Saturday, May 4, 2013

Keynote speaker discusses media engagement of millennials

Keynote speaker Paula Poindexter of UT Austin addresses conference-goers. Photo by Melody Mendoza

By Laura Garcia

The University of Texas at Austin journalism professor Paula Poindexter gave a keynote speech Saturday about the importance of engaging the millennial generation.

The future of the media industry depends on it, she said.

“Is news engagement a thing of the past?” she asked the crowd of student and professional journalists.

If so, she said working journalists are part of the problem.

Her new book, “Millennials, News, and Social Media: Is News Engagement a Thing of the Past?” was the topic of discussion during lunch at the Region 8 SPJ conference at the Marriott Plaza hotel in San Antonio.

Poindexter said she studied her own journalism students and conducted a National Survey of News Engagement to determine how engaged young people are in the news.

She found that the age group of people born from 1983 to 1999 are less interested in the news. They are more diverse and less religious too.

Facebook consumed their time and while Facebook engaged millennials, the news media ignored them.

She said 39 percent of millennials said they seek news daily compared to 75 percent of babyboomers.

Poindexter cited a Pew Research Center study which 29 percent of 18-24 year olds said they read no news the day before they were studied. This makes them the most uninformed age group.

Find Pew's news consumption statistics here:

Will the millennials follow their parents and start to consume more news?

Castro studied journalism before politics

Photo by Melody Mendoza
By Laura Garcia

Bienvenidos a San Antonio!

Mayor Julián Castro welcomed a crowded room of professional and student journalists at the Region 8 SPJ conference Saturday at noon during lunch.

San Antonio Pro Chapter President Eva Ruth Moravec introduced Castro as very “media accessible.” He filmed a parody video with the chapter for its Gridiron comedy show just days before he spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

He said he and his twin brother Joaquín Castro went to Stanford University with the dream of pursuing a major in communications.

“I once wanted to be a journalist,” he said.

But instead of heading off to news internships for the summer the Castro brothers ended up going to political internships. The rest is history.

He talked about a series of investigational stories in 2004 by Lisa Sandburg, which he says still has a huge effect on the city. Her San Antonio Express-News article called “Death by the Pound” reported that the city was sending more than 47,000 dogs and cats to the gas chamber every year.

“That article galvanized the community to do something about it,” he said.

Since then the numbers have been cut in half and the city is well on its way to being a no-kill city, he said, just like our neighbor Austin.

For more information on the city’s no-kill initiative spurred by Sandburg’s series, go to
Photo by Laura Garcia
Photo by Melody Mendoza of student Ingrid Wilgen

Know your rights as a photographer

"Shoot or Don't Shoot" moderator Alicia Calzada alongside panelists Bob Owen and Marvin Hurst listen to Dario Ramos, videographer for KENS 5, recount his encounter with an angry landowner who pushed him to the ground while he was filming.
By Jacob Beltran

Panelist Darios Ramos, videographer for KENS 5, continued shooting even though his wrist was grabbed and he was thrown to the ground by an angry homeowner.

The video was the first of three examples of when to keep shooting, despite being told not to. These stories and other were told by Ramos and panelist Marvin Hurst, reporter for KENS 5, as part of the “Shoot or Don’t Shoot” panel for the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 Conference.

In the footage, the team had been covering wildfires that spread onto private property that was owned by several people. But when Ramos was attacked by the landowner, the two were still within their rights to broadcast video on the property because the owners did not have an agreement to stop them.

“The important thing is to maintain professionalism,” Hurst said. “We could’ve done all kinds of things but it wouldn’t have helped the legal situation.”

Another video shown at the panel included a fight between two transsexuals that erupted at a gas station as Ramos had stepped out of the news van. Ramos continued shooting, even as one of them approached him to take his camera.

Ramos said afterwards, Hurst and his team discussed whether they should use the footage.

They asked themselves “was it good T.V. for us for about 30 seconds? Yes. would it win an award? No. Was there great narrative behind it? No. After talking with our producers, we decided we would show it.”

Dealing with emotions

Asked if he experienced anything similar, panelist Bob Owen, photographer for the San Antonio Express-News, said in emotional situations, people try to block the camera, and that more abrasive people will grab the lens.

