Tips, tools and more from Excellence in Journalism 2015

Journalism / Article

Lena Groeger of ProPublica talks data and coding at Excellence in Journalism 2015. Photos by Michael D. Bolden on Flickr.

I just returned from the Excellence in Journalism conference in Orlando, Fla., which offered journalists at all levels of their careers a chance to learn new skills and to share insights from what’s going on in their newsrooms.

The conference, held at the Orlando Marriott World Center hotel, brought together more than 1,300 participants from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Here are some highlights.

CNN’s Brian Stelter moderated a poignant session on last month’s on-air killing of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two journalists from WDBJ-7 in Roanoke, Va. The panel included Kelly Zuber, news director of the station; Scott Libin, ethics committee chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association; and Mark Luckie, former manager of news and journalism at Twitter. 

The Saturday morning panel drew a large crowd to learn about how the WDBJ team reported the story even as they dealt with the personal horror of what had happened, and seeing graphic video posted to social media by the gunman, a former station employee.

It was impossible to remove emotion from reporting such a traumatic story, Zuber said, but “I think we did what our viewers needed us to do.”  

Robert Hernandez, USC at #eij

 Robert Hernandez of USC at Excellence in Journalism 2015.

Less than a month after the Aug. 26 shooting, WDBJ staff members are still reeling but leaning on each other for support. The situation required management to throw the normal human resources playbook out the window, she said.

“Imagine walking around the newsroom saying you love each other,” said Zuber, who added that the station continues to receive anonymous threats. “That doesn’t happen often in newsrooms.”

In addition to offering insight into the stories behind recent events, the conference offered a wealth of knowledge for journalists. Knight Foundation sponsored several panels. They included:

·      “Geek Out! Latest Gadgets Apps and Technology,” presented by Robert Hernandez, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California and co-founder of #WJCHAT. Check out the notes from his session. Hernandez also maintains a collection of useful multimedia tools on his website.

·      “Visual Verification: Tools and Techniques for Vetting User-Generated Content,” presented by Samaruddin Stewart, project lead for the Verified Pixel Project, recipient of a Knight Prototype Fund award. Stewart’s presentation is available online.

·      “15 Jaw-Droppingly Cool Online Tools You Will Love and Use,” presented by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. Check out this recap from student Matt Criswell of California State University, Fresno.

Other highlights included roundtable discussions among small groups of journalists on everything from diversity to ethics to narrative storytelling. Lena Groeger, a news apps developer and science journalist at ProPublica, which Knight Foundation supports, led a roundtable on data and coding. She discussed her career path and some of the data projects at ProPublica, such as this ongoing investigation into workers’ compensation. Sunday afternoon she also led a deep dive introduction to coding for people who wanted more.

For more information, check out the coverage of the conference from the student staff of The EIJ News. Also, Scott Leadingham of the Society of Professional Journalists assembled resources from presenters who provided them here.

Next year, the conference heads to New Orleans Sept. 18-20. Check out for the latest. 

Michael D. Bolden is editorial director for Knight Foundation. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @michaelbolden.