About the Conference

On September 27 and 28, approximately 40 people, including NEAPNEA members and journalism students, met for a unique conversation on Journalism that Matters.  Participants took time from their fast-paced, deadline-driven environments to talk about the kind of journalism that brings them to work each day, tapping the passion that got them into the business in the first place.  On Saturday, people created the agenda for these conversations, guided by their passions and interests:

*      Thinking Visually

*      Writing Stories that Readers Will Read to the End

*      Fairness

*      Sources

*      Choosing the Best Story

*      Excellence

*      Editing

*      Accepting Criticism

*      Covering Budgets

*      Coaching

*      Career Transitions

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Thinking Visually

Convener:  Andrea Nemitz


  • John Christofferson
  • Adam Gorlick
  • Rick Spratling
  • Greg Rec
  • Jack Coleman
  • Judy Kessler
  • Dave Offer
  • Geoff Gevalt
  • Ed Bell
  • Mike Connelly
  • Glenn Jordan


Geoff:  Burlington had a great experience with visual journalists leading the way on some of their 911 coverage.  One idea was a cover page with the Trade Center buildings burning and names of all the victims printed over the images. The other idea began with photos of people affected by 911 and their stories in their own words.  The paper got a great response and he said the result was a bigger voice in the newsroom for visual journalists.

Dave:  Is convinced that the model of reporters/photographers together at interviews doesn’t always work.  (Not always catching subject doing his/her real work, etc., at that time.)  But seems that photographer setting his/her own sked is impractical. What to do?

Greg (a photographer):  He tries to go at the beginning or end of the interview, and to be flexible on when the assignment is shot.  He also urges that editors be flexible, if the story isn’t breaking news, and hold the story for better visuals.

Greg:  On reporters thinking visually… he tries to cultivate relationships with visually minded photographers.  He also tries to educate others to be more visual, and preaches photo ethics, what he’s looking for in photos.

Ed:  Problem is at some meetings the only one at the meeting thinking visually is the photo editor.

Andrea:  Important for photo editors to educate others at the meetings about why photos “work.”  Speak to “word people” in their own language, or explain to them why certain parts of a photo are important – body language, lighting, news value, emotion, etc.  Put it into words, don’t just say it’s a “great” photo.

Jack:  Sometimes it helps if a reporter can take photos.  He cited a case where an old woman in a wheelchair, breathing through tubes, was at a meeting facing kids in school uniforms who were lobbying for her land to become part of a school athletic facility. No photographer was there, but a reporter could have tried to make a photo.

Rick:  Found he succeeded most when he wrote prose that didn’t need to be illustrated.  Thinking visually leads to a “tapestry,” he says. He mentioned a story he reported in Florida when he was riding with a sheriff after (I think) a flood.  He described the “thump” of the truck running over snakes – great “visual” reporting…

Greg:  Send editors to a visual conference to help them think more visually. We live in a visual world. It’s the job of the photographer to make his/her photos storytelling.

Geoff:  Thinks holding a story causes us to lose a sense of urgency. He thinks this is a sign that the system isn’t working.

Andrea and Dave:  Wonder if we’ve gotten to the heart of the story if the action hasn’t happened yet.  Should we create drafts of stories more often and pass them on to photographers?

Geoff:  Is thinking of abolishing photo slips so people will talk more.

Greg:  Some people will never think visually. Communication is the key.

Mike:  Thinks we should spend more time going over tearsheets to see what worked, what didn’t and why.  Use our work to educate people.

Also discussed, briefly, when to use a graphic. (Good sign is when people in news meetings start asking questions…) Mike uses graphics to help unload stats, etc., from stories. Especially good to train young reporters on this.

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Writing Stories that Readers Will Read to the End

Convener:  Lance Johnson, The Day


  • Tom Heslon, Providence Journal
  • Lisa M. Pane, Associated Press
  • Mark Peters, Record Journal
  • Margaret Walter, Portland Press Herald
  • Giselle Goodman, Portland Press Herald
  • Terry Ryan, Patriot Ledger
  • David J. Kessler, consultant
  • Lisa Arsenault, student, UNH
  • Wayne Phaneuf, Springfield Union News

Others who stopped by at various points


“Put a face on the story.  People want to read stories about other people, people like them.” Other similar comments were:  “We need stories about real people” … and “make new friends” … in other words, don’t go back to the same sources time and time again.  Develop new contacts — new faces — to write about.  Margaret Walter: “Every once in a while, throw the old Rolodex away and start over.” “Value real people’s ideas” … instead of always depending on the same “official sources.”

