Read & Respond – Week 14

As mentioned in class, this week we’ll be visited by three spirits journalist and blogger Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette. In preparation, you’ll read through Ken’s blog, Coal Tattoo, a widely read blog that’s been running since early 2009 (the Gazette hosts a variety of other blogs as well – I’m enjoying poring over Rich Ireland’s Beers to You, but that’s not required reading). You’ll need to go beyond the front page and check out the archives – what’s popular, what were the first posts like, and so on.

Any good blog (or publication, for that matter) needs a mission statement. Here’s Coal Tattoo’s:

This Charleston Gazette blog attempts to build on the newspaper’s longtime coverage of all things coal — with a focus on mountaintop removal, coal-mine safety and climate change.

Staff writer Ken Ward Jr., a native of Piedmont in Mineral County, W.Va., has covered the Appalachian coal industry for nearly 20 years.

(You can read more here)

Read through Coal Tattoo and think of some questions for Ken. Your response this week should address both the specific content of Coal Tattoo (WV and coal culture) and how the blog works beyond the content level (how frequent are the updates? how does it use things like photos, maps, tags, categories, and so on? what’s the voice? is it transparent in its reporting and dealing with readers?). Identify some comments and questions for Ken, and be prepared to follow these up in class – he may be reading.

Post those thoughts here by noon, Monday, April 18.

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22 Responses to Read & Respond – Week 14

  1. This was an interesting and well designed blog. I felt that a variety of mediums were used to simply and effectively convey its message. The blog made appropriate use of text, documents, pictures, graphs, video sideshows and links. Ken Ward used the links to provide transparency and allow for the reader to pursue more information. While at times I felt like he was a simply information aggregator, until I realized how often he was posting. He seems to have a more in-depth piece each day, but also throw up coal news highlights etc. I think it is good that he uses a similar format for many of his posts to make it easier for those who are following the blog to more easily consume the content, which is primarily from a West Virginian Friends of Coal angle. I also noticed some great photography (and some not so great) and was wondering where he got most of his art or if it was all sorts of sources (AP, locals, himself?). Finally, does Ken Ward do anything other than blog?

  2. Wow, the first thing I saw on this blog was the homepage picture with the sign Pray for our Miners with the three crosses in the background. This is extremely powerful and I really needed to take a moment to really absorb this image. This gave me my first question I would want to ask Ken.
    The pictures used on Coal Tattoo are amazing. What photo or video had the biggest reaction for Coal Tattoo? I was also trying to pay attention to the dates for all of his stories. There are usually multiple postings a day but every once and a while a couple of days will go by without a post. What is your posting goal? Is it just whenever there is big news, or do you try to keep a consistent schedule?
    This really is a high quality site. I also liked how on the about Ken Ward page they had the audio link to the song where the blog got its name from. Another question for Ken would be how was the transition of writing the coal stories for the paper to blogging? Which do you like better and what are the strengths and weaknesses of each? How does Blogging tell the story better? How has your writing voice changed over the 20 years of covering the coal mining industry?
    Also, I always like to ask what has been your favorite story over the years? Or which one made the biggest impact? Also, who is your audience? Who do you try to gear all of your stories to? Coal Mining is obviously something you take to heart and feel very strongly about, is it difficult to view all sides of it when you feel this strongly about this controversial thing? Finally, which topic to you feel is the most important and which topic do you feel the public finds as the most important?

  3. rdlwvufan says:

    I’ve heard of Coal Tattoo, but I’ll be honest and say that I had never read this blog before because I just figured it was just a forum for coal bashing. While most of the topics are undoubtedly negative, which stems mostly from the nature of what’s going on in the industry, I don’t get the impression that Ward’s goal is to tear it down, but to see the overall product improved.

    Coal is a touchy subject in West Virginia, and it’s one that people who aren’t around it won’t understand as well as those who are. It’s been a main economic support in West Virginia for a long time, and it’s difficult to imagine its presence not being felt in this region. While I get the impression Ward is more anti-coal than pro-coal, I think he tries to look at both sides with equal weight, as this snippet from the blog’s first post suggests.

    “Perhaps the scientists and activists who understand what coal burning is doing to our climate should try to understand a little more about how a third-generation coal miner in Eastern Kentucky feels. And maybe that coal miner should be a little more open to hearing what the world would be like if we don’t do something about rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most importantly, maybe the policymakers in Washington need to understand what the economic impact of climate change regulations is going to be on places like West Virginia and Wyoming. And maybe politicians and government officials in places like Charleston, W.Va., need to come to terms with the fact that change is coming to this industry.