While covering the sex scandal at Lackland Air Force Base, Owen said that air force personnel grabbed the camera of another photographer and pulled him aside.

He said that in situations where people and officials request photographers not to shoot, it’s best to step back onto public property and continue to shoot from there.

Owen said journalists have learned to build a wall between themselves and the emotion of what’s happening. “I stay composed,” he said, “but boy howdy when I’m back at the office, I just have to walk away from them sometimes.”

When not to shoot

Moderator Alicia Calzada recalled a moment when she decided not to shoot. She said a vehicle sped by her at 90 mph while she was on her way home. The vehicle hit another car and exploded. When she pulled over to the side, Calzada said she didn’t shoot because she didn’t want being a journalist to interfere. She said that she testified in court and the driver received 10 years in prison.

Calzada suggested that journalists discuss with their respective news outlets what to do in certain situations, to avoid any conflicts that may arise on the job.

Ramos said that despite the situation, it’s important to keep shooting, otherwise you miss important moments. “It doesn’t matter if you’re waiting for something to happen, it’s better just to roll,” he said. “When that thing happens, you can’t go back in time and hit the button.”

Journalists leave traditional newsroom, build startups

Panelists — Tanji Patton, panel moderator, Laura Lorek, founder of Silicon Hills News, Marketing Consultant Roell Vento, and Charlotte-Anne Lucas of NOWCastSA — speak about entrepreneurial journalism for the SPJ Region 8 Conference.
Story and photos by Melody Mendoza

A panel of now-entrepreneurial journalists spoke about their experience transitioning into nontraditional journalistic roles. The session was part of SPJ’s Region 8 Conference May 4 in San Antonio.

Tanji Patton, who moderated the panel, said “Plan A is always the one you think is going to work,” but added that potential entrepreneurial journalists should have a plan B and C.

“You will work harder than you probably have ever worked,” she said, “but there’s something freeing about it being your own.”

Laura Lorek, founder of Silicon Hills News

Lorek is a former technology reporter for the San Antonio Express-Newspaper, and decided to start her own online publication after a move to Wimberley.

Silicon Hills News is a technology news startup covering Austin and San Antonio entrepreneurs.

From her experience developing her news site, Lorek gave these tips:

·      Start small: “Don't launch a big marketing budget right away unless you’re confident doing that” and “Don’t spend a lot of money on technology right away.”
·      “Never spend the money until you have it in the bank.”
·      Get grants: The Society of Professional Engineering supplies grants to journalists who are doing investigative projects and to get crowd funding.

Lorek also suggested tapping into local resources and investing in classes.

She said business cards really impact your brand. sells “cheap and fantastic business cards,” Lorek said.

Follow Lorek @lalorek or Silicon Hills News on Twitter

Roell Vento, marketing consultant

Vento has worked in Internet marketing and digital media since 1992 and helps national businesses and company startups improve branding, increase revenue, cut costs and meet business objectives.

Although Vento doesn’t have a background in journalism, he prepped future entrepreneurs about becoming a good accountant, which he said is the most important thing because “that is the backbone of your own business.”

Entrepreneurship is all about “looking for that opportunity.” When things happen, he said jump on the opportunity.
Charlotte-Anne Lucas, NOWCastSA

Lucas began as a journalist writing for newspapers throughout the country. In 2009, she was selected to lead NOWCastSA, which promotes and facilitates civic conversations through education, training, community news, events and multimedia, according to the website.

She said the online news organization has recorded 70 hours of local programming in San Antonio.

Lucas said it’s important to identify the customer and realize that they are actual people and are the ones that will pay for a service.

Lucas’ blog features books and columns by entrepreneurial journalists that she suggests following. This also builds networking and allows journalists to connect with similar businesses.

She said these partnerships are important to a successful startup.

The Dynamics of Covering the Border

By Sara Vicenta Cabral

President Barack Obama's visit to Mexico yesterday, serves as a reminder that drugs and violence remain at the forefront of the issues shaping the relationship between the U.S and Mexican border.

In today's SPJ “Covering the U.S – Mexico Border” panelist offered insights into aspects the drug war has shaped in border news coverage, and the dilemmas journalists face as the saga unfolds.