We must learn to think outside the box:  Lisa Payne, AP

To really impact writing or storytelling at a newspaper, the message must come from the top.  The culture of the whole newsroom must change.  This takes a lot of conversation within the newsroom: Tom Heslin.

Wayne Phaneuf of the Union News said that it’s important to pick the right form for the story.  Some stories deserve storytelling, and some are simply articles that carry facts that readers want.  Both are to be valued, but a decision needs to be made on what the story is, and the effort required.

David J. Kessler said people want the same things from our stories that they want from the books that they read:  Characters that you care about, and a plot that interests you.

Phaneuf said that reporters and editors need to look at the fruit of research in the same way they do a kaleidoscope, letting the results drive what the story will be, and not the initial assignment.

The art of interviewing is essential to good story development, and probably most important is the ability to listen, to hear: Lance Johnson.

Create stories that people will talk about, the “Hey Mildred!” stories:  Margaret Walter.

Capture the conflict and complexity of stories. What does the story mean?  Make it clear. Write in plain English.

Editors should encourage reporters to take risks, and to support the reporters when they do. Trust between reporters and editors needs to be developed and nurtured.  Editors also need to help reporters make decisions about stories, so the stories can be shaped — so that a newspaper’s stories become so good so often that they create a demand among the newspaper’s readership.  Making no decision is making one nonetheless, and often it’s a bad one because the story suffers.

Stories, according to Heslin, should be parables.  “Set the scene” with great, telling details.

Mark Peters asked about developing contacts within the Hispanic community, where the “leaders” are not as obvious.  He was advised to seek out the community organizations, such as the churches, and to stop by some front porches, or the equivalent, for chats with residents.  This will develop trust and a network of sources for stories.

“Satisfy the reader’s need for information.”

The key to getting access to the people who can make a story come alive is to not give up.  Be persistent..

Find the right reporter for the assignment.  Take ownership of the assignment.

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Convenor: Larry Laughlin, AP


  • Betty Adams, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine
  • Chazy Dowaliby, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.
  • Elaine Hooker, AP
  • Paul Janensch, Quinippiac University, Hamden, Conn.
  • Nick Pappas, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.
  • Harry Whitin, Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.


What’s fair? It takes little prompting to get group of journalists to swap anecdotes and ask questions once the question is on the table.

When can you use anonymous sources? Do fringe political candidates in a crowded field merit attention? Are we justified in running abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests? Should we allow people talking to a reporter for the first time more slack than we do the public figure who’s accustomed to dueling with reporters?

There’s no one answer, but the issues raised during the one-hour conversation demonstrate how often reporters and editors grapple with the issue of fairness.

Chazy Dowaliby, editor of the Patriot Ledger, asked about printing allegations that have not developed into formal charges. “At what point do you make the judgment that you have the facts to warrant printing them?” That might depend on the intangible of credibility or on competitive factors. For instance, does the local TV station have the allegations and will it air them?

Betty Adams faced the fairness question in the case of a man charged with unlawful sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. Two alternate jurors were eliminated before the trial got under way and another was discharged for unknown reasons after the alleged victim testified, which reduced the panel to 11 and forced a mistrial.

Adams said the Kennebec Journal decided it would be unfair to run a story on what happened in court, because it would include only testimony the defendant would not have a chance to rebut. The trial is expected to run only one day, and the paper will staff the proceedings when the case gets back to court, so there was no need to leave the accused hanging.

Standards on what’s printable seem to have changed in recent years. The group agreed the tone turned tawdry with the supermarket tabs’ disclosures about Clinton’s involvement with Gennifer flowers. The tabs began breaking ground on a series of major stories and more staid publications felt themselves dragged along.

Anonymous sources: Paul Janensch, now teaching at Quinippiac University in Hamden, Conn., forbade their use while he was a working journalist, most recently as editor of the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass.

Dowaliby said The Patriot Ledger has used an anonymous source once in the four years she’s been its executive editor but believes “we should take the chance with anonymous sources more often.”

