I am Mike Wilson, editor of The Dallas Morning News, a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting -- AMA!
Hi, I’m Mike Wilson, editor of The Dallas Morning News. Ask me anything.
UPDATE: That's all, everybody! Thanks so much for joining in and asking your questions. If you like what we do, you can subscribe to The Dallas Morning News for as low as $1.75/week as part of the 175 years celebration of A.H. Belo. Join us this Friday at 10:30 a.m. CST for an AMA with publisher Jim Moroney.
UPDATE: Mike is at his desk and ready to go.
I’ll be answering questions for about an hour beginning at 2:45 p.m. CT.
Our staff at The Dallas Morning News was recently named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting for coverage of the ambush on police in downtown Dallas last July.
Our coverage: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/dallas-ambush/collection/coverage-dallas-police-ambush-named-pulitzer-prize-finalist
We’re also celebrating 175 years of our parent company, A.H. Belo and bringing news to Texas.
Thanks for the question! It's a good one. Around here, we're always saying it's more important to be right than to be first. I don't think the audience is giving us much credit for having a story 90 seconds before the competition. I think the media organizations that endure will be the ones people can trust.
What's it like covering a story with national news interest, such as the Dallas ambush, where you're responsible for informing both the residents of your city and the greater public?
It's a huge responsibility. That night was really challenging because there was so much confusion and so little was clear. We tried to be open about what we knew and didn't know at any given time. We were very, very careful not to announce deaths or injuries until they were confirmed. Your first responsibility is always to the audience, but you can't forget about the families of the people involved.
Good afternoon Mike!
I am a social studies teacher in the DFW metroplex that has lived here since July of last year. I want to compliment you guys on some awesome reporting!
I actually have a question in regards to political reporting. Many of the mainstream news media outlets, like CNN, tend to treat reports on politics how one would expect ESPN to report on sports teams and certain player coverage. Could you talk a little about some of the thought process that goes into reporting political news in general? For instance I have been reading with great interest the Ken Paxton case and I would like to know what goes into reporting that kind of thing.
Great question, and thanks for being a social studies teacher. You are doing hugely important work.
I consider myself lucky that I don't live with the cable TV news imperative to always say SOMETHING about politics even when there's nothing to say. I like print/digital journalism because we can be a little more careful about choosing which stories to do. We try to stay away from stuff that's purely political and report on the implications of what's happening in politics and government. Todd Gillman in Washington and Brandi Grissom in Austin lead teams that do this pretty well.
How do you justify the "recommended by Outbrain" clickbait trash articles that are mixed up with legit content on the mobile app?
I like this question. Recently we moved away from Outbrain and started using a new service called Aggrego. It delivers news from sources around the country that we think readers might be interested in. The challenge continues to be filtering the content so it meets our standards. If you see stuff on our site that doesn't seem worthy of dallasnews.com, email me.
Storytelling is an art and you/ the team seem to be doing something special. The format of the article is really impressive -- the moving timeline + map as you read through the article; multi-media layered in, etc. It's the first time I've seen something like this. Did the team come up with this format? More broadly -- how does the team usually think about framing a breaking news event?
A few years ago, the New York Times made a big splash with a story called "Snowfall." It was one of the first major media stories that used rich media in a comprehensive and interesting way. We all saw how well readers responded and starting building interactive displays for our stories. Now we have a content management system that allows us to make them pretty easily. Glad you like them!
Where do you see the news going in the next few years?
There are a couple of things going on right now. There's a trend toward people just wanting to see news that justifies or supports their worldview. Others are demanding honest, in-depth reporting from journalists because they distrust the government's or establishment's view of things. I believe the need for objective truth will always win out in the end.
what's the weirdest instance of reporter intimidation you've seen by a political official or law enforcement (or anyone else)?
I had a publicist for a well known musician scream at me because she resented something we wrote in advance of his Dallas concert. Her problem was she thought we were exploiting him. I was thinking -- Wait, I thought you said you were a publicist.
What was the most-read story on DallasNews.com last year?
In this digital content news economy, how do you balance a need for clicks/page views with a need for high-quality journalism? Does the subscription model change this? How is an individual journalist at the Morning News judged and evaluted? By the quantity of their clicks or the content of their reporting?
The most-read story last year was kind of a random one: https://www.dallasnews.com/news/news/2016/01/11/mark-cubans-tips-for-eventual-winner-of-the-1-4-billion-or-more-powerball-jackpot
To your larger question, we don't judge our journalists purely on the number of clicks they get. We have a series of metrics we look at that rewards journalists not just for getting clicks, but for getting local, loyal readers. Readers of clickbait stories tend to read one thing and move on. We're trying to publish stuff that will make people loyal readers.