“Since 2009 news rooms have dwindled at a time where news in Mexico exploded," says Alfredo Corchada, Mexico Bureau Chief of the Dallas Morning News and author of "Midnight in Mexico," which will be released later this May. Contributing to this decline is the two percent conviction rate and the increasing number of those kidnapped and killed along the Mexican border. 

They do not enjoy the same privileges as U.S. reporters, says Corchada, who will be pulled out of wherever they are if they feel threatened.
Further complicating border coverage is Mexico's efforts to change its narrative which go untold.

"Going to trial, you see the bigger picture," says Corchada, referring to his coverage of those facing trials in relation to the drug violence. 

"We are not really tying the links between Mexico City, U.S., and the carteles," he adds, "follow the money."

"There is more pressure on keeping the story alive and keeping up with other stories," says Corchada. Among those stories is Mexico's flourishing tourist, trade, and economic health, it's rising middle class, and redefining where the "border" lies. 

The panelists also addressed audience inquiries regarding the measures that could be taken when covering the drug war.

"Find who controls the region," says Corchada, "based on that make a decision." Asked why knowing who controls the region is important, Corchada added "Zetas don't like the press."

"Be thoughtful about why you are being sent there," says Angela Kocherga, Border Bureau Chief for Belo television, is one of the best ways journalist covering the drug wars can prepare to ensure their safety during their assignments.

Kocherga also warns journalists to be mindful in choosing their sources and think about the impact the information obtained will have on the source's safety.

Moderator Jason Buch, who covers immigration and border affairs at San Antonio Express-News, warns about the use of unsolicited information from unknown sources regarding possible targets.
"We don't know who sends this," says Buch. 

The threat of death and violence against those directly and indirectly involved has shaped news content and news gathering practices as it pertains to border coverage. Often, cartel activity twists a journalists arms into unconventional practices including source disclosure, type of content included, an the revision process.

"We think we are special but when we are put in that corner, we can't really judge," says Kocherga. 


How to go deep on the Internet

by Paula Christine Schuler

Mike Horvit of Investigative Reporters and Editors moves quick delivering simple techniques

Mike Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors launched into rapid-fire delivery of numerous website tools and examples of how they could be used.  

Immediately he suggested the following strategies for online investigation sanity: 
  • Use 3 to 4 key words to guide the search
  • Force yourself to work in a specific period of time
  • Restrict sites visited to those relevant to the story
When he launched off a barrage of data tools, people finders and resources for finding public data that should not be public, he did not seem to breathe until he said, "Here is the real issue." 

He said Google is searching something called the surface web. He said, "It misses 80-85 percent of all the info available online."

The entire database of is not available on Google because of how traditional search engines work in contrast to users clicking links inside of websites.  

He said deep web is a term that describes all the databases and information sites online that do not show up on the traditional searches.

After learning the hard way taking volunteers from his audiences, he has begun to use himself as the lab rat for demonstrating how these tools can discover information about people and organizations. 

One story related an incident where professors from a big name university were posting conversation remarks and confidential information of students online and the information could be found publicly by doing advanced searches. He encouraged journalists to take a curiosity tour through Google advanced searches once a month to see what might be discovered. 

He said major networks use social media to find sources for major events before their reporters can arrive with cameras. Social media applications and mobile technology open portholes to interviews faster than ever.  Examples of this exist in the major network coverage of the Boston bombing incidents.

He wanted to bring tools and demonstrate the thought processes that could empower journalists to get around the surface and clutter of the media and move into the discovery of content in simple searches that could lead to big stories. 

Horvit rolled out website after website grouped into how the sites could be used. 

