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I was doing research recently for an article that brought me to a local news website (in a major newspaper chain’s network). My computer slowed down to the point where I wanted to throw it out the window. When I closed the tab with the article, all the problems stopped.

I wish I could say this was an unusual experience, but it’s not. I’ve run into the problem for years, especially while working at Storyful, and have complained on Twitter as a result for just as long.

Local news was always one of my main sources to help verify social media content (it should be your rule too). But it often took a long time for these sites’ homepages to even load. The stories were slow loading as they were loaded down with video (always set to autoplay too), advertisements, and other elements that just stood in the way of me getting to the information I needed.

It seems the ad network elements on the sites were the slowest ones to load, but that wasn’t always the case. The page had to pull more than one ad from at least one server, sometimes more if multiple ad networks are represented on the page.

The videos took forever to load, but then they’d hang up the page as you’d attempt to stop them. I’d have videos start playing again after a few moments even if I hit stop. Sometimes I couldn’t stop them at all. I’d opt to just mute the page, but the video boxes on many of these pages now follow as you scroll, getting in my way.

And I have to wonder if I am this frustrated by using the website, what about the local audience the company wants to use its site more? I have local sites I avoid because they’re too tedious to use.

I know a lot of these items are in an effort to increase revenue for local newsrooms, which are struggling to make ends meet. I want these companies to pay their bills and staff and keep covering the news, so I support them trying to find new revenue streams. But are they standing in their own way in their efforts to increase revenue with a website that isn’t friendly to the user?

Not to mention many of these websites are part of a corporate network, which means the local newsrooms have little to no control over many aspects of the sites that cause the most problems. It’s likely frustrating the staff as much as it’s frustrating the user, an experience I’ve had myself.

At a previous job, we all had problems with our own website and fielded complaints from users. We’d send tickets to the corporate developers complaining about the issues, which included pages completely crashing. Our tickets would be prioritized based on urgency of need, so we sometimes over-embellished the issue to get a quicker answer. And often, we would be told there was no problem, which would make us want to bang our heads into the desk.

Obviously the answer comes down to revenue and how newsrooms can make money off their websites. If I had a good answer to how local newsrooms can generate more money, I’d be a rich lady. It’s a tough nut to crack, and a lot of people don’t want to go the pay wall route, especially if their competitors don’t have one.

But I also think examining the functionality of the website and how easy it is to use will make a big difference, even in generating ad revenue. If people spend more time on the site, that’s more revenue for a lot of newsrooms.

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I was scrolling through Twitter recently when I spotted a Pew Research Center tweet about people’s opinions of local news, and I was thrown back eight years in time.

Eight years ago I was an editor at Patch. I was one of the first editors at the network of local news websites, which launched 10 years ago (a fact that blows my mind).

AOL had bought the network (that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong had founded before he was at AOL) a few months after launch in 2019 (fun story how I was on a train headed to a short vacation when my editor in chief called and said I needed to sign paperwork). By late 2010, there were over 300 sites across the country, which prompted the question if Patch was evil.

We had only been a small handful of sites where the entire editorial team could fit around a long dinner table in 2009 to being big enough to fill three conferences across the country for all editorial staff in 2010. And with that much growth, changes came, and they were changes that unsettled me (and some eventually pushed me out the door months later).

One big thing was how we couldn’t give people the local news they had come to desire and rely on. We were required to produce certain types of content (to cater to certain demographics), and we all would share some of this content because our freelance budgets had shrunk so much. Or stories from other towns started appearing on the site because, sometimes, we were desperate for the content. A shrinking freelance budget meant high school sports coverage dropped significantly (a cornerstone of local news coverage).

The feedback, and it wasn’t good, was swift as people noticed the changes. There were comments, but there were far more emails. People cornered me in Starbucks or wherever they saw me (at least it wasn’t the grocery store like when I was my hometown weekly paper’s editor). To say I was upset is an understatement (as anyone who worked with me back then can attest to). Frustration often turned into tears behind closed doors.

There is far more to say about my end times at Patch (something I often hold back on talking about), but the lesson here is simple: Don’t screw with people’s local news. They rely on it. It brings them comfort. It gives them connection. And if you mess with it, people are going to react poorly.

