Rules of Engagement Oakland, CA

// New York Times responds to plagiarism claim //

Funny how news organizations expect, dare I say demand, transparency when seeking specifics about disciplinary action against public and private employees when covering a story. 

However, rarely do we provide the same level of transparency when it comes to dealing with our own mistakes. Credit to the Times for a solid editor’s note about claims one of its reporters used a passage from a Wikipedia page without proper attribution


But the Times declined to elaborate on how it dealt with the offending reporter. News organizations should set the standard for transparency when these kinds of issues arise. We can’t be the institutions that hold power accountable if we don’t set an even higher bar for transparency when these unfortunate issues do occur. 

These mistakes also offer an opportunity for engagement with our readership. It provides a chance to explain and elaborate on what went wrong and go deeper into what is going to be put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

This interaction helps heal the wound and reinforces our position as credible sources of news and information. The New York Times is an incredible news organization. But even a publication with its storied history could do much more to engage its audience and provide better transparency.  

There have been other mistakes by news organizations that could have been opportunities for community dialogue.

Following the Asiana Airlines crash at SFO International airport in 2013, KTVU-Channel 2 made the mistake of reporting fake and racially insensitive names of the pilots of the fated flight. The station fired three producers, one of whom was my former journalism professor. 


The NTSB apparently confirmed the incorrect names to the station and later fired its own intern. Interns can’t really be fired, can they? C’mon now, you can’t put it on the intern!

Now, I don’t know enough about the track record of the KTVU producers to say whether or not they deserved to be fired. That isn’t my point.

The point is, although the station apologized on air and fired people, appearing to take a tough stance on accuracy and accountability, it was a smokescreen. They didn’t really take a stand because they didn’t explain what happened.

They declined to take the opportunity the mistake had given to have meetings with the community and discuss why this egregious error occurred. Mistakes are terrible. They’re embarrassing and unfortunately, we’re all bound eventually to make some.

Mistakes burn like five-alarm hot sauce in the guts of all self-respecting journalists. 

KTVU could and should have welcomed the chance to connect with the Asian community in Oakland and have a forum about the lack of diversity on its staff, have the news director talk about the structure of the organization, even talk about its failings and what it plans to put in place to minimize mistakes in the future.

This likely would have required a deeper exploration of the issue internally, because you can’t very well have a conversation with the community without really understanding what went wrong and how you’re going to fix it.

Perhaps such a discussion could have averted the firing of the offending producers. After all, given staffing levels at stations, I can’t imagine it made the organization stronger to have three fewer veteran journalists on staff. I don’t recall a report that new producers had been hired or promoted to take over for those who were let go. 

Given the role of a news organization in a community, we have a responsibility to convey these details to the public. They are entrusting us to be news and information providers. Shouldn’t we tell them how we plan to fulfill this mission and who is doing it?

KTVU and its news division generally does a solid job. There are hardworking, committed journalists who work at that station and for my money, their broadcast is tops for TV viewing in the Bay Area. But the station showed a woeful lack of transparency in that it didn’t explain the internal processes that led to the mistake. It just fired the people responsible. Perhaps the structure or workflows of the organization were at least partially to blame.

The point is, we don’t know and we won’t know. Once again a news organization denies the community a level of transparency it would certainly demand from a public agency it covers.

Such errors are painful, for the reporter, the broadcaster, the editors, the whole staff. But just like anything, when you get over the initial embarrassment and deal with the issue and engage with the community about what happened, it’s a real opportunity to build an even deeper connection and understanding. 

We owe that to the people we cover if we expect to be relevant and credible. Otherwise, we’re merely pushers of content and visitors in their lives. We need to be more than that.

Feel it.

St. Louis merger: Designing a news organization to grow community connections | RJI

Great to see news organizations embracing engagement and taking the time to explore how best to do it.

// Reporter volunteers with Oakland Voices to train residents to tell stories//


Oakland Tribune Breaking News Reporter Kristin Bender has been a strong supporter of the Oakland Voices community storytelling project. Want to know why? CLICK HERE

Oakland Voices mixer.

Oakland Voices mixer.

@thomas_peele speaks to a packed house @sjsu about accessing public records. Students and residents in attendance.

@thomas_peele speaks to a packed house @sjsu about accessing public records. Students and residents in attendance.

The iChicken

Just in time for the Holidays!

// MoJoing with the 49ers//

The MoJo Lab hit the street on Oct. 6, making an appearance at the San Francisco 49ers game. We talked to fans about the “Farewell Season,” and asked them to recall their most memorable moments at Candlestick Park.

We got some excellent Touts and mixed reactions about the team’s impending move to Santa Clara. A good number of fans who said they’d been going to games since the 1970s and 1980s lamented they won’t be joining the Niners in their new stadium next year. Whether due to cost, distance or commitment to tradition, the new stadium will be without some folks who represent the heart, soul and history of the Niners. What will this mean? We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Click on these photos to hear from the fans!


Fans sound off about their memories and the end of an era.


The Grand Plaza 


Niners fans begin streaming in to the Grand Plaza at Candlestick Park Oct. 6. This is a view from atop MoJo.

Neighborhood fans


This fan grew up just blocks from Candlestick Park. 