Websites included: 
  • with a great link called "Who is John Doe?" which leads the user into various angles of how to find and investigate people.
  • is a shocking statistical site and has links to search the federal bureaucracy by topic instead of by agency, he said.
  • can be used to track every contract with the federal government including job duties, contract number, purpose searchable by state and congressional district. Also useful for searching any federal grant recipient.  It can be used to gain information before interviewing a source, empowering a journalist to get through public information veils more quickly. He said it is not completely up to date because source documents are required only once a year for some of the data.
  •  is a website that tracks the voting records of the U.S. Congress and matches them with any data available on the influence of special interest monies on those votes.
  • is the Internet Public Library, established by and for research librarians. 
Websites specifically useful for investigating people include:
  • can search by an email address, what the person's likely website user names would be.  He said, "Think about the ways that people exist online and search for them that way."
  •  is helpful when looking for former employees.
Searching social media by geographic location has become useful in fun and serious uses:
  • is useful for tracking social posts in a mapped area and tracking events or people nearby.
  • proves useful for on-the-ground reporting before network cameras can arrive. 
  • is a cell phone tool that proved useful in the Arab Spring and other major events.
Twitter tools:
  • Foller.Me is a Twitter analytic tool that helps tweeters see who is mentioning them the most. It analyzes hashtags created by the user and when the user tweets or does not and helps a user figure out when the most likely time would be for a possible live connection with another Twitter user.
  • SnapBird helps search Twitter history. 
Horvit said he will be emailing to the conference attendees a list of these and more tools he did not have the time to discuss.

And then, he took another breath.  

Internships needed for a career in journalism

By Riley Stephens

For students interested in a career in journalism, here are three important items you will need.
Internships, great communication and a portfolio with a variety of skill sets.

Saturday during the Region 8 conference, students were told to intern as much as possible and when applying for jobs, develop a portfolio with a limitless amount of skills. The panelists also encouraged open communication between fellow journalists.

Panelists Maritza Calderon, meteorologist for Univision, Chris Eudally with Texas Public Radio, and David Saleh Rauf, reporter with the San Antonio Express-News said students wanting a career in journalism should always apply for internships. They told students that paid internships are not uncommon but do require a bit of searching.

David Rauf says he used his time from working for the Austin American Statesman as a full-time student and his internship with a small newspaper in New Braunfels to acquire a paid internship and then a full-time job for the San Antonio Express-News. Rauf says paid internships are available but requires searching and hunting to get them. He says they are super competitive and rejection should be expected.

Rauf said students shouldn't take internships for granted. "You shouldn't go in there like this is something that you're just going to walk away from; this is something that you're going to have this connection for the rest of your life," Rauf said.

Calderon says she didn't focus on broadcasting but on different organizations that were based under promotions and community affairs. She says, the Adelante fund helped her to get the internship after convincing she convinced them that it would help with her career.

Moderator Sanford Nowlin said student journalists who go above and beyond what is expected of them during their internship can gain more from their fellow journalists and those journalists will continue to be an advocate for them.

The panelists agree that most employers don't look at your degree and look at what you do in the field when they consider you for an internship or hiring.

Journalist talk reporting with a beat

Education vs. Crime vs. Sports. Three journalists with one goal. Journalists agree communication with sources is essential when reporting on a beat. The journalists said that both daily and weekly newspaper editors encourage staff to cultivate relationships with their sources.

Riley Stephens

Using Social Media:"Sharing is Caring"

By Katee Boyd
Jeff Cutler, freelance journalist, social media trainer and content specialist, speaks to professionals and students at the SPJ Region 8 Conference May 4. Photo by Melody Mendoza

Jeff Cutler, freelance journalist and social media trainer, did not hold back during his 2 p.m. session, in which he discussed ways that journalists can utilize social media for their advantage.

Cutler stressed that no matter what, at the end of the day, you still have to be a journalist.

“Learn how to use the technology to reinforce what you already know," said Cutler. "Writing is writing and your skills can transfer."

As a journalist you have a message, but you must learn how to send that message with the latest innovations.

“Social media and technology does not mean new techniques,” Cutler said.

Social media is any tool that allows you to communicate your message to your audience, and the tools are ever changing.

Cutler used a postcard as an example to the precursor of Twitter, since it has room for about the same amount of characters and the text is visible for everyone to see.

Journalists need to be adaptable and knowledgeable, which means becoming aware of what is going on out there in the new technological world.

Knowing your audience enough to think like them is essential in becoming successful at using social media as an asset to your journalism toolkit.

Cutler emphasized that spending an extra 10 minutes a day to explore social media will change how you feel about it and you will notice a difference.

He suggested using dashboard sites like, or to keep aware of what is going on in the world.

According to Cutler, if you do not have Google alerts then you are missing out.

In addition to Google alerts, Cutler suggested using a variety of social media outlets, which are linked below.