Think about the times you watch the local news and you want to hear what’s happening in your area, but instead you’re hearing about what’s happening in Washington. You just want the weather and an update on the girl who went missing. I have sat here disappointed as local TV broadcasts have buried the local news with national news leading.

The national news seems so out there, but you drove by that bad car crash on the highway. You suffer from subway delays. You want to know how to help the people the next town over who lost everything in a big fire. You want to know more about the things happening around you and affect your daily life.

What’s sad about the Pew study (me burying the lede) is people don’t comprehend how expensive it is to produce local news. It’s a lot of work with long hours suffering through terrible press conferences and zoning meetings. If local news was doing as well as people in the survey thought, local newsrooms wouldn’t be suffering layoffs or even disappearing, creating news deserts.

My refrain remains the same: Support your local news best you can. The Pew study states only 14 percent of Americans are paying for local news, and my friends frequently share how frustrating it is when people complain about pay walls. The bills (and their salaries) need to be paid somehow. It’s not free to produce the news, and getting it for free online is a newish phenomenon, dating back about 20 years. For more than a century, people paid to read the local newspaper. The Pew study says 13 percent of people still get their news from the newspaper, something they pay for.

The issue of wanting to subscribe to multiple news publications online is a real one and I scratch my head about to figure it out, but the answer isn’t complaining about paywalls.

If you value your local news — as my readers made very clear to me in 2011 — do as much as you can to support it before it completely disappears.

Why Are We So Unhappy?

What are you doing today to make yourself and the people around you happier?

Today is International Day of Happiness, which is, of course, a focus on how we all can be happier people. It also comes on the heels of the release of the annual happiness report. The United States is far down the list of happiest countries at number 19. Like many other years, Scandinavian countries top the list.

The United Nations is behind the endeavor, saying happiness and people’s well-being is an indicator of progress for a country, not just economic growth.

It’s not so much about depression (the UN has other endeavors for mental health) as it is about just being happier in general. The happiness report considers economics, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and generosity as some of the things that make a country happier.

But I do pause on this day and wonder why we’re so unhappy in comparison to others in the world. Maybe it’s because we all feel lonely.

Don’t shake your head no because I bet everyone has moments where they feel completely alone. Heck, I’ve felt alone even in a crowded room, a feeling some people don’t understand. But I’ve noticed more people have started understanding this feeling recently.

A year ago a study stated half of Americans say they feel alone or left out. Plus, nearly half of adults feel they don’t have meaningful relationships or feel isolated. The study triggered lots of articles about how loneliness is tearing us apart.

It’s probably the aspect of our mental health we don’t talk about enough. We talk about the clinically depressed or suffering from general anxiety disorder, for example. But we don’t talk about “the blues,” where we all have days where we just don’t feel happy. We’re down in the dumps. That can be caused by something like being lonely.

We can point the finger at lots of things as the problem. It’s how we all live apart in separate homes or how we all communicate through the Internet. It’s easy to blame social media. It might be a combination of all of those things. Heck, sometimes I want to be alone because there are just too many people in the New York City area, so maybe we bring it upon ourselves.

I’ve wondered in my own life, though, how to battle back loneliness. I live alone, and a lot of my friends and family live a distance away. Right now, I don’t have a full-time job, so I spend a lot of time with myself.

It takes work, just like everything, to make ourselves feel better. And we need to make time to create better connections or build the ones we’ve created, something I’m sure we all fail at doing (because who wants to try to be social after a 12 hour day of commuting and working).

What will work is different for everyone. I joined a writers group in a way to find more community. I spend a lot of time at the library or other community spaces just to get out of the apartment. I walk around my neighborhood, mainly for the exercise, but it also helps build some connections with other people.

The point is we need to talk more about loneliness, and maybe talking about it will make us all feel a lot less lonely.

Just Write

I haven’t written on this blog in more than four years. The last post is about joining Storyful, and I haven’t worked there in months.

I was laid off last summer, one of the casualties of what has been a hard few months for the news industry as a whole. It’s been a hard topic to talk about on social media as you fight to find your next adventure, though the in between has been its own adventure too. How do you talk about this thing that has been making you feel horrible because everyone feels horrible when they’re laid off? How do you promote yourself when you’re not feeling good about yourself?