The news media has been in decline for several years, even though everyone recognizes its importance. How do we keep organizations that perform investigative journalism alive and thriving in the age of click-bait and fake news? Is the problem a changing audience? The media's failure to adapt to a new ecosystem? Both?
I'm being a little cheeky there, but seriously, the most important thing anyone can do is support local journalism. Doesn't have to be the DMN, but please give your support to good local reporting.
I guess maybe I should reframe my question: given that people support journalism as a concept but have been increasingly unwilling to support journalistic organizations financially (especially as the public's appetite for print media has increasingly been replaced by the availability and timeliness of online articles), how can news organizations get the support they need to survive?
Your response almost suggests that we should start treating subscriptions to news services like charitable donations. "You don't have to give us your money, but you should if you like the work that we do. We could put up a paywall, but then you'd probably just get your news elsewhere, but please don't and just support us cause we're good at what we do."
Considering how a different newspaper seems to go bankrupt every other month, do you honestly think just directing people to the subscription link is a sustainable solution? Certainly something needs to change, but I can't imagine what.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the follow-up. Our site is now metered, so at a certain point every reader is asked to subscribe in order to keep reading. I think local journalism has value, and we need income to keep providing that information. So I'm encouraging people to subscribe rather than assuming they should get valuable information for free -- an assumption my industry unfortunately encouraged for a long time.
What is the sentiment in the newsroom about the design of the DMN moving to Austin?
It's a tough thing. We know our partner in Austin will do good work, but nobody likes the fact that it means fewer jobs in our newsroom.
What's the biggest under-reported story in Dallas?
Not sure it's underreported, but I'll go with: income inequality.
How much longer will there be a print edition? The only people I see reading dead trees these days are 60+.
As far into the future as I can see.
Thank for doing this AMA, how can we help people connect around community government the way they do around local sports?
This is a good question. We're developing Facebook groups around subjects of interest right now. Do you think a community government group would catch on if we posted links there and spent some time chatting with folks?
What do you make of this period of economic growth in Dallas and the hotly-debated housing market? Do you believe the net migration to the area will continue unabated or taper soon?
I'm far from an expert on this, but I've interviewed one. I asked this very question to Dallas Fed Chairman Rob Kaplan a while back. He is optimistic about economic growth here and thinks people will keep moving in. One of his concerns: Finding qualified workers to keep fueling the growth. https://www.dallasnews.com/business/jobs/2017/01/12/dallas-fed-chief-talk-trump-says-immigration-crucial-economy
What the hell'll happen to the Stone of Truth? That whole building? Aren't you nerds shrugging that thing off for some cheap space?
First, nerds is a fair description. We're honored.
The future of the Rock of Truth is uncertain. The space we're moving to is beautiful but not cheap. Some version or iteration of the Rock of Truth will be a part of our new digs.
Competing against all other Dallas area journalist/media personalities (TV, radio, or print), which Dallas area journalist/media personality would win in a:
Dallas-centric game of Charades?
Footrace: Meredith Land looks like she'd be good competition in a 40-yard dash.
Hot-dog eating contest: I'm going with DMN Watchdog Dave Lieber, though that's cannibalism.
Charades: Our own Robert Wilonsky. He's always acting out his feelings about Dallas.
I forgot what the company wide email last week said, where do we go to get the $10 bounty for posting a softball question?
My office, of course.
Hey Mike! A local here. Thank you for your work! What's been your experience with balancing the news-related management of a politically-divided area? It's my understanding that Dallas proper tends to go blue, while the surrounding areas tend to go red (feel free to correct me). Does that make writing for your respective audience more difficult? more interesting? Would you say this DFW-trait necessitates more politically-balanced reporting than we see from national news networks?
Yes, it's very interesting to be in a blue city but a mostly red region. People's political views are definitely reflected in the way they respond to news. But we can't and don't tailor the coverage to either camp.
How do you overcome your personal bias to report the news fairly?
I try to remember that nobody cares what my view is and that it's irrelevant to the story.
175 years! How does the length of the company's tenure impact your business & day to day?
It's kind of cool to work for a company that was founded when Texas was still a republic. The biggest effect on us is probably just the pride we take in having lasted this long and in being trusted by a bunch of people. That's a privilege, not a right.
I'm currently working as a production assistant at a Memphis station and working to finish my degree. What can I do to look more appealing to employers if I'm aiming to become a reporter?
The most important thing is to have work you can show -- written stories if you're a writer, packages if you're a broadcaster. I always appreciate a well written letter from a job candidate. Writing is important to me no matter what job I'm hiring for.
What story are you most proud of and why?
Can't single one out. Last year, Miles Moffeit reported on how investors were buying rural hospitals and running them into the ground, to the detriment of their communities. That was really strong reporting. More recently, Tristan Hallman has been reporting on the Police and Fire Pension Fund crisis in Dallas, a story with huge implications for the city's future. Really important work. Dianne Solis has provided very strong coverage of the housing situation in West Dallas, which is changing fast and threatens some communities there.
