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Engagement lessons from these two December DFMies

Daily Times staffers involved in the 'Collecting Memories' series. From left are photographer Eric Hartline, Editor Phil Heron, reporter Cindy Scharr, reporter Kathleen Carey, graphic artist Mark Locher, and reporters Jeff Wolfe, Vince Sullivan and Tim Logue.

In the second of a four-part series on December’s DFMie winners, we take a closer look at the winning engagement entries from across Digital First Media. The DFMie winners here include two team wins; one from the Delaware County Daily Times in Pennsylvania and the other from the four Front Range newsrooms in Colorado.

Delaware County Daily Times wins for ‘Collecting Memories’ series

Daily Times staffers involved in the 'Collecting Memories' series. From left are photographer Eric Hartline, Editor Phil Heron, reporter Cindy Scharr, reporter Kathleen Carey, graphic artist Mark Locher, and reporters Jeff Wolfe, Vince Sullivan and Tim Logue.

A memorable series: Daily Times staffers involved in the ‘Collecting Memories’ series. From left are photographer Eric Hartline, Editor Phil Heron, reporter Cindy Scharr, reporter Pattie Mengers, reporter Kathleen Carey, graphic artist Mark Locher, and reporters Jeff Wolfe, Vince Sullivan and Tim Logue.

Facing the annual slow week between the holidays, the Delco Times asked the community on social media to tell about their prized collections. They not only filled the week with engaging content, but they won the DFMie for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/West Virginia cluster. The “Collecting Memories” project provided videos and feature stories about collectors of such things as dolls, Alfred Hitchcock memorabilia and pinball machines.

Judges’ comments on the project:

I commend the Delaware County Daily Times for its work over the Christmas Holiday — a notoriously slow news period. The decision to do a “collecting memories” series was a good one. … The people profiled are quirky folks with good stories. I particularly like the couple with the Alfred Hitchcock obsession. The series has a great use of Tout, and the videos are compelling. Given that these collectors are slightly odd folks, it’s great to be able hear them on video in their own words.

Another judge:

This series featured some nice storytelling — I enjoyed how Tim Logue set up a question about Ed Dougherty’s grandfather in the lede, then answer it in the kicker, just when I thought I might be left hanging. It also made good use of Tout as well as social media to solicit community involvement.

Editor Phil Heron explained the project:

Every year we put our heads together and try to come up with a series to get us through the notoriously slow holiday week.

What we all liked in particular about this year’s project, ‘Collecting Memories,’ is that it allowed us to connect with readers in ways we don’t normally do.

Let’s face it, as a tab we run a lot of crime and other salacious stuff. But at heart we still consider ourselves a community newspaper, telling the stories of everyday people in Delaware County.

It was staff photographer Eric Hartline who suggested taking a look at what people collect. It turned out to be a winner. Most impressive was how the staff took to social media — Twitter and Facebook — to ask people for suggestions. That’s in fact where several of our subjects came from.

Each story was accompanied by photos and a Tout video.

Staff writer Patti Mengers may have summed it up best:

“‘Collecting Memories’ really wasn’t so much about collections as it was about the people behind them. It was a great device for profiling people who might otherwise be overlooked. It is a good illustration of how everyone has a story to tell if asked the right questions.”

Patti’s thoughts were echoed by other staff involved who reveled in these stories of everyday Delaware County readers.

Front Range newsrooms’ holiday lights project

The joint holiday lights project of four Colorado Front Range newsrooms adds the Colorado/Utah DFMie to the winter engagement contest it won earlier.

Aimee Heckel of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Whitney Bryen of the Times-Call in Longmont, Jessica Benes of the Reporter-Herald in Loveland and the David Jennings of the Broomfield Enterprise collaborated on a map and series of stories that showcased the best holiday lights of their region.

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Judges praised the project:

I think the Holiday Lights package was an awesome example of four newsrooms working together to create a great package using social media, video, photos and other digital tools such as the TrackMyTour app. Every year, many reporters do a holiday lights story that they look at as an easy way to fill the paper during a slow news season. This was an awesome, extraordinary package that many readers no doubt found helpful in planning their holiday celebrations. The use of reader-submitted photos was also key in creating a great presentation for online.

Another judge:

The scope of the project is huge and being able to combine multiple papers to cover the county is fantastic.

Aimee Heckel of the Daily Camera, who coordinated the project, explained what she learned along the way:

I learned about the power of collaboration between different newsrooms. By working together alongside journalists who used to be my direct competition, we were all able to join together to raise the bar on digital reporting and provide a much more useful and in-depth service to readers. Alone, this story would have been a fraction of what it became when we collaborated and inspired one another.

This changed how I think about reporting. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I came together again with Whitney Bryen to co-write a narrative about a man who was killed in the Colorado floods. We interviewed different people and wrote the story simultaneously in Google Drive — from different cities. Before, this coverage would have been two separate pieces of the same story, slightly overlapping and passively competitive. Together, we wrote one of the most moving, full-pictured narratives I’ve ever been blessed to byline.

Bottom line: The lessons we learned in our holiday lights coverage are a permanent shift in mindset — one that blows apart limitations and kicks open new doors to creative, cross-city collaboration. Digital defies geography!

Benes added:

Jessica BenesIn the last couple of years, I have learned a lot about the use of digital tools to tell an online story in a creative way. The most important lesson, which was illustrated in this project, is that there is still more to learn through fellow reporters. We all benefited from each others’ knowledge, such as making use of an application like TrackMyTour to easily pin photos to a map. We exchanged experience on Prezi, ThingLink and Storify to add another element of interactivity to the story we were telling. Reporters don’t always get the cross-cultural experience of working with other newspapers, but I believe it’s highly beneficial and necessary.

Jennings added:

We’ve done photos with a map and video in previous years. The new thing we added this year was the TrackMyTour app. I coordinated with Aimee on inputting photos/locations on the TrackMyTour app. I added longer videos for locations this year. We coordinated to make sure I went to the more interesting displays.

What helped me to accomplish the holiday lights: Be organized. Plan an efficient route through the city. Spend the proper amount of time at each location to shoot stills and video.

I made a plan of where to go, trying to make the most efficient path through the city with no back tracking. It helped to have readers input on holiday lighting locations. Plus we also had the previous year locations list. I made sure to spend more time at the locations with music synced to the lighting display so I could shoot video synced to the music being broadcast locally through my vehicle’s radio. I also added an iPhone photo to the TrackMyTour app for all locations.

Please join us in honoring these DFM journalists on their work. If you have any questions or comments on the work highlighted here, please leave a comment.