Jeff Contact Info:

Jeff Cutler's website
Link to his presentation
Jeff Cutler Twitter handle

Suggested Social Media:

Google Alerts
Knowem (branding yourself - search for your name)
AllTop (Best blog posts out there which are great for story ideas)
GPlus To (see facebooks, etc. from a long time ago)


Panelists discuss diversity in the newsroom

By Jordan Gass-Poore'

Professional journalists Tommy Calvert Jr., Mike Leary, Jeff Zimmerman and Monica Rhor spoke about ways to further diversify American newsrooms during their panel at this year’s SPJ Region 8 conference.

“At every paper I’ve worked this has been an issue and a problem,” said Rhor, who previously worked at the Houston Chronicle, Associated Press, Boston Globe, among others. “…It’s still an issue. It’s still a problem.”

According to the American Society of News Editors, 12.32 percent of minorities were employed in daily newsrooms last year. That number has steadily dropped since its peak of 13.73 percent in 2006.

The report lends itself to Rohr’s concern about newsroom leadership and management, which she considered to be reasons why there are fewer minorities in the field.

Rohr said unpaid internships may also hinder newsroom diversity, but not necessarily in ways people may expect.

The panelists agreed that newsroom management should broaden their definition of diversity to include gender, sexuality and socioeconomic status when considering new hires.

“We look at diversity in the traditional method,” said Zimmerman, vice president, general manager and director of sales at Univision. “Older white-haired gentlemen shouldn’t dictate who you hire.”

Instead, newsroom hires should be relevant to the consumer, Zimmerman said.

Leary, San Antonio Express-News editor, said about 38% of the company’s new hires are minorities, which is a reflection of the “majority-minority” city, which also includes a large population of people in the military and retirees.

“You want a newsroom that has life experiences… and can generate stories based on their own experiences,” he said.

Calvert said KROV 91.7-HD2 FM has become united through diversity. The station he helped to found and is now general manager of began as a way for people in the San Antonio African American communities to have a voice in broadcasting.

“Our multicultural world demands inclusion,” he said. “Consumers want to see themselves reflected in the media.”

Cutting through red tape in health care reporting

Becca Aaronson of The Texas Tribune said the insurance exchange is like Orbitz for insurance.

By Laura Garcia

The Texas Tribune reporter Becca Aaronson said about 42 percent of Americans still don’t know the Affordable Care Act was passed into law.

Aaronson covers health care and develops data interactives for the nonprofit news media organization. She joined a panel of three media professionals to discuss covering health care issues with a dozen Region 8 conference-goers.

She said Joe Straus, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, has said openly, “We need to get our heads out of the sand.”

Because state funding was cut by two-thirds, covering women’s health is a really big thing for her right now.

Monica Navarro, who is an anchor, reporter and producer for Univision Channel 41, said  her focus is usually on health care issues within the Hispanic community. This is because much of that population is uninsured.

“Like she said nobody knows about the ACA,” Navarro said.

Don Finley, a health care and science writer of more than 25 years, said whenever change happens there’s always going to be people confused and crying.

“I’m not a reporter anymore but to me that’s what we do well at a local area,” he said. “There’s all kinds of issues like that that are more interesting to me than the politics.”

During a Q-and-A portion of the panel, a conference attendee asked how to find sources when covering broad health care issues.

Navarro said, “Well after 30 years, I have my contacts. They call me.”

But it took awhile to build those relationships, she said. Sometimes you have to knock on doors.

She cautioned that you have to be very careful where you get information. She said not to talk to anyone on hospital property unless it’s been cleared with the public information office. There are waivers for patients to sign because of privacy laws.

But across the street is okay.

Eagle Ford Shale coverage has just begun

Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News reporter, discusses the environmental focus that news coverage on the Eagle Ford Shale will have in the near future. She was one of four panelists, including Pedro Rojas of Univision 45 in Houston, Dianna Wray of the Houston Press, and Greg Jefferson, San Antonio Express-News business editor.

By Melody Mendoza

The booming industry coming out of the Eagle Ford Shale is constantly producing new stories that professional journalists say are just beginning to highlight the environmental concerns.

Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News reporter who covers the shale, said she sees water and waste becoming a new topic of discussion.

“We’re hearing a little bit of caution,” she said, but residents "are at a level as close to zero unemployment as you can be” so they’re more accepting of the possible impact.