And that brings me to writing on this blog, something I’ve wanted to do for awhile but wasn’t quite sure how to do it, especially with the thing weighing heavy on me. What do I write about? How do I address life in the in between?

In the last few months I’ve rediscovered myself as a writer in a lot of ways. I’ve been writing a novel, something I hadn’t had the energy to do, and working on shorter fiction pieces and personal essays. I joined a new writers group, which has been a blessing and inspiration. When I approach my writing now, I tell myself to just write. Nothing will ever get accomplished if you wait for the muse to inspire you to write. Every good writer knows you need to just make time and space and let the words flow, whatever they may be.

So thinking about this blog recently (because a friend was talking about how she neglected her own blog) I wondered why I wasn’t applying the same standard here. Just write. It didn’t matter that this thing is still there. I’m working on plenty of projects, rediscovering my artistic side and have plenty of things to say.

So here I am writing again on my blog. I don’t know what I’ll be saying next, but I’ll have things to write, I’m sure of it. I’m recapturing my own voice.

A few years ago I started following a company called Storyful on Twitter. I don’t even remember the reason I followed them. Perhaps people were talking about them and I was investigating.

In the time since then, the company established it as a force to find, verify and (when needed) acquire user-generated content on the social web for news agencies. They are a social media news agency. It’s also grown to the point when NewsCorp acquired the company while retaining its independence.

And on Monday, I’ll be joining the Storyful Open Newsroom staff in New York for my new adventures. I couldn’t be more excited because I know this is the right place for me.

To say the last few months since learning I was being laid off from NJ.com were difficult is an understatement. I have kept my chin up with hope for the future that I’d land on my feet even at the worst of times. Being laid off stinks, but in 15+ years of journalism I’ve never been laid off while working in newsrooms that have suffered cuts. I consider myself considerably lucky for that. And I kept spinning negatives into positives. Unemployment would mean I’d get a break from the stress of working in news.

During those months I’ve talked to a lot of people. I’ve talked to my contacts about jobs. I talked to perspective employers (about me, about them, about the future). I talked to my friends and family for support. Everyone had a lot of different things to say to me, including how I should face my job hunt.

I always promised myself that I wanted to find the right job not just any job (something some people couldn’t quite understand). I took myself out of the running for one job for this very reason. I could have landed the job, but it wasn’t the right place for me.

Then I started talking to the folks at Storyful in what felt like a whirlwind. Every conversation felt like that — a conversation. It wasn’t an interrogation and I didn’t feel like I needed to do the “please hire me” dance. We talked about the current state of social journalism but also the future and where we all feel it’s headed.

I’ve always admired the work they do at Storyful, especially as someone who has had more than one conversation interrogating colleagues about verification and permissions for user-generated content (just because it’s social media doesn’t mean you stop being a journalist). Talking to everyone just made me feel more excited about the work they’re already doing. There’s so much passion and vision for the future.

The intersection of social media and journalism interests me, and the open newsroom sits there. Newsrooms across the world are trying to figure this out, but Storyful has already figured it out and continues to be a leader. I can’t wait to be a part of that and to face the challenges moving into the future.

Thank you to everyone who has been there in the last few months, providing leads and support. The power of the journalism community is robust, and I’m thankful I know so many good people.

In support of local news

Last spring I attended a conference on social media, and one of the speakers on a panel declared local news to be dead. One of the panelists responded by saying it was a local newspaper (The Record) that uncovered Gov. Chris Christie’s administration being tied to the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge a year ago (commonly referred to as Bridgegate).

The original speaker poo-pooed the story because it was New Jersey, an extension of New York. It doesn’t count.

It seems to have become common practice to dump all over local news. Case in point was an article from earlier this summer that was critical of “hyperlocal” because of its failures though it still has supporters. Part of the story was Jim Brady’s new project in Philadelphia, where he has gone since the closure of Project Thunderdome from Digital First Media. Among the things it picks on are TBD in Washington, which isn’t a fair point since TBD was never hyperlocal nor was it given a chance to succeed.