Is Dallasnews.com ever going to get rid of the stupid paywall? I and a lot of other users on /r/dallas no longer click on dallasnews links because of it.
I don't see it happening. It costs money to report the news, and this is a business, so we charge for the product we put out.
Be real, how much did it suck talking to people who cancelled their subscriptions because the editorial board endorsed Clinton? Has there been any discussion of a disclaimer on every editorial that explains the function of an editorial and its separation from the paper's news reporting?
It's painful to talk to somebody who's canceling, especially if the person has been a subscriber for a long time. Re the second part of your question, we actually have plans to communicate with readers much more about the different parts of our paper and how they interact. Stay tuned for that.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you got into the business?
Being a journalist is an incredible learning experience because of all the ideas and people one is exposed to. I wish I'd known how much this work would blow my mind.
The phrase "Breaking News" is, to me, all but devoid of any meaning anymore. What will be the next ubiquitously empty phrase to take its place?
"Red Sox win," I hope
Hi, Mike. I actually work for you as a colleges blogger on the sports desk. Thanks for doing this AMA. Where did the idea of implementing a CMS designed specifically for TDMN come from and how has it changed the newsroom in its first couple years?
The idea to build own CMS was driven by our chief digital officer, Nicki Purcell. It has totally transformed our newsroom, I'd say. We can tell stories much more easily and richly than we could with our old technology.
I've gone from a 7-day-a-week DMN subscriber to a Sunday-only subscriber. I haven't missed the paper, quite frankly. Why should I go back to printed media?
Maybe the Sunday paper is the only one you really need. If you combined that with a digital subscription so you could check headlines and keep up with the news during what I assume is a busy work week, I think you could stay pretty well informed. Thanks for being a Sunday subscriber!
That's a fine answer, but my real question is: what am I missing by not reading the physical paper? The comics are what I actually miss the most. What else am I missing?
Hard to say what you'd miss, but I can tell you that if I didn't get the paper, I'd miss the enjoyment of just turning the pages and seeing what's there. I also appreciate the fact that the newspaper is carefully curated -- that is, somebody actually thought about which stories should go on which pages. Readers can always disagree with the editors' choices, but to me, that's part of the enjoyment.
Many of my letters to the editor see print. Does the DMN keep track of letter views? Could someone transition from a letter writer to a columnist?
Yes, we keep track of everything, so we know which letters get seen the most. I suppose a letter writer could become a columnist if the letter writer knocked our socks off with a proposal to become one. I wear very high, very tight-fitting socks.
What are some examples of stories that readers can get from The Dallas Morning News that they can't find elsewhere? Why subscribe?
Here's one example: Last year we reported that CPS wasn't checking in on vulnerable kids in a timely way. One child was beaten to death in the interim. After we did our reporting, the state moved to hire more workers and give raises to the ones it has. You should subscribe so you'll know what the government is and isn't doing with your tax money. I'll be back in a minute with 1,000 other examples.
Why does your newspaper refuse to use the term "illegal alien" and instead just says "immigrant. And as a followup question do you feel that is a slap in the face to the millions of people who were patient and immigrated into the country legally?
First, no person is illegal. He or she may have done something against the law, but we're not going to call a person illegal. Second, "alien" makes it sound like the person is from another planet, so we avoid that word. If we know a person is here without documentation, we say he or she is an "undocumented immigrant." Finally, if the person has been judged by a court to be in the country illegally, we report that.
Did you take that picture yesterday?
The proof photo, yes! We had to prep in advance. The update post is from today and you can see the rain has cleared up.
You worked at 538, right? How did Nate Silver (and everybody else) blow it in 2016?
Recommend you ask @natesilver538. I think he'd disagree that he blew it.
Couldn't you have come up with a better name for your dog than Story?
Couldn't you have come up with a better question?
Cats? Or Dogs? Or both?
How do you and the paper navigate the issue of false balance, both in the news department and on the editorial page? (For example, does the DMN really need to give safe harbor to a buffoon like Mark Davis so that it can claim a conservative viewpoint?) There are two sides to every story, sure, but when one side is relying on conspiracy theories and fake news to bolster its case, it seems disingenuous to give both sides equal weight.
It isn't false balance to put a wide variety of opinions on the op-ed page. False balance is when somebody points out the sky is blue, so you report that and then go find somebody who will say it's polka-dotted.
News, especially breaking news, has always been a time sensitive business, probably now more than ever. How can journalists and also consumers ensure that the quality of information does not suffer under increasing pressure to be the first to report on a breaking story? Every time a major story breaks there are so many half-truths and outright speculations out there and I feel like many people have already made up their minds before all relevant facts are known.
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