    I hope this blog contributes a little bit to helping these discussions along. I welcome thoughts, comments, suggestions and criticisms on how to get this job done.”

    As far as the blog itself is concerned, it is updated very frequently, at least once a day usually, so there is always new content to peruse. He uses photos that add something to his posts and are relevant to the specific topic. Also, the incorporation of charts and graphs in certain posts help to deliver the message. Tagging isn’t used at all, but each post is listed in certain categories, so a reader can easily scan through all related posts. There is also a good amount of linking involved, so the resources he uses are available for others to look at themselves.

    The voice of this blogs is an advocating one. It serves to find what’s wrong with coal mining and attempt to make it better. We all know that coal mining is a big business that tries, and often succeeds, at getting away with things it shouldn’t. We also know that it is an important aspect of the West Virginia economy, and thousands depend on the industry for jobs. I think this blog tries to balance these conflicting aspects by examining the love-hate relationship this state has with coal.

    I think the reporting is transparent, in that, the sources he uses are included in his posts, either through incorporation directly into the post or through links. I don’t feel that Ward is trying to deceive or trick anyone, but rather build a solid argument to present to his readers.

    A few questions I have:

    What disparity do you see between the action that you feel needs to be taken by the government versus what actually has been done in regard to coal mining, given the recent disasters in this region?

    What are your thoughts on where the blog started, where it is now, and your expectations of it at the outset?

    What do you think is the biggest roadblock that separates coal supporters and coal detractors?

  4. K.Wish. says:

    I like how well the blog is organized: RSS feeds, categories, archives, recent posts. I never would have thought there were that many categories of topics within local coal stories. How did you, the the Gazette, develop the categories and RSS feeds?
    Are the RSS feeds for your use, to get updates and story ides, or more for your audience who is interested in this topic? I noticed the RSS feeds all link to Gazette pages, why is that?
    What does your uncategorized category stand for in this blog? I noticed quite a few posts in this category. Is it just logging posts that don’t fit in any other category?
    Do you take your own photos for the blog or are these also aggregated from other sources? What’s your reasoning behind your answer?
    I noticed you use a lot of quotes in your posts. I know some are from past blog posts or Gazette stories. But just scrolling down the pages and archives, the italicized text is immense. Explain how this is part of your blog’s voice.
    Most of my questions have to do with the logistics of the blog, as I’m not entirely interested in the coal industry, although I am a Charleston native. However, reading through his stories has shown me there’s great interest in this topic that maybe I should turn my eye to.

  5. Jazz says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of coal policy in West Virginia could be improved. That’s where this blog could be handy. Given the nature of the blog, though, it’s almost more information than I want given the distressing number of posts about depressing subjects like mining disasters, corrupt politicians and environmental destruction. But bad news is certainly the core of Journalism, so this comes as a surprise to no one.

    I especially like the complicated back-story to the title. A good name for a blog is hard to find, and to the uninitiated, Coal Tattoo is a strange mystery. By the time you read up and listen to the song, you already have a big enough investment in the material that you actually want to keep updated on it’s progress. I only wish my personal blog had such an ingenious name.

    Ward is a very strong writer, and has a knack for making us question coal mining in a way I never thought possible. For one of the backbones of our state’s economy, he draws a hell of a lot of emotion. Every picture on his blog has a purpose. I was awestruck by a picture from an article remembering the Massey disaster, where there was an American flag pulled taut over the entrance to a mine under safety instructions. I’m a sucker for a symbolism.

    I also don’t know how he can come up with new info so very, very often. He must have a TON of sources, which makes sense given his position at the Gazette. Ken fits the role of Journalist more than most bloggers. What he has is a strong sense of integrity and courage, and a real head for determining the news. And, he must have an AP access to get all these pictures; I would hate to think of him doing the normal blogger “asking permission individually to run every photo” thing when he posts up to three times per day.

    Even as he reports on these over-arching stories, he still manages to make the tone a little bit personal, which is one of the many things I like about blog culture against traditional reporting. We have a hard time imagining the individual real working class hero that perishes instead looking for a scapegoat in the media faces pervasive in our culture. That’s why the stories about the personal lives of people affected grab me so much. I’ll keep looking around his blog and seeing what works and doesn’t work for me, but overall, color me impressed.