It’s worth the risk, when the information is solid, to use unidentified sources in order to expose something that needs to be corrected, she said. Papers, particularly smaller ones, may be too timid on that count.

Is it unfair to draw a figurative line between candidates with the money to mount a robust campaign and the have-nots? Laughlin said the AP struggles with that issue, particularly when the crowd of candidates descends on New Hampshire for that state’s quadrennial Presidential Primaries. The bureau is forced by limits on time and resources to make realistic decisions on whom to cover or ignore. But candidates with serious and well articulated issues will get coverage, even if they lack the support of the major parties.

Janensch said the public expects us to make those choices, although there’s a risk. “People want us to act as filters, but, paradoxically, they don’t trust us to do that,” he said.

Harry Whitin said the ongoing church abuse scandal has subjected the Telegram & Gazette to some public ire.

The newspaper was savaged for being anti-Catholic when it ran details from a deposition about abuse allegations against the diocese’s auxiliary bishop. The diocese suspends priests who are targets of credible allegations, but it left the auxiliary bishop in office on the theory that, as a diocesan administrator, he serves at the pleasure of Rome.

Amid the clamor is the suspicion that allegations are being printed against some innocent priests.

A newspaper might be attacked for fairly presenting the full picture, but the reading public in another case, or maybe the same case, could perceive the newspaper as complicit in a coverup if it does not aggressively expose the facts.

The possibility of innocent priests being accused and branded is of concern, but newspapers are watchful on the credibility of the accusations. It was also noted that there have been few denials by dioceses on accusations and that church authorities, in fact, are often the source of information on accused clergymen.

How about the person who’s involvement in a news story is his or her first? Should we allow them leeway not allowed the media-wise public figure?

As long as the reporter clearly identifies himself or herself and the person realizes the comments are on the record, no particular considerations are allowed. But reporters will avoid humiliating the person by using verbatim, ungrammatical quotes. Better to paraphrase than to highlight such verbal slips.

As Janensch noted, the public generally thinks the news media picks on or bullies the “little people,” and that’s not fair.

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Convener: Ed Bell


  • Rachel Stewart, UNH
  • Ed Bell, AP
  • Giselle Goodman, Portland Press Herald
  • Elaine Hooker, AP
  • Lisa Arsenault, UNH.

Bullet points

Develop sources from varying perspectives.

— Put together a source book from different areas and topics.

— Line up sources (or experts) before covering a story.

— Under pressure of deadline how credible can a source can be?

— How do you check it out?

Finding the right sources to illustrate a story

— The Census. Look for people interested in it.

— Talk with people who know everything about their communities.

— Ask groups – talking to people and getting sources from them.

— Sometimes you’ll spend years developing a relationship.

— Establish a level of trust with sources while at the same time standing back.

— It is ok to take sources to dinner or lunch – but you pick up the tab.

— Be interested in them as a person. Their kids, hobbies, birthdays etc.

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Choosing the best (most interesting) story to pursue

Convener:  Geoff Gevalt


  • Terry Ryan (Quincy Patriot Ledger)
  • Mike Connelly (Seacoast Newspapers)
  • Rick Spratling (AP)
  • Joe Magruder (AP)
  • Sarah Paulsworth (UNH)
  • Glenn Jordan (sports reporter from ??)
  • Mark Peters (political reporter, Record-Journal)
  • Lisa Arsenault (UNH)
  • Greg Rec (Portland photographer)

and several others who joined later who I did not record.


The best ideas to promote a culture that pursues the best ideas of the day:

1)    Open up the news meetings to include reporters; feel free to critique ideas but also make sure that there is a culture to discuss, brainstorm and toy with an idea.

2)    Avoid the language: “We’ve done it before.” When in doubt, check the archives, see what was done and how it was done. Think of new angles. Don’t stop a good idea because someone thinks the paper did it 3 years ago.

3)    Get out of the quota, “fill the whole” mentality. Editors who insist on two stories a day do more to deaden creativity and risk- taking than any single communicable disease.

4)    Prioritize: do the unforgettable, surprising idea and spend time with it; relegate the “important”, informational stories to briefs or short, to-the-point stories and be done with them. Discard the boring. Discard the stories that interest no one in the newsroom. If the reporter/editor doesn’t care, how can they write it/edit it to the point where the reader will care? Conversely, if a reporter and editor are jacked up over a story, that story will have energy, will be written better and will engage the reader.

