback from people in the comments of via Twitter on what we should be doing to reshape live tweeting. I hope to use those comments in trying to build some guidelines.

A conversation with Terrence McDonald, of the Jersey Journal, on Twitter today about interns prompted me to think aloud of the awful things I or others have done to interns. But it’s not like we haven’t been the intern who had awful things done to us.

One summer at The Hour we had an intern who seemed to do just about anything we’d tell him. We’d send him on wild goose chases or tell him awful stories about being in journalism. And on one of his final days, a coworker had “the talk” with him.

“When we all graduated from journalism school, we were forced to make a choice. We had to choose sex or money. Be prepared.”

His eyes grew very wide as my coworker went back to his work. We all just carried on and wouldn’t address the issue with him as he tried to clarify if this was a serious choice he would have to make.

I was never given “the talk” when I was an intern, but I did do my fair share of labeling slides and babysitting the copier as an intern at a Washington lobbyist group. The woman who was “in charge” of the interns didn’t seem to care much about us and making sure we had real work. I ended up doing homework for my summer college class too often. I also started a list of “stupid intern tricks” on my white board at my room in the dorm that summer.

On the other hand, I had a wonderful experience interning at The Student Press Law Center where we did real work on real articles that were published in a real magazine. In fact, when I ran into the former executive director at a conference nearly 10 years later, he remembered me and we spent a lot of time catching up.

That doesn’t mean, though, we didn’t have our office jokes. The computer that we used to layout the magazine hated me and would crash every single time I used it. It became a running office joke and some would try to get me on the computer just to watch it crash and me scream out in anger.

I think those experience have led me to be nicer to interns and make sure they are taught and supervised well while having real, fulfilling experiences in their internship. I make jokes with the former interns with whom I am still friends about how I am awful, but I like to think we all had a good time working together.

What were your experiences as an intern or working with an intern? Post about them in the comments or send me a tweet at @jenconnic.

The “debate” that has my social media streams aflutter the last two days is an article that pronounced social media editors dead. Funny because I didn’t read my obit.

There are lots of people who have written about the subject that sum up how I feel about the subject than I ever could say:

You should read all three because each has a unique perspective on the matter, though I more identify with Mandy’s article because my career has been more focused on local coverage. In fact, Mandy’s job description details a lot of what I do in my current role.

But that’s the thing — Every social media role in every organization is different. Expectations are different at every news organization, and, in fact, my role has evolved in just two years at NJ.com for a lot of different reasons.

And this is where my “I hate labels” argument comes into play, like it does when people start yelling about blogger versus journalist.

It’s easy to box people into a certain ideal just because of the label we put on them. Does a social media editor spend their days tweeting snarky jokes and yelling about Facebook privacy setting? No, it’s more complex than that and it’s different at every organization. Just like the role of “community manager” can be different at every organization. The goal of “engagement” varies too.And when you start throwing around labels and pigeon-holing people, that’s when people will start declaring something is dead. But the reality is far from declaring something is dead.Roles evolve and change as the market and technology and the world changes. In two years, my role in social media in this job has changed. My role as a reporter when I graduated from college was drastically different than what it was 10 years later.That doesn’t mean reporting or the role of reporter is dead. It just changed. It evolved.And that’s what the best people do in this industry — they evolve. Because if you don’t evolve, you will perish.

How do you disconnect?

Have you seen the phone commercials lately where someone is stuck doing something “boring” so they check their phone?

These commercials bug me a great deal because what about what’s happening in front of you? We’re so connected via social media and our phones that we may be missing something important right here. We could be missing life.

If you’ve read this blog for any sort of time, you know this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I want to explore it again, so tell me: How do you disconnect? How do you ensure you’re not missing something right in front of you? Or do you keep yourself connected all the time?

Share your thoughts in the comments or send me a tweet @jenconnic. I may use it in an upcoming post.

I felt like my brain was about to explode watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing last week. I was enthralled with the story, but the reporting and coverage of it just hurt.

It wasn’t just the misinformation spread by more than one news organization and journalist. It was how trained journalists pursued the story. Did everyone forget Journalism 101 while covering the story?

It also makes me wonder if we as journalists have learned anything because I feel like I’ve been repeating the points I’m about to make for quite some time, including after the Newtown shooting.

To tweet or not to tweet the scanner

Never have I seen so many people listening to (and tweeting) the scanner for a police operation.

I’m a big fan of the police scanner. If I’m covering something at the scene, the scanner helps me understand what I’m seeing better. But I also have been around enough cops and firefighters to understand the lingo and the codes you’re going to hear on the scanner.

I also know that it’s the heat of the moment and there are going to be things on the scanner that are exaggerations. Some things also are flat out wrong. It’s why you don’t report from the scanner from an active scene and confirm things.

We have a service in New Jersey called the BNN where people send messages of what they’re hearing on the BNN. I cannot count on two hands the number of alerts have turned out to be exaggerations or flat out nothing.

Should you live tweet the scanner? Of course not. A million times no! Especially if you are not at the scene and cannot see what is happening. I always thought of the scanner as something that gives me leads and supplements what I see with my own eyes. But we need to remember that it’s investigation in process, which means things discussed could turn out to be false.

Misinformation travels at a million miles per hour

Tweeting from the scanner means that misinformation was out there, including the names of suspects who were not really suspects at all. It’s all over Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and everywhere in between. That share and retweet button is pretty easy to use, but it doesn’t take long to think before you hit it.

Ask yourself who this person is who is posting information and how much you trust them. Are they sourcing their information? Because there was lots of information without clear sources throughout the week.

The Atlantic has an excellent article about the anatomy of one of these misinformation disasters from the week.

If your mother says she loves you…

Too often I saw posts on Twitter attributed to Reddit or as crowdsourced. That’s fine. I’m a big fan of Reddit and of crowdsourcing and both have helped me as a journalist and as a social media producer.

But what happened to confirming those sources? They’re not official police sources. They’re just random people and we don’t know their background. In some cases we don’t even know who the people are because of the anonymity of the Internet.

If I had a photo from someone that says it’s of a suspect, I’d want to confirm with an actual investigator or official. I’d want someone I trust to tell me it’s true. It seems some sources were not doing that, and that just helped create more misinformation and some news organizations to be just wrong.

So we’re wrong, now what

Of course people are going to be wrong at some point. Even Woodward and Bernstein were wrong at least once. I’ve been wrong. There can be miscommunication between us and our sources. Our sources just have the wrong information or it changes between when we talk to them and the story is published. It happens, though the severity of it the last week was at a pretty bad level.

How journalists react to being wrong, to me, is important. Do we say “our bad” or do we “stand by our story”? I think it says more to admit you were wrong than to defend your stories and reporting when you know it was bad. We’re human and make mistakes. Own up to them and it will earn you more credit with the public.

That doesn’t mean anyone should make a habit of being wrong. Just own up to your mistakes.

Will we ever learn?

It seems after big news stories like the Marathon bombing, we’re dissecting what went wrong and how we can do better. But then lots of people fall into the same habits and we repeat mistakes.

I had an editor at The Hour who once told us that the public trust is like virginity. Once you lose it, you can never get it back.

If we keep making the same mistakes, we’re going to lose the public’s trust. What are we as journalists and as an industry if we don’t have the public’s trust?


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