A relic? Or a treasure?


Security awaits the rush of fans coming for the Oct. 6 Houston Texas game. 

History for sale

imageThe commemorative cup being sold to fans. 

// Inaugural Smartphones Class a BIG hit//

On Oct. 7, San Jose Mercury News Technology Columnist Troy Wolverton jumped into the fray once again with BANG’s new Smartphones 101 class, held in the video conference room at the Merc. The class filed up during the registration period with the speed of Prince tickets going on sale. Despite the fact Troy wasn’t singing “Purple Rain” he still managed to capture the full attention of this 18 person class. 

As with the Tablets 101 class, Troy had very good visual presentation showing folks phones available on various platforms. He talked about price, functionality and went over the difference between the Android, Windows, Blackberry and Apple environments, apps and the like.


Troy Wolverton didn’t get out of the Merc until 8:25 p.m. because attendees cornered him with dozens of questions after class. He graciously answered them all. I left.

Analytics: How do we know engagement works?

In our exit survey asking folks how they felt about the class, again Troy got high marks. The most important question in the survey was answered unanimously. 

Question #6: If you were taking this class to help decide which smartphone is right for you, did you leave the class feeling confident you could make the right choice? 


Yes 100.0% 

No 0.0% 

The microphone drops, Wolverton struts off-stage, curtain closes. The encore is Oct. 21 when we hold the next Smartphones class at the Tribune. Click here to register

// Engagement going on at BANG//

In case you haven’t heard, Bay Area News Group journalists have  become quite the community resource. Known for their prowess in print and online, Thomas Peele, George Kelly and Troy Wolverton have been teaching outstanding classes on accessing public records, how to blog and use social networks, and tips on what to consider when buying or using a tablet.

Not necessarily known for his cheery bedside manner, Bay Area News Group Investigative Reporter and author Thomas Peele actually does a very nice job connecting with humans. If you’ve ever heard him on the phone demanding documents from government agencies, you’d think he was, well, unpleasant. When in fact, he has a real passion and deep knowledge of this issue and enjoys sharing this vital information with the community. Thomas talked about the lack of privacy in our world today, and how most folks would recoil if they realized just how much personal information could be found about them and their lives by doing just a little digging. He also explained the approach to requesting documents and provided attendees with an understanding of what to expect when dealing with a public agency. 


Tom Peele speaks to a gathering of Contra Costa Times readers Sept. 18

The same goes for Bay Area News Group Online Coordinator George Kelly, who has vast knowledge of blogging platforms and advised would-be bloggers on what to consider before entering the digital fray. “What are you going to be about on the web?” Kelly asked at a recent class at the Contra Costa Times. If your blog is full of mean people saying mean things (he actually used more colorful language), “it’s your fault.” Kelly was stressing the need for civility in the digital public square, as well as accountablility. Your blog is your responsibility, he said. Don’t let it be hijacked.


George Kelly explains blogs and blogging platforms to a full house at a recent “Blogging for Beginners” class in Walnut Creek. 

Tablets: You know you love them!

Then there is the always informative and smooth Troy Wolverton, the well-known San Jose Mercury News technology columnist. Troy helped explain the world of tablets to some that already have devices and others planning to make a purchase. So far, his classes have been among the most attended and we’re moving on to smartphones next. Troy talked about functionality, price and usage, explaining that some folks think they want a tablet, when it fact, they might be better served by investing in a laptop. Tablets are great for curling up on the couch and surfing the web, using apps, reading email or watching movies. If you want to do a bunch of typing or production work, you are better served getting a laptop or desktop, Wolverton says.


Troy Wolverton speaks to a class of more than 30 people inside Room 202 at the Contra Costa Times.

The Feedback

So far, the feedback on these classes has been very positive and in September alone, we had more than 100 people participate in Oakland, San Jose and Walnut Creek. More classes are set for this month and through December. Thanks again to Troy, Tom and George. You are providing an outstanding service to the community. This work is about recasting and expanding our role in the communities we cover. It is clearly having an impact.

According to the exit surveys we’ve conducted, more than 90 percent of respondents said the classes were worthwhile and engaging, that they are a great way to connect to the community, and close to 80 percent said it would make them more likely to remain engaged with the organization in the future.

At a time when we need to go beyond just the journalism we do to define ourselves and who we are to the communities we cover, these classes are an effective means to do just that. 

Feedback from one Access to Public Records survey respondent:

"I particularly liked the excellent handout which was well written. I found Tom Peele very articulate and interesting, providing insight into his experience with various agencies. I would enjoy learning about net research that your journalists find worthwhile. I would also be interested in a discussion of the following subjects (certainly, not in one class!): First Amendment issues (current controversies, common problems re. privacy of sources or subjects) and ethical issues in current journalism (again, a mini-review, with an emphasis on current controversies as illustrations). I would also like to understand how letters to the editor are selected, because they often reflect a narrow point of view."

Good stuff!

The Marin IJ’s Dan Allen atop MoJo.

The Marin IJ’s Dan Allen atop MoJo.

Martin G. Reynolds is senior editor for community engagement for Bay Area News Group and Digital First Media's Western Region. This blog will chronicle engagement efforts and other topics of interest.