3 to read: Reporting a timeline, pixel by pixel | Cool dataviz: ‘You draw it’ | Millennials *will* pay for news

By Matt Carroll <@MattCData>

Oct. 28, 2017: Cool stuff about journalism, once a week. Get notified via email? Subscribe: 3toread (at) gmail. Originally published on 3toread.co

  1. The Las Vegas shooting: How to report a timeline, pixel by pixel: In a series of tweets, Malachy Browne, a producer in the NYT’s video unit, basically conducts a master class on how to build a complicated timeline by combining a number of video clips. It’s a fascinating tweet stream. (Click on the tweet linked in the story to see all the tweets.) It’s a great learning experience, even for experienced reporters.

Logo by Leigh Carroll (Instagram: @Leighzaah

2. Simply, a cool NYT dataviz: ‘You draw it’: Another great example from the NYT, which continues to do top-notch data viz. “You draw it: Just how bad is the drug overdose epidemic?” informs, while providing (grim) information about how Americans have died over the past few decades in everything from car crashes to opioids. (Check out the crazy AIDS timeline.) Kudos to their graphics team and Josh Katz, who did this one.

3. Maybe the apocalypse isn’t *that* close: Millennials are paying for news: The commonly accepted wisdom is that millennials won’t crack open their wallets for news. Maybe that needs a digital update. Millennials — in increasing numbers — are paying, according to an impressive collection of publications: The Atlantic, NYT, WaPo, WSJ, and the Economist, among others. Driving the surge? Millennials are getting used to paying for digital content through sites such as Netflix, while the “Trump bump” gets some credit too.

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Cool upcoming event:


Is Trump Making Investigative Reporting Great Again?

When: Fri. Nov. 17

Where: Cabral Center, O’Bryant African-American Institute

40 Leon St., Northeastern University, Boston

Cost: Free

Register: bit.ly/NUtrumpreport

Keynote speakers: Louise Kiernan, editor in chief, ProPublica Illinois & Eric Umansky, deputy managing editor, Pro Publica


  • Is there a market for investigative reporting? (Tom Melville, WBUR; Anne Galloway, VTDigger; Burt Glass, NECIR; David Hurlburt, WCVB)  
  • Tips techniques and tales from investigative reporters (Mike Rezendes, Boston Globe; David Armstrong, StatNews; Casey McDermott, NH Public Radio; Mike Morisy, MuckRock)



  • Get notified via email: Send a note to 3toread (at) gmail.com

Matt Carroll teaches journalism at Northeastern University.


Visit to China: Opening their homes, hearts, and worlds to each other

Summer Palace, Beijing

By Matt Carroll & Elaine Cushman Carroll

This story originally appeared in the Boston Globe on Oct. 20, 2017.

It was the offer of a lifetime: Did we want to tour China for two weeks with a Chinese family that we know? We took a nanosecond to consider: Yes, absolutely.

Elaine & Grace on the Great Wall.

Since eighth grade, our “niece” Grace had navigated her way through a local school, figuring out learning with mostly American peers, doing homework in English, communicating in English.

For the past four years she had lived in our very American home. We were able to watch her grow and she shared her culture with us in small ways. Quiet and determined, we knew she had spunk. We were happy the first time she rolled her eyes at a corny statement and when she teased one of us.

It was an easy decision. We knew Grace well and had met her mom Qi when she had visited. We knew we would be in caring and extremely competent hands.

But the tables were turned. The trip Qi and Grace planned was ambitious and gracious. It was designed to introduce us to as many cultural and historical highlights of a country that has about 2,500 more years of recorded history than our own. Not for the faint of heart, we would be crisscrossing the country, from Beijing in the north, to Xi’an in the center, and to Hangzhou in the south, with a lot of side trips.

Summer Palace, Beijing
It’s the rough US equivalent of traveling from New York to Chicago to Atlanta. That’s not a ridiculous amount of travel over 14 days. What made it challenging was the daily itinerary — from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., we were on the move. Historic sites by the bushel, shopping, gardens, museums, tea farms, and of course restaurants. We walked everyday. And walked some more. We saw and experienced as much as we could every day.

We had concerns before we left. There’s the language barrier. Matt’s Chinese language “skills” are limited. Let’s just say he aspires to one day reach a “Dick and Jane” level. Elaine spoke no Chinese. And the food. We both like Chinese food in America, but knew from Grace’s cooking that the food in China would be very different. Lastly, we were concerned about the weather. Everyone we knew who’d been to China in summer shook their head and muttered: “Hot. Very hot.”

All dressed up in traditional clothes

We needn’t have worried. We managed with the little Chinese we knew, and younger Chinese people have taken English in school, so we could go to a store and manage to buy a drink or a snack. We never had to order (Grace and Qi handled that) and the food in restaurants was delicious, if sometimes odd looking to American eyes. (The fried fish looked, um, very fishy. Chickens were served with the heads still attached.)