Hiller was one of four journalism panelists who discussed the complexity of coverage about on the Eagle Ford Shale at Society of Professional Journalist’s Region 8 Conference May 4 at the Marriott Plaza San Antonio.

The panel also included Pedro Rojas, anchor for Univision 45 in Houston, Dianne Wray, Houston Press reporter and former environment and energy reporter for the Victoria Advocate, and Greg Jefferson, San Antonio Express-News business editor.

“It’s an enormously complex story,” Jefferson said. “It’s very rich.”

This industry already supports 116,000 jobs throughout South Texas and acquired $61 billion in 2012, Jefferson said.

Hiller said there’s an estimated 7 to 10 billion barrels of oil in Eagle Ford with barrels selling for $85 to $100 per barrel. Even if oil prices drop, Hiller said barrels could sell for as low as $40 and still be profitable.

The shale is a marine rock that has oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids such as propane.

“That’s what makes Eagle Ford a little bit different,” Hiller said. “Everyone wants liquids because that’s where people can get money.”

Rojas called it a revolution.

“We’re seeing a lot of jobs moving that way,” he said. “Eagle Ford Shale is a topic that always come to the table.”

Because the industry has affected the state so much economically — creating jobs and revenue — news reporters are always looking for ways to bring new information to their readers.

“The trick is to just keep advancing the story in different ways and keep trying to get a little deeper,” Hiller said. “I think everyone’s getting tired of the surface coverage.”

She said the prices of natural gas liquids or oil is interesting because it tells the people why certain things are going on in the area.

She also said medical-related topics haven’t been covered much.

“There’s a huge shortage of doctors and nurses,” she said. “There are health issues that come along when you have a whole bunch of workers dumped into a region.”

Another potential issue that could develop from the Eagle Ford Shale is water in relation to the drought, which all panelists agreed would come up in stories soon.

The shale “uses about 5 million gallons of water per well,” Hiller said. “There are methods so that it can be cleaned and used again on the site, but it’s not done in Texas very often.”

Fracking and disposable wells were also discussed, which have been the cause of earthquakes in similar areas where oil is being extracted.

Hiller said there haven’t been many reports of earthquakes in South Texas, but there have been some in Dallas.

Wray said university studies have related the earthquakes to the disposable wells rather than fracking.

“But they’re all part of the same process,” she said.

Rojas said the fracking process has changed in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Instead of just drilling vertically, he said pipes are going horizontally as well.

“There are so many environmental aspects to this that I feel like we’re barely scratching the surface of right now,” Hiller said.

Panelists emphasize building trust with sources

By Jacob Beltran

For panelist Sig Christenson, military reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, reporting for the military started out as a local emphasis, but after the war in Iraq began, it became a national beat.

Christenson was one one of three reporters at the Region 8 SPJ conference who spoke on the topic of military reporting. Other panelists included Jeremy Schwartz, reporter for the Austin American Statesman, and Karisa King, reporter for the San Antonio Express-News.

Topics ranged from offering advice to reporters on how to transition into military beats, establishing trust with sources, to how newspapers have increased their military reporting coverage in response to the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan.

Moderator Ryan Loyd, a reporter from Texas Public Radio, asked panelists to offer advice on how to get past the scrutiny of military public information officers, who are sensitive to how the military is portrayed in the media.

The panel agreed that cultivating sources is the most important way to tell stories that are accurate and truthful.

“Trust is a big issue across the board,” Christenson said.

He added that developing relationships with public information officers is tough and that there is a pressure to write sympathetic stories. He encouraged reporters to talk to the soldiers to get closer to the truth.

Prior to covering the military, Schwartz said he had not experienced the levels of control and scrutiny put forth by military public relations offices.

Schwartz said that compared to San Antonio, Austin did not focus a lot of coverage on the military until the Fort Hood shooting.

“Afterwards focus skyrocketed in the paper,” he recalled. “It became a storyline that the paper embraced.”

Prior to this, Christenson said the Austin-American Statesman considered military reporting an afterthought.

Following the incident at Fort Hood, the paper formed a team to develop an an enterprise reporting project that looked at veteran mortality and the causes of death for 200 military personnel.

For several of the panelists, reporting in San Antonio where there is a large military presence means there is a responsibility to tell stories for military families and those with a military background.