  6. kerigero says:

    I just want to start off by saying that I’m from Mineral County, WV too, so that’s exciting!
    The next thing I noticed about the blog is that he posts a lot, multiple times a day, which I liked. You could check the website 3 times a day and find something new each time. I also like that he mixed covering hard news with some general/opinion-ish news. I gives the reader a broad range of material to chose from. The thing I noticed about the individual posts, especially the harder news posts, is that Ken’s style of writing is very reader-friendly. As a broadcast student (and producer) I’m well aware that you have to “dumb” things down and make the news very simple for the general public; Ken does this is a subtle way, hard news issues about mine legislation and regulations are easy to understand, without making the reader feel like their reading a “dumbed-down” version.
    I also like how not every post is super long. So if you just want to skim over the stories, you don’t have to skim through pages and pages of the same story to get the basic facts.

    Some questions for Ken:
    -What’s the toughest story you’ve had to write?
    -What made it so tough?

    -What’s the most rewarding story you’ve written/worked on? Why?

    -During disasters like the recent one at the Upper Big Branch mine, how do you keep from becoming too involved with the families involved?
    -Is it hard to just stand back and be a journalist during those times, when your instincts are telling you to comfort the families and help them out?

    • aaaaaargh says:

      Small world, huh? I liked how you looked at the craft of Ken’s posts, not just the content – nice observations about writing style, length and frequency.

  7. Shay Maunz says:

    I’ve always thought that the main reason Coal Tattoo is such a successful blog is simply because Ken Ward is such a good reporter – he’s so knowledgeable on this subject, and he’s so, so well sourced. That said, he also seems to have gotten the mechanics of the blog down, especially for a blog that is connected to a newspaper. He takes a topic that can be pretty controversial and makes the reporting as transparent as possible. And the updates seem to come constantly, both on his blog and on twitter. It really works for today’s news cycle – he updates his readers as the news happens, instead of waiting for the entire story to come together.

    I’m curious about how he balances the blog with his reporting for the newspaper itself, both in terms of objectivity, and more practical considerations like the work load and determining what will be published where, and when. And I’d like know whether he changes his approach when reporting for the blog instead of a print story.

    • aaaaaargh says:

      I can always count on you to note the quality of reporting in a reading, Shay. It’s interesting, given how often we hear about bloggers as parasites or hangers-on to “real” journalism, that with Ken’s work the reporting seems so apparent right away. The frequent updates and use of social media just serve to get the message out even more widely.

  8. deepafadnis says:

    My understanding of West Virginia tells me that mining is an important part of the culture here. And Ken’s blog is just what brings out the true essence of this state. I am not aware of the various issues involved in coal mining and reading on the surface has not helped much.

    I like the layout of the blog. The use of relevant pictures is also very good. His headlines give you a good peek into the article. The blogroll is also varied and collectively very informative.

    I would like to ask Ken about the stories he enjoyed working on the most and others that were nerve wrecking.

  9. capnwinters says:

    The first thing that hits you about Coal Tattoo is how completely devoid of commentary it is. It is an excellently journalistic blog in that sense; Ken Ward Jr. is not at his bully pulpit, evangelizing to the masses. Instead, I feel that he likes to give quotes from others with whom he agrees. He is simply here to chronicle the ongoing catastrophe, like Uatu the Watcher from the Marvel Comics universe (Uatu’s later transgressions aside).

    He links to other sources prolifically too, with links to original sources and other analysis sprinkled liberally throughout his posts. There are pictures too, but not a distracting amount, and certainly not anything to explain what the pictures are showing us. There’s a picture of a guy in today’s post, and he is presented sans caption or context. Who is he? Probably Chris Adkins or Kevin Crutchfield, but it’s not 100% clear.

    It seems that Ken Ward Jr. uses pictures to set a tone rather than to tell a specific story. It seems that he really likes to put faces to names too, to make these coal execs own their various misdeeds.

    I had heard of this blog before this class, but I never looked at it until now. I have to say, it’s very professional, cleanly presented and hyper factual. Why do these posts get no comments? You’d think someone out there would have something to say about every fresh revelation of coal companies’ deceptive behavior.

    What I’ll ask Ken Ward Jr.
    – Do you get feedback concerning your blog outside of the comments, and if so, what kind?
    – Have any coal execs asked you to just leave well enough alone and lay off?
    – Are you often sourced by other blogs? If so, what kinds?

  10. lindsaycobb says:

    This blog is very interesting and extremely relevant to our class. The issues that Ward is addressing in every post are things that everyone should be aware of. I read through the posts from the last week. He really brings to light some important issues. I had no idea more than half of this stuff was even going on. He does a good job of presenting facts along with putting some pathos in there. He talks about Massey Energy deals, and then he mentions the anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Disaster. He is giving necessary information while getting people to relate and connect with the story.