5)    Set aside time each week for reporters/editors to go out without a deadline, without an assignment. Focus that time, talk it over before hand so there are some goals or some thought put into what the reporter/editor is looking for, but devote the time to listening, to spotting something new.

6)    Reporter problem: “I am so focused on getting all I need for that story we agreed to that is due in two hours, I don’t see the other, more interesting story.” Reporters need the freedom to go after something unexpected, that other (and often more interesting) story, that pops up while reporting another story. Editors need to probe their reporters when they get back from an assignment to see if they’ve found out something that is more interesting.

7)    Reporters should be encouraged to inspire their editors, to advocate for their stories. The better papers allow their reporters to lead the content.

8)    Seek out ideas from photographers. Conversely, create a culture that allows photographers and graphic artists to lead a story bus.

9)    Get off the phone. Get out in the field more. Seek out the conversations with people rather than reverting to telephone questioning.

10) Reporter problem: “No compelling story has ever come from an editor’s meeting.” While that is a stereotype, it carries some truth: Seek out reporters’ ideas.

11) Establish a culture where reporters feel they can take risks, can challenge assumptions, can pursue a story to its logical end.

12) Do away with quotas and replace with this requirement: Each reporter needs to have one idea, one story that is good enough to be on the top of page one, each week.

13) Editor dilemma: “The real job of an editor is to get the junk out of the way of good reporters and to get the ‘soggy’ reporters out of their ruts.”

14) Adopt the maestro concept from time-to-time, i.e., let a reporter with a good idea call together graphics people, photographers, other reporters, editors to brainstorm and to come out with a story plan. Then help that reporter follow through.

15) Have always in the background several projects that will grab the readers’ attention. How you choose those projects is important: Make sure it’s a good idea that everyone has energy for; make sure the story matters; make sure it has potential for narrative; make sure it has strong visual elements; make sure the reader can get involved.

16) Similar to #4, but with emphasis: Get away from making a 3-inches worth of news a 12-inch story. Don’t let reporters write long on something that is just basic news information that needs to get out with brevity, clarity and precision. Do it and move on to the “better” story.

Here are, as a bonus, some ideas I jotted down from the visuals conversation, ie., how to improve visual thinking in a newsroom:

1)    Do away with “assigning” photos mentality; bring visuals people in very early in the story conversation.

2)    Show pictures to the reporter as he/she is writing…that will help get visual details and cues into the writing.

3)    Send word people to visuals trainings.

4)    Force conversations between reporters/editors and photographers and/or graphic artists; Do away with “assignment” sheets and force a conversation first followed by e-mails on additional information needed to do the assignment.

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Convener:  Tom Heslin


  • Glenn Adams
  • Lance Johnson
  • Larry Laughlin
  • Nick Pappas


The importance of excellence

– Key to the community’s perception of the organization

Managing and leading to excellence

– Identify the important stories and invest in their coverage

– Nurture a culture of curiosity

– Identify all of your resources

– Manage resources to excel while “feeding the beast”

– Don’t squander your resources

– Do the best with the resources you have

– Assignments and workload should realistically reflect the resources

– “No excuses” – don’t dwell on the limitations of budget or staffing

– Nurture a culture of inclusion – spread participation in the quest for excellence

– Inclusion gets ideas and energy coming “from the bottom up”

– Set and maintain standards – get the basics right

– Training, training, training

– Create tools that help accuracy – i.e. error-tracking form

– If something is not working, fix it

– Everyone should read the publication every day.

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Convener: Karen Testa, news editor, AP Boston


  • David Offer, Kennebec (Maine) Journal
  • Harry Whitin, Worcester (Mass) Telegram & Gazette
  • Judy Kessler, Sybase
  • Chelsea Conaboy, UNH
  • Rochelle Stewart, UNH


Our discussion was wide in scope and involved some great advice from David and Harry, editing veterans who have seen some very good – and bad – editors in their time. The students also made rich contributions.

Here’s a few pearls of wisdom I took away from our talk:

  1. Make it clear you’re rejecting the story, not the person.
  2. Establish a climate of excellence, including setting standards and holding people accountable to those standards. Demand accuracy.
  3. Clear the crap, ie, try to free up key people from tasks that can be delegated so they can focus their energies where they are most needed.
  4. Set story expectations before writing begins.
  5. Understand that no one will write the story exactly the same way you would.
  6. If you’re not getting regular feedback, seek it out (for editors and reporters).
  7. Be excited and bring excitement to the newsroom. We have great jobs.