Asked how to connect with military sources without going through public information officers, King said the best approach is to find someone, an advocate, attorney or other family member to get inside the story.

Also, for reporters breaking into the industry, King said that it’s important not to be afraid to ask about unfamiliar military jargon.

“Don't be afraid to raise your hand and say I'm the only one who's not in that club,” she said.

 King encouraged new military reporters to have the confidence to to learn, without being intimidated.

“It takes years to learn this beat,” Christenson said.

Recommended by Christenson: This site serves as an advocate for military reporters and is a resource for reporters starting on military beats.
Use the FOIA process.

Recommended by King: - The army court of criminal appeals.
Reporters should access the Courts System. The dockets are online and the military appeals system is very useful, these judgments are also viewable online.. This wasn’t always the case. The internet has changed the kind of information we can gain access to.
Article 32 hearings are open to the public.
An important entry point for Relying on testimony to report.

Tips from Schwartz:
The courtroom is a controlled environment. Phones have to be left behind the security desk. But some military environments allow laptops and phones in the military courtrooms, but you can’t be online.

Freelancers emphasize the business side

Photographer Jennifer Whitney and journalist Susan Yerkes share freelancing resources

by Paula Christine Schuler

Freelancer Susan Yerkes says branding is a buzzword.

A panel met to discuss freelance journalism focusing on how to brand yourself at 10 a.m. at the Region 8 conference, moderated by veteran freelancer Jacqueline Jordan.  

Jennifer Whitney, Freelance Photographer

Freelancer photographer Jennifer Whitney said 70 percent or more of her work time is spent on the business side. She spends 20 percent of her time taking photos. She said, "Many don't understand that."

Her journey from photojournalist at the San Antonio Express-News to today is a two-year path that began with two clients and now includes The Texas Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Cooking Channel and National Geographic Traveler, among many others. 

She said she spent almost a year preparing her brand, marketing materials and presentation. She said it was a long process and spent time thinking about who she is and the message she wants to convey. She worked with a designer for the logo, vetting it in black and white, then adding color. 

Whitney said, "It is a constant hustle." She writes thank you notes, adds personal notes to marketing packages mailed to editors and believes in the old school face-to-face style of networking. 

A mainstay of Whitney's branding is the belief that one must make work to get work. She posts blogs and adds photos regularly to her website to present herself as active and working. 

Her website, client list and other information is found at  She updates her portfolios and website bi-annually in addition to frequent content uploads.

Whitney strongly encouraged attendees to learn who they are in themselves, spend the time to package themselves well and from that knowledge grow into learning and knowing the business side of their work.

Susan Yerkes, Freelance Writer and Editor

Freelance Susan Yerkes started by writing for English language papers overseas. She had a story idea, would call editors and go from there. 

"I am terrible as a sales person, but I am good at meeting people and generating ideas," she said.
She told stories of calling editors of high ranking publications and pitching stories. Sometimes they said yes, sometimes they said no. She said, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs." 

She said branding is a buzzword, and one way to brand is how we present ourselves. She said she wore certain clothing and rings today because she wanted people to perceive her as wildly diverse in one package. Personal presentation skills are a big part of how she focuses on branding. She has not set up a website yet, but is in the process now.

The one thing she wanted to convey most of all to the audience was to never stop writing and never let fear get in the way.

Tips and Tools

  • Yerkes talked about Writer's Market, a website that has the most recent information on publishers who accept freelance work. Moderator Jacqueline Jordan, a veteran freelance writer and editor, agreed Writer's Market is an essential tool for finding opportunities to to get started. 
  • WIX is a free and simple website building tool with quick templates that is geared for communications professionals. 
  • American Society of Media Photographers has an abundance of tools including sample contracts for working with clients and a section dedicated to the business side of freelance photography.
  • National Press Photographers Association features a training tab, contract samples and other resources including cost of business calculators. 
  • Panelists agreed with an attendee who discouraged working with content farms such as Examiner, writing ads on Craigslist and Patch. If a freelancer is going to work for little money, do it for a great clip with a respected publication or a nonprofit.
  • Do not work for less than the cost of doing business. Calculate those costs using tools at the above websites. 
  • Have standards. Do not work for people who devalue the work of a freelancer.
Jordan lists extensive achievements of  Whitney and Yerkes

"Freelancing: How to brand yourself"  was one of 14 panels held May 4 at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 8 conference. 