    He does an excellent job with images. A few of the posts grabbed my attention because of the coal related picture, not the headline. For example, a post on the 15th discusses coal politics and if they’re moving forward or not. He used a picture of a skyline lined with factories against a polluted sky. I read the post for that reason, not because of the title.

    My only complaint is that I wasn’t always completely clear on what he was talking about, because I do not consider myself an expert in the world of coal mining. The posts that address specific policy debates or company deals are a little jargon-y. I understood for the most part what he was talking about, but if you are going to figure the entire story out you have to click on ALL the links and do a little Google-ing on your own. The biggest problem was knowing which mine he was talking about. This would obviously not be a problem if you are in the coal industry or if you follow his blog for a few days.

    I would really like to ask Mr. Ward what got him involved in this blog. I read in the About that he has been doing this topic of investigative journalism for twenty years now, but I’d like to know why he started. I wonder how much the coal industry affected him as a child, growing up in rural West Virginia. Also, I want to know if he goes to all these places he talks about. He has so many posts in one day I just don’t see how it is possible! There were 5 posts on April 15th, all by him!
    I also want to know what about the coal industry most interests him. Does he like the policy and law side of it, or does he like the advances in safety and engineering? Also, does he advocate that we cease all coal mining ASAP, or that we work hard to find new forms of energy. Also, I want to know if he does any work on other coal regions around the world, or does he focus solely on the Appalachian area?

  11. Ken is obviously writing on a topic that is very important to West Virginians, one question I would like to ask is how he determines which stories he is going to post, and his processes for reporting on controversial issues. How does he maintain an unbiased opinion while reporting.

    His blog is laid out with many links, the recent post, headline tabs, etc… and he makes excellent use of images. I was wondering if the blog was strictly designed by him or if there were other contributors to its layout. Also, I would ask and why he chooses the images he does, where do they come from?

    This blog is closely associated with the Charleston Gazette, I wonder how much of a hand they have in monitoring and censoring the content of Coal Tattoo.

    Finally, I would like to ask him what his goal is, a little about how the blog has grown and where he hopes for it to be in the future.

  12. awieders says:

    This is why you never judge a blog by it’s title. I was sure that this was going to be about as uninteresting as watching a Pirates-Nationals game, and it turned out that reading Coal Tattoo actually had substance. Ward is less of a guy on a soap-box and more of a chronicler of the massive changes that the coal industry is going through.

    First, every single post has a picture. Many of the earlier posts use the “continued reading” feature, which I think is a nifty little feature and allows a blog more room on it’s front page. The blog is well organized by it’s archives and by categories. It’s very easy to navigate.

    Something I noticed about the earlier posts is that there seem to be some HTML issues. For some reason, the letter “A” with a “~” on top of it keeps showing up in front of words and in-between paragraphs. One of my questions would be more about how his site has changed since he first started.

    I really enjoyed Ward’s tone of his posts on the front page talking about the Alpha-Massey deal and the new Alpha-Massey promotions. He said a lot without saying anything at all. Ward clearly has a voice, and another question I would ask is how he went about developing that voice.

    Coal Tattoo is actually an extremely impressive piece of blogging, and I’m glad I got the chance to look at it. It’s very to-the-point.

  13. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Wow … lots of great questions … Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Ken.

  14. ewadd986 says:

    Coal Tattoo is a very well organized blog about the musings of the coal industries effect on our world. Ward’s blog does a great job of gathering content from all around the country and parts of the world to bring you the latest news about the coal industry. The best thing about his blog is that it is heavily updated throughout the week. Most times Ward’s blog is updated at least three times a day if not more. I say one day where he posted five times and when you look at his archives you can tell that he is really dedicated to updating his blog and educating his readers.
    Another great thing about his blog is that each post includes a lot of content and not just pictures. Every post has at least one picture for the most part and all of them have multiple links. He also likes to include quotes from people and stories that he is referencing in a block quote format that makes it easier and more interesting to read. Some of the other cool content that he included was an embedded PDF file that worked like a book tablet which I thought was really cool since I had never seen anything like it on a blog.
    As far as the voice of this blog goes I would say that it is more informative rather than actually trying to persuade people to a side. He definitely has his best interests for the coal business but he tries to make sure that his bias doesn’t come out and that the reader is getting all they can out of his posts from what I read.
    Some questions I would have for him:
    How do you pull resources so that you can blog at least 3 times a day?
    What do you do when you get stuck?
    How has the coal mining industry responded to your blog and have you ever ran into any controversy dealing with the big corporations like Massey Energy?