David made this observation that I thought was particular poignant, and a good message for all of us in the business:

“If you’re good enough to succeed at newspaper work or AP work, you’re probably good enough to make a lot more money doing something else for a lot less work. … So you’re doing it because it is the most wonderful way to live.”

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Accepting Criticism

Convener:  Jack Coleman


  • John Christofferson, AP
  • Adam Gorlick, AP
  • Amanda Klimiata, Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester
  • Rosemarie, Amanda’s mother
  • Betty Adams, Kennebec Journal


The topic I selected was accepting criticism. I chose it because I think being able to accept criticism in an open, even-handed manner, and to work with people who do the same, goes a long way toward producing quality journalism. But saying that is one thing, living and working by it another, and that’s why I wanted to talk about this during our open circle session.

The suggestion came from Jack Coleman, political reporter from the Cape Cod Times. Taking part were Associated Press reporters John Christofferson and Adam Gorlick; Amanda Klimiata, a student at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester; and Amanda’s mother, Rosemarie, who accompanied her daughter to the conference. Joining us a few minutes after the session started was Betty Adams from the Kennebec Journal.

Jack started the session and took notes and, when it came time to write this for the online record of the entire open circle proceedings, wished he’d been more conscientious in taking those notes.

Adam suggested that having a good editor, one who knows how to offer criticism in a constructive manner, goes a long way toward it being accepted in the same manner.

The person on the receiving end, Adam suggested, “has to be willing to see things very differently … you have to get over your own ego … you have to aspire to that ideal.”

Rosemarie suggested that “it’s not always ego, it can be insecurity.”

Jack said that a good way to resolve differences that can arise out of criticism leading to tension is an exercise he had seen involving conflict resolution. Each person is asked to summarize the position or assertion of the other. On the occasion when he had seen it done, neither person came close to what the other was saying.

The ability to do this, Jack said, shows the other person that you have understood their position and that your response is based on that understanding. Too often differences that emerge when criticism is offered stem from misunderstandings and unclear communication.

John said criticism passed face to face is better than over the phone, that so much of what is conveyed through facial expressions are lost in a phone call.

Jack said that how requests for corrections are handling is a good barometer of how open the journalists in a newsroom are to criticism. Too often, from what he had heard when other reporters were asked for corrections, and when he had been asked, the request was met defensively. Most of the time, however, the request was valid.

After about 40 minutes, the members of the group agreed to end the discussion to listen in on other groups.

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Covering Budgets

Convener:  Joe Magruder


  • Diane Scarponi
  • Glenn Adams


I proposed and took notes for the “Covering Budgets” session at the open space session last weekend. My co-conferees, both AP budget veterans, are listed above.

We all assumed that budgets, especially state budgets, are, by definition, something that matters. (Someone was quoted here this week saying the budget is the most important policy statement a Legislature deals with.) We agreed the nature of the beast makes it hard to cover. Agencies make requests, the governor proposes, legislative committees hold hearings and debate alternate versions of the budget. In the end, legislative leaders and the governor usually cut deals behind closed doors and produce a final budget that may differ substantially from anything proposed earlier.

In our discussion, we recognized things we do well already:

  • We’re selective. We pick things that are important for readers to know about.
  • We try to use understandable illustrations to help readers get the big picture.
  • When we know a proposal is going nowhere, we try to avoid taking readers down that path — or at least very far down the path.
  • We all try to minimize the number of numbers in stories. The best budget stories have few numbers in them.
  • We try to give perspective and context. We resolved that we should keep reminding ourselves of the importance of doing these things and try to keep doing them.

We all agreed that some budget concepts and information is conveyed best graphically. Unfortunately, bureaus (unlike the AP’s national desks) have very poor graphic coverage. One idea we had was trying to find third-party graphics – from executive or legislative budget offices or credible academics or other analysts – and refer to these in our stories. (Many papers have good graphic artists, who, if told where to find a good graphic, can adapt it or ask permission to use it in their papers.)  We agreed that we do, and should continue to, minimize coverage of budget hearings. Cover the issue, not the hearing.

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