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Bullet points from the NYU Journalism School’s “What in the World” Panel

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Last night, NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute hosted a panel titled, “What in the World Are BuzzFeed, Mashable, and VICE News up to As They Expand Their International Coverage?”. The panelists were Miriam Elder, foreign editor at BuzzFeed, Jason Mojica, EIC of VICE News, and Louise Roug, global news editor at Mashable.

The purpose of the panel was to learn more from the editors about why these three outlets have established and exponentially expanded their international coverage; how they staff their global news desks; how they manage the finances for their respective outlets and divisions; and what we can expect from them in the near future.

The theme was tantalizing, especially for those of us, including myself, who cover beats beyond the borders of the U.S., but I suspect many audience members walked away feeling as disappointed as I did. There was lots of talk, but little substance, lots of claims of “We’re transparent!” without actually being transparent in responses. There were lots of issues that weren’t addressed at all; one of the most troubling lacunae in the conversation was a discussion about fact-checking processes.

If you were following along on my twitter feed, you might have sensed my disgruntlement:

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If you are curious about what was said by the panelists themselves, read on for a few bullet points of the conversation. These are paraphrased remarks, as I did not record the panel.

-BuzzFeed is about to double its staff on global coverage, opening new international bureaus.
-VICE News’ focus now is on “sustaining coverage”
-General feeling among eds regarding hiring freelancers for international coverage is: proceed with caution. All three editors talked about the importance of having a solid, trusting relationship with a freelancer before even considering an international assignment. Mashable’s ed says, “Would I send a freelancer to Syria? No f&*(^#$ way.” There are issues of insurance, adequate salary, and more. BuzzFeed ed says, “We aren’t working with freelancers; we’re staffing desks.”
-Mashable isn’t growing at the same rate as BuzzFeed with respect to international expansion, but it IS opening Australian and London offices.
-VICE News’ strategy is “careful but rapid growth.”
-Average age of global news staff at BuzzFeed is 33.
-Elements of media: storytelling and distribution. What’s the best way to tell this story?
-Moderator raised issue of credibility and trust: How can your intent and execution of “serious journalism” actually be considered if it’s posted alongside dancing Russian cat videos and doctored Putin photos?
-BuzzFeed ed’s answer to that question: I view BuzzFeed like a TV channel. Running “The Simpsons” doesn’t call the credibility of the evening newscast into question.
BuzzFeed: Most of our traffic comes from social, not from landing on the home page. “There is no page 1.”
-Mashable’s global news coverage led the site’s traffic in July and August 2014.
-BuzzFeed has metrics that allow eds to see how much of an article a viewer has read.
-VICE provides insurance and hostile situation training for vetted reelancers.
-Mashable ed, who formerly worked for LA Times and spent nearly three years in its Iraq bureau, said that bureau cost the paper one million dollars annually… “and that wasn’t counting salaries.”
-VICE News: “Our approach is to immerse ourselves in a story without judgment.” (Referring, specifically, to an audience member’s criticism about recent ISIS video on the site).
-How do you keep overhead low without using freelancers? (Audience question): Stay lean. Cut overhead. “Don’t stay at the Ritz.” The old school model of the bureau chief and staffers living in a large flat in Paris with their two kids going to the local American school… yeah, that’s passé. Don’t spend money on that so you can spend money instead on what’s important: travel and reporting.


How to cover an international sporting event

This week, I’m in Guadalajara, Mexico covering the Pan American Games. Think of them as a mini-Olympics, smaller than the main event, but requiring the same kind of massive coordination across multiple countries and multiple languages.

I applied for my press credentials months ago, but beyond being granted press access (which only came a week and a half ago), I have largely been left to my own devices by the organizers. Figuring out the most efficient, effective way to cover the Games has required a quick study. Though I won’t be able to benefit fully from all of my trial-and-error learnings during these Games, I’ll definitely keep them in mind for my next major international sporting event (Rio, anyone?), and thought I’d share them with you.


1. Expect disorganization.

Coordinating an event of this magnitude is an effort that requires the heads and hands of hundreds, if not thousands, of staffers and volunteers, few of whom have event coordination experience. Expect that there will be disorganization and don’t fight it. Focus on your reason for being there, determine a single point person who can get you what you need when you need it, and steer clear of the negative vibes of other journalists who entertain themselves by complaining ad infinitum about the lack of organization.

2. Prepare as much as possible beforehand.

There are lots of logistics you won’t be able to figure out until the last minute, especially as teams get eliminated and the field narrows. Make a list of priorities- what are the sports and teams you want to see? Where are the sports venues located? How far are those venues from where you’re staying (and from each other)? In Guadalajara, the volleyball venue is an hour from the main media center and about 75 minutes from my hotel. Had I not done my prep work, I wouldn’t have made it into today’s headliner game between Cuba and Canada.

3. Check in at the media center and find a contact. 

Don’t make the mistake of picking up your credentials and the media guide and then jetting. Stick around for a bit and talk with staff. Who’s a point person you can count on (via email, mobile, or both) if you get to a venue and have problems getting admitted? (And even with a formal credential, it happens). What services are available to journalists? Here at the Pan American Games, both Canon and Nikon have booths where accredited journalists can get their gear cleaned and have minor repairs performed. Nikon is even distributing loaner gear for some journalists.

And to wind down at the end of the day (or, for some journos, at the beginning… ahem), there’s a tequila tasting stand in the journo cafeteria… free shots.

Also, confirm what your credential covers. It may (or may not) cover all events, but does it cover opening and closing ceremonies? Are there any special media parties (Bebel Gilberto is playing here, for example, at a press-only event).

4. Document everything.

By this, I don’t just mean the Games, but also your communications. If someone tells you, for example, that you’ll need an event ticket on top of your credential (which is the case for today’s volleyball games), get that person’s name and email; then ask for the name and email of the person who is responsible for distributing tickets. Make sure you always have someone accountable to trace information back to.

5. Dress appropriately.

Journos showing up in sleeveless shirts and open-toed shoes won’t be admitted to a venue at the Pan Ams. Be sure you know what the dress code is for the events you intend to cover.

6. Eat well when you can.

You’ll likely be out all day at a venue that serves chips and beer, so eat a heavy breakfast. Many of the main event venues are on the outskirts of cities, not inside them, so your options for a snack or a meal tend to be limited.

7. Pack for the day and keep your stuff close. 

Don’t assume you’ll have the chance to go back to your hotel for your back-up battery or memory card. Bring all your gear and keep it close at hand. Because there’s so much gear, so many people, and so much moving around, try to keep everything as compact and close to you as you can.

8. Make friends with the media.

Grumpy journos notwithstanding, chat up the other members of the media in the press box. This morning, I’ve met AP and Getty photographers from Spain and Germany, respectively, as well as Olympic historians. It’s good to keep in touch with these folks to share future opportunities, but it’s also got an immediate benefit- they can watch your stuff for you while you go pee.

Cuban women's volleyball team

Cuban women's volleyball team

 9. Bend the rules. 

Journos who are not credentialed as photographers can’t shoot photos from the press box at the Pan Ams. As I was looking for a way around this, I realized I could take my DSLR into the stands and shoot from there (which general population can’t do- they can only use small point and shoots). Nobody told me this; it was one of the many things I had to figure out on my own.