One night I said to Elaine over dinner, “Best food yet.” She said, “That’s the third straight night you’ve said that.” And the heat? Beijing was a little cooler than normal, meaning under 100, but for the second half of the the trip the temps were well above 100 degrees every day, with high humidity. We used umbrellas for sun, hats, and resigned ourselves to sweating.

The trip was exhilarating, if exhausting. “China is not for wimps,” said Elaine.

Going with a family made all the difference. Grace and Qi smoothed out the rough spots, from buying tickets to arranging transportation, from picking restaurants to helping us jaywalk across six lanes of insane city traffic. (Think Boston traffic is bad? It’s kindergarten compared with Beijing.)

Terra cotta warriors in Xi’an

We have a million thoughts and memories about the trip, but three main takeaways: the ever-present, almost intimidating weight of thousands of years of history; the delicious and amazingly varied cuisines, as we traveled from spicy and hot north to the sweeter south; and the incredible energy of the people, whose cities are growing at an astounding rate.

History is everywhere in China, and can be a little daunting. Coming from a country that was founded less than 400 years ago, it’s humbling to realize China has been civilized for 3,000 years.

We visited many of the standard tourist icons, such as the amazing Great Wall, but also spent time visiting other places that are less well known, if still impressive in their own ways, such as “The Garden of the Humble Administrator” in Suzhou.

Tea farmers in Hanzhou

And for every place that drew massive, expected crowds, such as the Forbidden Palace City in Beijing, we walked through beautiful tea farms near the famous city of Hanzhou, where we were alone except for a handful of farmers in the fields. Layers of bright green tea plants spread over gently rolling fields and up and down small hills.

We spent a delightful couple of hours wandering down dirt roads threading past the neat rows of tea bushes that went on for miles. In a village, we were seated on a patio under the shade of a massive tree. Even though it was over 100 degrees we were served superb green tea in tall clear glasses, and watched the tea leaves drift up and down each time our glass was refreshed with hot water. A dish of striped sunflower seeds and a cool breeze completed the treat.

A meal at a country style restaurant followed with deep flavors of a dish that featured bamboo shoots, and others with fresh vegetables and tender meats. Outside, the staff was making homemade dumplings.

Washing beside a canal

Grace had always enjoyed our huge extended families, and family is deeply valued in China as well. At restaurants, it was common to see three generations sitting together — grandparents, parents, and their children. We had a four-generation meal with Grace’s extended family.

We were treated to a Beijing’s best regional dishes, all selected by her father, chatting with everyone from her grandmother to the youngest member of the family, Kaka, a bright, active 2-year-old. We never ordered at any meal, but always found the food amazing. Grace, who understands food and knew what we would be likely to enjoy and would warn us if she thought it would be out of our comfort zone.

Shopping was interesting. There are the regular malls, just like in the United States. But there are thousands upon thousands of small shops, some only the size of a walk-in closet.

In Beijing and Shanghai, we visited old shopping areas filled with these shops, where you could buy everything from silver bracelets made in front of you to candy, also made in front of you, and sometimes twisted amusingly into animal shapes. In the malls, the prices are fixed. In the small shops, it pays to have skilled negotiators like Qi and Grace.

The beautifully narrow streets of ancient Wuzhou

Qi told us in before shopping: “Don’t buy anything. Let us handle it.” And they did. Elaine wanted to buy a silk robe in a Silk Street shop in Beijing. Asking price: about $200.

Qi and Grace took over. They kept shaking their heads at the clerk and walking away. The clerk kept dropping the price. Finally, after many back and forths, they arrived at a final price: About $80.

The clerk was smiling but pointed as she beautifully wrapped the item. “You are lucky you have one tough Chinese momma with you,” she said. We smiled and said, yes, isn’t she amazing?

We had no issues traveling in a Communist country. But we didn’t forget where we were either. Each time we checked into a hotel or bought train tickets, we had to show our passport so they could register our names.

A garden in Hanzhou

Some popular American websites are blocked by the Chinese government — for instance, The New York Times, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. (Although I did get an occasional dump of Gmail, somehow) On the other hand, we had no trouble visiting the sites of the Globe or the Washington Post.

Traveling was an adventure. Traffic in the cities can be a nightmare. Beijing has a population of better than 20 million. Think about it: That’s triple the population of Massachusetts — in one city. And Beijing is only the third largest city in the country.

One of the many small shops in Shanghai

Most of that population seemed to be on the road, all the time, in cars, three-wheelers, bicycles, and scooters or motorcycles. The roads are intense. Drivers weaved from one lane to the next, cutting one another off, one hand peppering the horn. Turn signals are an urban legend.