Investigative reporting tips from print and broadcast journalism pros

Journalists Brian Collister and John Tedesco discuss investigative reporting at this year's SPJ Region 8 conference at the Marriott Plaza in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Riley Stephens

By Jordan Gass-Poore'

Nancy Drew and McGruff the Crime Dog don’t have anything on Brian Collister and John Tedesco, investigative reporters with ABC affiliate KTRK in Houston and the San Antonio Express-News, respectively.

Collister and Tedesco spoke to members at this year’s SPJ Region 8 conference at the Marriott Plaza in downtown San Antonio about their experiences in investigative reporting and tips for aspiring sleuths.

Whether it be the discovery of the mistreatment of funds by CPS Energy, or the hunt for the number of racehorse accidents, Collister and Tedesco agreed that although investigative reporting is an important public service, it can be difficult and time consuming.  

But thinking like Henry Ford may be the catalyst for an investigative piece, whether the medium is electronic or print. Collister stressed an “assembly line” mindset, but to not follow the pack.

Ways to be a lone wolf include making friends with the information gatekeepers, which may include custodians and secretaries. Also, knowing how to navigate through the land of open records requests may prove to be beneficial in the search for the truth... and on deadline. 

"You want them to respect you and to fear you," said Collister, referring to public officials who reporters may want to use as sources. 

Time constraints and public officials can prove to be problematic when submitting open records requests. 

"Half the battle is knowing where to find stuff," Collister said. 

The other half may be knowing who to trust. 

Collister stressed that the public information officer should not be considered a reporter's friend. 

"Use good guys to find bad guys," he said. "But take (news) tips with a grain of salt." 

To supplement his in-person reporting, Tedesco said he uses "creative" Google searches and utilizes online databases to learn an entity's jargon before requesting open records. 

"Don't let data scare you," he said. 

Tedesco stressed the importance of staying organized while working on an investigative piece. He said creating a notes template in Google Docs and keeping detailed to-do lists with time and date stamps through Microsoft Word have proved to be beneficial, especially if the story is reviewed by an attorney prior to publication.

For more information, Tedesco and Collister suggested visiting

NOAA speaker offers weather reporting help

Forecaster Orlando Bermudez talks with Univision anchor Anabel Monge after the session.

By Laura Garcia

Orlando Bermudez, NOAA weather forecaster for the San Antonio/Austin area, spoke about weather reporting during a 9 a.m. session at the Region 8 conference.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. They offer journalists a quick and reliable resource. His office services Central Texas.

Bermudez said the National Weather Service offices don’t let the phone ring more than three times. He urged reporters to call with questions and to set up a tour to visit the weather reporting offices.

The public information line is 830-606-3617.

He recommended taking the Skywarn Spotter classes, which is two one-hour courses on reporting weather conditions like wind damage and hail.

“You come out with a basic degree in forecasting,” he joked.

Bermudez said since 1996 there have been 213 flash flood deaths in Texas with 24 deaths in Bexar County. “Why? Because we all have things to do.”

He talked about cases where people didn’t want to be late to work or had to pick up their children and risk their lives by driving in flooded areas.

“You think you can make it. Oh okay, it’s only a few inches. Big mistake,” he said. “Never underestimate the power of water.”

He also talked about the importance of checking the weather for event planners.

He showed a video of a stage that collapsed under straight-line winds at the Indiana State Fair Aug. 13, 2011. Seven people died and nearly four dozen were injured in the incident. An investigation showed that the weather service sent warnings and they were ignored by the event’s planners.

“When you plan an event you better check the weather,” he said.

For more information, go to

Friday, May 3, 2013

SPJ President Sonny Albarado chats with Region 8 members during a conference social Friday.  Photo by Sara Cabral

Jeanne Graham, Janet Neff, and Kay Pirtle admire their self- portraits around the fire at this evenings SPJ social
[Left to Right]

National SPJ president Sonny Albarado

Region 8 SPJ members heard issues that the national SPJ is facing during a social Friday at the Marriott Plaza. SPJ President Sonny Albarado of Arkansas gave a year-long view of the organization's accomplishments, including how they are an advocate for professional and student journalists.

Riley Stephens