The article also picks on Patch, which is a fair criticism, but also mentions Backfence. Not familiar with Backfence? It’s because it shutdown in 2007 and it was a project focused on citizen journalism, the buzzword for hyperlocal before hyperlocal. I know about Backfence because it was included in my graduate school thesis in 2006 on citizen journalism. It was an early project, which means there were things to learn here. Just like there are lessons to learn from Patch.

But that fails to highlight how there are many local news websites that are doing just fine. I worked at one in Connecticut, and one of the oldest is in my backyard here in New Jersey. There also are franchises of local news websites in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Look beyond the tri-state area and you’re going to find a lot of local news websites across the country thriving.

Local news is struggling in some ways, no doubt. A recent PEW study outlined the shifting in how many people are covering the statehouse. We still hear about layoffs across the country, including at local news outlets. Some local outlets have trouble shifting from traditional distribution methods (ie printed product), but it isn’t always because they are resistant to change. Often they do not have the resources.

But we should be concerned about local news rather than declaring it dead. It’s an important instrument for you to learn what’s happening in your neighborhood. But it’s also these local news outlets that will stay with a story when the national media is gone.

I’ve seen someone say “what happens when the national media leaves Ferguson?” several times on one of my social media streams. It’s not just friends but also others who work in journalism. What happens is the local media will continue to cover the story, just like the local media always does when the national media leaves.

Hurricane Sandy was a national story and still gets some national press two years later, but it’s the local press that writes the stories about the storms effects constantly. My colleagues are sharing the stories of people who are still struggling two years after the storm. Remember the story about the Sandy Hook gunman that grabbed national headlines? It originated in the Hartford Courant, aka the local press. Bridgegate grabbed national attention, but it’s the New Jersey and New York outlets that are on top of every movement. In 2009, a group of Millburn High School students came under fire for a hazing incident that grabbed national headlines. When the national press was gone, it was the local news outlets (including myself) that followed the story, including what happened the following first day of school.

Plus those stories that evoke dramatic emotion from you? Most often they are covered by a local news outlet first before a national news outlet (or even your local news) picks it up.

The thing about today’s world of media is that you can check in on news anywhere in this country (or the world too) at any time. With a click of your mouse, you can check to see what is happening in the St. Louis area (where Ferguson is located) or what’s happening where you grew up (I don’t do this because my mother tells me more news from home than I could consume online).

But without local news, you wouldn’t be able to check in on those stories or what’s happening in your hometown. We wouldn’t have stories like the Courant’s profile of the Sandy Hook gunman. Those stories take time, local sources and local knowledge. It’s your local press that’s going to deliver on that for you.

I’m not going to tell you to go buy your local newspaper because I don’t buy the local newspaper either. But I do check my local news online. If you want to know what’s happening, check out your local news site.

What are you reading?

I’ve been reading a lot in the last few months. I would say I’m averaging 1.5 books per week, which may be lowballing it. There are weekends I read a whole book. Reading has been a bit of a stress reducer for me in the months since I learned I was being laid off along with some ongoing personal things happening with my family.

I have found, though, that I am running out of suggestions of books to read and having a hard time really finding something I want to read next (though I have three books I will be taking with me on vacation next week). I figure a lot of people run into the same problem and thought opening up a discussion here would benefit not only me but others. If this works out well, we’ll make this a regular feature here.

Yesterday I finished “The Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline, who I didn’t realize until I read her bio after I finished the book lives in Montclair, N.J. That’s right near me and is a hotbed for a lot of writers. I ate up this book because I wanted to know what would happen next. There are moments when you will be aghast at what happens to the main character. Even when she finds happiness, heartbreak follows.

I just started “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, and I am too early in the book to really have an opinion about it. But I already like the characters.

I also have “The Goldfinch” hanging over my head. I started this months ago and have struggled getting through it, unlike some people who have told me they couldn’t put the book down. I found in some sections I couldn’t put down the book, but the book is probably several hundred pages too long. I am two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through with the book and got so bored I set it aside to read other things. I haven’t come back to it yet, though I should.

What are you reading or planning to read? Post about it in the comments.