Editor’s Note: Years ago, City Paper readers were kept abreast of local broadcast-news happenings (mainly the screw-ups and questionable news judgment) in a column called This Just In. As the face of news dissemination changed, CP dropped the column. In hindsight, the column should have changed with it, because there’s still a need to cover media in this region. So we’re bringing it back on a monthly basis. And while we’ll still be looking at TV news, we’ll also be critiquing and reporting on news covered in online formats like blogs, podcasts and social media.
Five Reasons Why Pitt NewsCastic is Not News
Of all the listicle sites based either in Pittsburgh or with Pittsburgh outlets, NewsCastic has the distinction of being the most heinous. The national brand, headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M., distributes “news” almost exclusively through social media. Its Pittsburgh page, Pitt NewsCastic, has almost 10K “likes.”
“You like awesome stories about Pittsburgh? So do we.” I’m taking that as an admission the NewsCastic reads CP.
Enjoy this piece of pie in the sky from its website:
Our goal at NewsCastic is to redefine the economics of local news. Stories about our neighbors, our kids’ schools, our town halls connect us as a community and we’re losing the storytellers of our communities with every journalist who exits the industry.
We know that’s a huge undertaking but we’re confident we can make local news better for everyone — users, businesses and advertisers, and journalists. We know journalists are passionate about telling the stories of their communities and so are we.
The three founders hope to save journalism by posting “stories” with epic headlines like “9 Pittsburgh Restaurants You Would Order From When You’re Hungover.” You can almost smell the passion the writer most assuredly sweats as his or her fingertips dances on the keyboard by starlight to create lyrical, inspirational, community-building passages like, “Hungover? why not head over to Big Jim’s and order a big tasty burger to help sober you up.” [sic] Also, “Chicken and Waffles are my go to meal before and after a day of drinking.” [sic]
I asked Christopher Ortiz, one of the site’s fabled founders, why its writers don’t use names (just “handles”) or publish contact information. “We have a policy of not giving out our writer information. If you’d like to contact an individual writer, we can forward your information to that writer.”
Can you forward them a style guide while you’re at it?
So, why should you not bother reading Pitt NewsCastic? Here’s a list.
- Lists are not stories. These lists are also worn like brake pads on a car owned by someone who lives on Rialto Street, after a long winter.
- You’re placing your trust in “The Irish Writer.” Who recently wrote a story about the worst tragedies that happened in “the Burgh,” and the first item on the list was “Duffy’s Cut,” an incident that, while tragic, happened 30 miles west of Philly.
- A “journalist” gets $10-15 dollars for hundreds of shares, and only $25-30 for hundreds of thousands of shares.
- NewsCastic doesn’t list who it is. Granted, it was an easy Google search, but still. Ortiz told me, “We don’t have our team contact specifically listed. That’s an oversight.” I suppose we’ll have to settle for “unspecifically listed.”
- Its motto is “stories connect us.” Unfortunately, that lofty mission statement doesn’t align with what the site actually does, which is providing lists for you to share ad nauseam so that it can make money. That’s probably its most grievous offense. If NewsCastic would just be honest about why it’s doing this … but who needs honesty, when you can have LISTS?
Will Reynolds Young, a Pittsburgh social-media professional and co-founder of Pittsburgh Tweetup, said, “Their model isn’t a reasonable pay scale at all for writers. It needs to be a win-win-win for site, advertiser, writer. It’s not.”
Remember, only YOU can prevent listicles. So STOP SHARING THEM!
“ONLY ON (FILL IN YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL TV NEWS CHANNEL HERE)!”
One of the boldest maneuvers of the local TV reporter is when they go all Kolchak, The Porch Stalker and knock on the doors of people who’ve allegedly committed a crime to ask for their side of the story. I often wonder why anyone — especially someone who is proven guilty later —would answer that door. A recent WPXI story featured door-knocking. Joe Holden approached the now-erstwhile mayor of Avonmore, who was accused of stealing $50 from a man’s wallet in a Dollar General store. (According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, she resigned a few days later, citing “family health issues.”)
I wanted to give a local TV reporter an opportunity to tell his side of the story. So I contacted Holden, who remarked candidly that while this is not the favorite part of this job, he considers it an important part of newsgathering, and emphasized that he follows an ethical process. “I’ve seen a lot of valid criticism of this practice, and admittedly, a lot of reporters do it for fanfare and for sparks,” he said. “This portrays all of us in an unflattering light.”
“Despite what many assume, a door-knock is not an ambush attempt. When I’m at somebody’s door, my [microphone] is visible, my photographer is with me, and I’m wearing my station identification. It is a genuine attempt to speak with that person and get their side of the story. As a rule, I rarely knock on the door of a grieving family. We realize that we have to approach people who may be at their lowest moment and we — myself and the photographer — want to do that respectfully,” said Holden. He admits it can also be risky business: “My pulse is racing in the moments before I knock. You never know what’s on the other side of that door.”
He’s right. Last year, a Houston TV station created a no-door-knocking policy after a gun was pulled on a reporter. The bottom line, Holden iterated, is that “it’s someone’s right not to answer. If people don’t want to talk, we leave.”
Remember that, folks.