How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Julie Bloom, a deputy editor for national coverage for The Times, discussed the tech she’s using.
As a deputy editor on the national desk, you oversee a lot of breaking news. What tech tools do you use to help?
Hurricanes. Shootings. Wildfires. Elections and earthquakes. I didn’t think anything could be as crazy as the fall of 2017 in this country, but 2018 came pretty close.
I primarily oversee California and parts of the West, but also handle a lot of our coverage of major breaking news. With my colleagues on the desk and our boss, Marc Lacey, the national editor, we’ve developed a tool kit of sorts to handle these stories that are fast-moving and intense.
I feel like each day is a little like being caught in a batter’s box without knowing when or where the balls are coming from, and that can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Technology certainly helps.
My phone is pretty much everything. It’s kind of its own command center, and I can do almost everything on it except edit. For stories, I still need my laptop. Most of the reporters know that if they get a call from me at an odd hour, it usually means they’re on their way to something awful, but the reason we can do what we do is that they are total pros. Nobody ever just hangs up and goes back to sleep.
In these cases, our job is to help them produce the best journalism possible in difficult situations and make sure they stay safe, too. I’m in awe of the reporters on National who are relentless and often put themselves in danger while covering tough stories with compassion. Unfortunately, we’ve done enough of them now that we kind of know what to do.
Recently, we had a ton of breaking news out of California, where the majority of my reporters are based. The combination of the shooting in Thousand Oaks and the wildfires was a good example of having to be really nimble. One of our California reporters, Jenny Medina, called me in what was the middle of her night to say she and a bunch of F.B.I. agents who were in Thousand Oaks after the shooting had been forced to evacuate their hotel because of the fires. You can never predict what’s next, so you just have to be ready to switch gears and work with what you have.
In breaking news, I rely on Twitter and Dataminr, which monitors Twitter for newsworthy patterns, to keep track of developments. We’re also paying attention to police scanners, local television and all forms of social media and trying to break and confirm our own scoops, too. The trick is being careful and fast at the same time. A lot of bad information gets out in the immediate aftermath, and you never want to get it wrong.
In the middle of any given story, reporters and I communicate using text messages, Slack, Signal, Gchat and phone calls. We often spin off a Slack channel just for one event and have an email set up for breaking news that teams of reporters feed to. Those are split up into a bunch of different Google docs that we keep building out simultaneously for, say, a profile or a piece just on weapons or victims. Stories are updated dozens of times. We’re also watching search trends and adjusting headlines to make sure we’re showing up first. On a big, big story we’ll also send out multiple alerts with new developments.
Many of your reporters are based on the West Coast, while you are stationed in New York. How do you keep in touch with them and work with them on stories?
Even though it’s a different time zone, we’re still covering the news no matter when and where it happens. My reporters are all early risers, or they’re becoming ones. We have regular calls where we brainstorm ideas, but most editing is a constant back and forth over email, Gchat and text, and that seems to work well.
We’re fortunate because The Times has bureaus all over the place, so sometimes we hand off to Hong Kong or London and the editors there can help keep stories going.
Your contributors sometimes report stories from odd situations, like natural disasters. What tools do they use, and how do they get stories to you expediently?
For stories like wildfires or hurricanes, reporters often take satellite phones with them to make sure they can keep in contact when cell communication is down. But it doesn’t always work. During the recent wildfires, one reporter, Julie Turkewitz, was one of the first to enter the fire zone in Paradise, Calif., with a team of forensic experts searching for remains, and we lost contact with her for a few hours right on deadline. Thankfully, she surfaced just in time.
Sometimes good old dictation is the best means of getting scenes and reporting in real time. Reporters are also well versed in filing from their cars, Waffle Houses or the side of the road. We’ve had a few instances in hurricanes when reporters have had to abandon their rental cars because they were flooding and get to safety and they still managed to file.
You are a Los Angeles native. In your view, how has tech changed California?
I grew up in the Los Angeles area and went to school at Berkeley and keep close ties to both parts of the state, and I go back a lot to see family. California is an endlessly exciting place for The Times to cover: It’s the world’s fifth-largest economy, at the forefront of all sorts of change, extremely complex and a hotbed of contradictions. I like to think of it more as its own country. Technology is obviously a big part of all of that, and we’re a long way from when I was a teenager on AOL Messenger.
When you’re not at work, what tech product do you use a lot?
I’m pretty low-tech in my nonwork life — or I try to be. When you’re responsible for news, it’s hard to let go. I’ve tried everything from burying my phone under my kitchen sink to deleting certain apps on the weekend, but at a certain point you just relent and accept.
I think social media is a mostly necessary evil and try to avoid it when I’m not working, but I still haven’t quit Instagram. Besides friends and family, I follow a lot of dancers and ballet companies — remnants from a former life — and museums, chefs and fashion designers. It’s good to be reminded that there are people out there creating beautiful things, too.