We took a high-speed “bullet” train from Beijing to Xi’an. The dramatic change in scenery was interesting and very different from the East Coast, at least from what we saw. Beijing didn’t seem to have much in the way of suburbs. Rather than a gradual turn from big city to suburbs to rural, Beijing’s big buildings just seemed to end abruptly and turn into farmland as far as the horizon.

The people were wonderful and friendly. People asked to have their pictures taken with us. Children especially wanted to practice English speaking with us. We always made friends whenever we were standing in line.

We only had one complaint — we left too soon. Two weeks goes by fast. We’re looking forward to our next trip.

Grace, Qi, and Elaine with flower bracelets

Matt Carroll is a journalism professor at Northeastern University in Boston. Twitter: @MattCData. All photos copyright by Matt Carroll

3 to read: Power & peril of personalization | The 140-character prez | Why Facebook can’t make you money

By Matt Carroll <@MattCData>

Oct. 21, 2017: Cool stuff about journalism, once a week. Get notified via email? Subscribe: 3toread (at) gmail. 

  1. The power — & peril — of personalizing the news: Algorithms have the power to connect people to the news they care about most. Or to create filter bubbles so they are rarely exposed to different viewpoints. Yet there is no turning back — algorithms are a major tool in newsrooms’ arsenal of engagement tools. A nuanced look at personalized news by Adrienne LaFrance for Niemen Reports.

2. The legal & ethical questions surrounding the 140-character president: Donald Trump’s controversial use of Twitter is well known. He’s also breaking new ground through his use of a new medium, as presidents Roosevelt (radio) and Kennedy (TV) did before him. Mathew Ingram of CJR takes a thoughtful look at the implications, legal and ethical, of what happens when the president stirs the pot in 140-character bursts. A good read.

3. Q: Can newsrooms use Facebook to make money?

A: ‘Not really.”

Ouch. Jennifer Brandel of Hearken writes a searing takedown of why Facebook is such a bad deal for newsrooms, for instance: posting and writing for the platform is a massive time sink, FB owns the relationship with your readers, and finally, the return on investment is low. Jennifer is not a disinterested party here. Hearken has its own engagement software. But she has a point and it’s an interesting read, especially if you are sick of Facebook and are looking for an alternative.

Extra credit: A ‘wayback machine’ report: Inside Jimmy Breslin’s feud with the NY Post: Jimmy Breslin was the kind of larger-than-life character who was meant to flourish in New York. He might be best known as a columnist for the NY Daily News, where he won a Pulitzer. But he also worked for the NY Post for a couple of years — and he bore that publication a special, inflammatory grudge that lasted decades. For those with a taste for news history, here’s a fascinating, insider view of that rift through the eyes of Howard V. Sann for CJR.

  • Get notified via email: Send a note to 3toread (at) gmail.com

Matt Carroll teaches journalism at Northeastern University.

3 to read: Gamifying Facebook’s ‘hate speech’ | Kill comments? No way | Soul-destroying platforms

By Matt Carroll <@MattCData>

Oct. 14, 2017: Cool stuff about journalism, once a week. Get notified via email? Subscribe: 3toread (at) gmail. Originally published on 3toread.co

  1. Gamifying the decision process: What does Facebook consider ‘hate speech’?: The NYT created a wonderful quiz, which illustrates how Facebook decides what is or is not hate speech — and I guarantee Facebook’s reasoning will leave you shaking your head. But it also shows how creating a game can frame an issue far more effectively than a text story. Check it out, not just because of what it shows about Facebook’s sometimes bizarre reasoning, but because it’s a marvelous use of gamification.

2. Actually, do read the comments — they can be the best part: Andrew Losowsky of Mozilla’s Coral Project argues (convincingly) that newsrooms which drop comments are shortsighted. Yes, trolls require a lot of time to police. But civil commenters are your most engaged readers. Why close comments and let social media reap the benefit by exiling that wonderful community? Newsrooms need to do a lot more to build community, not destroy it. A good read.

3. Oh joy: How platforms are eating the souls of newsrooms: Franklin Foer, former editor of the New Republic, argues that the very identity of newsrooms is being destroyed by the platforms they embrace to drive traffic. It’s an interesting thought. Foer has some has serious cred on the topic because he was brought into The New Republic by a billionaire co-founder of Facebook. But heady early days turned into nightmares. Foer argues that the creative force of magazine was blunted by a stultifying embrace of data and algorithms. An Q&A with Hope Reese of NiemanLab.

Bonus: Facebook’s blind tinkering with democracy: Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal’s terrifying yet thoughtful take on Facebook’s effect on democracy. A chilling read.

  • Get notified via email: Send a note to 3toread (at) gmail.com

Matt Carroll teaches journalism at Northeastern University.