Don’t Miss The Newstrain

Tomorrow’s news today, at the Toronto Star Press Centre. Yes those things still exist.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Newstrain, a two-day touring journalism workshop aimed towards editors, department heads and other journalism management. If you’re wondering why the only photo I have from the two days is an obscure shot of a printing press, that’s because the event took place at the Toronto Star Press Centre and I was never seated in a position to take a decent photo of the speakers. Oh well.

The sort of unofficial ‘theme’ for many of the seminars was the transition into the Journalism 2.0 world and how to make it as painless as possible. I’m writing this post not only for the benefit of my colleagues, who were not all able to attend, but also to centralize my notes into one place I won’t forget.

Some of the workshops, such as “Planning & Coaching Content Across Platforms”, really felt like they were designed for management. But many were extremely beneficial for both editors and reporters.

Certainly one of those was “The Seven Habits of Effective FOI Filers”. I’ve long been intrigued by the Freedom of Information act but it always seemed so unwieldy and discouraging. I won’t go over the full seven habits with you, but I think I can safely sum them up with one phrase: be pesky. The CP’s Ottawa Deputy Bureau Chief, Dean Beeby, told us success through FOI requests comes from being persistent, consistent and patient. If one files FOI requests constantly, diligently and respectfully, they are bound to eventually come up with some good stuff. He also gave us a walkthrough of how to file an FOI request and the time and costs involved, complete with a URL to the FOI request form (, which was invaluable.

Video was a significant focus point for the workshop, and we heard a lot about its vital and changing role in journalism (often grudgingly, as the seminars seemed to be primarily composed of print journalists). Kathy Kieliszewski, the deputy director of photo and video at the Detroit Free Press, hosted the video seminars. She taught us about various video forms (clip, uber clip, quick turn package and enterprise package), different shots (wide, medium, close-up) and an absolute wealth of tips and tricks that would be far too exhaustive to list here (ask the right questions, be quiet, beware of pronouns, get close as possible, etc).

One of her suggestions that really stuck with me was keep an eye (and ear) out for “moments”. Moments are the hardest element of a video to capture, but also add the most emotional depth and poignancy. A moment is that sliver of time where a kid looks up to the cop that saved his life and smiles with appreciation. You may have to record an hour of video to capture a one-minute moment, but that one moment can make your whole video. As a writer, I’ve always been about transporting the reader to a certain time and place. In my past videos, I’ve always felt like something was missing, and now I know what it was. It’s quite a different feat to capture a moment as a writer and as a videographer, and learning to make that transition is going to be one of the major challenges I face in my career as a storyteller.

There was also much talk of social media and its role in reporting, with two seminars solely focused on the topic (Social Media: Tap into the Crowd and Smartphones for Journalists). With me as a dedicated technophile, there wasn’t a whole lot of new material for me to learn here. I was already familiar with most of the tools (Storify, Evernote, Topsy, etc) talked about by our ever-engaging host, Mandy Jenkins of Digital First Media.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t useful. I learned some interesting tidbits, such as Tumblr’s apparent ability to transcribe human dictation into a written post. Hmm. Going to look into that.

In addition to all the knowledge I soaked up, the social media seminar had some fairly amusing moments, such as when an editor marveled at his reporter’s sheer ingenuity after she thought to take some photos at an art gallery and post them to Twitter. How innovative!

I also enjoyed networking with various industry peeps whom I will not name due to a confidentiality agreement.

Overall, it was a beneficial experience. And the food was decent too. My only complaint is the wireless signal was absolutely awful in the rooms where the seminars took place, and the Wi-Fi was non-existent, which made tweeting a challenge.

Apart from that, I would recommend Newstrain to any newsroom that cares about retaining its readership.  It’s particularly useful for those struggling to make the transition into ‘new media’, namely video and social media.



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