  15. bostonkid124 says:

    The first thing that struck me was the display of Coal Tattoo. Its very simple and easy to look at and has a group of helpful tools off on the side of the screen. He has everything from RSS feeds to categories to archives. This makes it really easy for readers to come in and find a previous post they had written whether they knew when it was posted (search by archive) or what category its under.
    Coal Tattoo seems to be updated a couple times a day with different material and is full of various displays. He not only uses a picture at the top of every post but he also includes hyperlinks. In one of his posts he had a copy of the Citizens Coal Council report in some pdf viewing widget thing. Ward does a good job helping the viewers visualize whatever subject he is writing about.
    I was pleasantly surprised when I was going through his posts and saw that a lot didn’t have comments or very few. I did read a couple with substantial conversation between Ken and his readers. He seems to get very defensive about his stories if people question a fact or too. All in all he is a very well informed writer who has been doing this for 20 years and has won numerous awards.
    Some questions I would have for him would be when did you know this is what you wanted to write about? Is it hard picking up all the facts with all the various terms and knowledge needed in environmental stories? Do you like blogging or did you prefer the traditional newsprint ways?

  16. CoreyPreece says:

    Not sure how I missed this Read and Response but here it goes…

    As a state native and obviously one that pays attention to the news media and journalism within and away from West Virginia, the subject of reporting on the coal industry is similar to a trapeze artist balancing high above an un-netted city street….because as much as some of the public wants the industry to be reported on and monitored by eyes outside of coal industry regulators or hired quality control officials (ie. journalists), there is another portion of the public that wants the regulators and journalists to fail in their investigation of the coal industry…because anything negative (even if truthful and well researched) that is brought against the coal industry in the news media is a strike at the heart of coal and all its employees.

    Luckily, West Virginia and this entire nation has a writer like Ken Ward, Jr. who is unafraid of taking on coal and bringing to light the plethora of wrongdoings, corruption, shady dealings, and illegalities that the industry tries so desperately to keep hidden thousands of feet below the ground. I first started reading the Coal Tattoo following the UBB Mine Disaster last April, and its depth of news surrounding not only WV’s coal industry but the nation’s as well is pretty amazing. Stories and posts are added daily, each one bringing news on legislation, political remarks or actions for or against coal, updates on coal disasters and missing miners, essentially just about any thing newsworthy about the coal industry…and from the looks of things, a lot of it is bad news.

    This “bad news” is what often gets journalists in hot water with the coal industry and its cult-like followers, because any time you speak out against a particular aspect about the industry (ie. pollution, disease/health effects, environmental impact) you are painted as a “coal hater” or someone who “doesn’t know what keeps the lights on.” But if you write a story about a car having a factory defect and needs to be recalled, you are championed as a defender of public safety and no one tells you to stop driving cars if you don’t like them. This is where my first question comes into play for Mr. Ward:

    1) How is reporting on coal different than reporting on other industries in the U.S.? Specifically, the WV public’s reaction to negative news stories about the coal industry?

    And my second question deals with his career long coverage of the coal industry in Appalachia.

    2) How or has the environment changed for journalists reporting/investigating the coal industry over the last two decades? Has transparency and cooperation on the coal owners’ side increased or decreased over that time? And are news outlets more apt to publish a negative news story about the coal industry today as opposed to 20 years ago?

  17. tonicekada says:

    So I just checked out the blog. I went back to the very first entry, and wow there were a lot of links. I’m not too sure if that is a good or bad thing, but it seemed like the entire post waas links. From what I have learned in this class, it is too easy to send someone else to read the information by using links. The blogger should talk about the information on their own.
    Anyway, skipping back up to the more recent entries, I have noticed he posts multiple times a day, which is great, but doesn’t seem to gather too many comments from the readers. I also noticed that there are many different categories, which I thought was a good thing because people can more easily find what they want to read about with a more narrow search.
    I thought Ward did a great job using photos in his posts. Some of them even reached out to an emotional appeal, which brings me to my next point. You can tell Ward is pretty passionate about what he writes about through his voice.
    I even saw a google earth map in there somewhere, which I thought was pretty cool. The only thing I really didn’t like to much was the fact that he posts these 50 some page power points. To me that is just like linking too much. You are basically telling the reader “okay here is where I got my information, check it out for yourself.” I think maybe it would be beneficial to better explain what he is talking about. I don’t know all too much about the coal mining industry, but I didn’t have a problem reading about it either. I just wished he explained things better so I understood what was going on and didn’t feel so….well…kinda not so smart lol.

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