A Peek Inside Mark Stencel's Digital Life

Jul 31, 2013

Mark Stencel, managing editor for digital news
Credit Kainaz Amaria/NPR

This series is all about how people in public media manage to wade through the daily digital deluge of stories, emails, pics and tweets. Normally we include this section in our monthly newsletter but Mark Stencel is coming to the end of his chapter as managing editor for digital news at NPR (his last day is Friday, August 2). So this is a special summer edition of my so-called digital life. 

Mark joined NPR in 2009 after many years at the Washington Post, and before that, Congressional Quarterly and its monthly magazine Governing. His career is filled with achievements (read them here), but what stands out about Mark is his deep love and passion for journalism and his early embrace of the possibilities of digital news. He was instrumental in launching the Washington Post on the web and year after year, he pushed the Post to lead the way online and colonize new technologies.

Then he came to NPR and did it all over again, helping a network known for quality and depth on radio find its voice online and a new reputation as a source for reliable coverage of breaking news. Did I forget to mention he's written two books, including one with Larry King? Mark is leaving NPR to jump into another major book project that he's been thinking about for years.

For us on the editorial team at NPR DS, Mark has been a mentor, guide and confidante. Two things among many that we love about Mark: his sense of humor, and his presentation on live blogging at the Knight/NPR DS Digital News Training, which opens with the iconic front page "live blogging" of the New York Times on the night the Titanic sank in 1912. We will miss him, but we're glad to know he'll be close by.

Three daily must-reads:
PaidContent: My destination for industry news -- and not just news about the news biz. What happens across the entire media industry defines what audiences expect in terms of how we present and deliver journalism.

GovManagement: A daily newsletter by the former web editor of Governing magazine (one of my previous ports of call). Creator/editor John Martin was the best one-man news aggregator in the business before any of us used fancy words like "aggregation." His daily sweep of news in the local, state and federal realms is my early-warning system for stories that others will eventually discover. 

USA Today: In print, no less. At the risk of jeopardizing my digital credibility, I'll confess that we still have three print newspaper subscriptions. There are more than enough people in public media talking about what they read in today's New York Times. But in many ways USA Today's readership looks more like public radio's audience than the Times' audience does, especially when it comes to geographic and political diversity, so it's helpful to see what they cover and how it differs.    

Three people you follow (online) regularly:
I'll give you four.

Ari Shapiro's Instagram feed: He's a great reporter, he sings.... Someday we'll figure out what NPR's White House correspondent can't do, but photography is not on that list. I love his behind-the-scenes pics of the White House at work.

Matt Thompson, on any and all platforms -- but in-person is best: Matt was editorial coordinator for Project Argo and now plays lead guitar on Code Switch. He's a catalytic force in digital media. I often nod sagely at new things Matt tells me, pretending to know what he's talking about -- and knowing I will need to.

Linda Holmes of NPR's Monkey See: Linda's pop culture blog explains what fascinates us and why. No one does so with such cogence and fun.

Brian Boyer: Brian leads NPR's News Apps team. It took them less than a year to revolutionize the ways we can tell and present stories. 

Three accounts you'd pay to follow on Twitter:
I can't top Andy Carvin's answer to this question: 

"None. If a Twitter account was pay-walled, then it wouldn’t be able to participate in open conversations like everyone else there, which is the whole point of Twitter."

Three guilty pleasures online:
ProQuest: My county library gives cardholders all-you-can-eat online access to this service's searchable newspaper archives -- a priceless trove for anyone who's into how people in our business covered history while it was happening. You never know what you might find.

Ghosts of DC: More historical hits for a political junkie who grew up hereabouts.

The Space Review: My grandfather worked on the space program. I also used to cover science and technology and still look for excuses to write about the subject. When I can't write about it, I go here for my fix. (I can stop anytime I want.)

First thing you check in the morning:
My inbox.

Last thing you check at night:
See above.

Favorite news consumption time saver:
The Cheat Sheet: When I haven't read or heard anything before I walk into a news meeting, the Daily Beast's news digest lives up to its name.

Go-to local news source:
"Local" is a tricky term in a large metro area like D.C. Keeping up means checking multiple sources:

WAMU-FM and WAMU.org: usually my primary source for D.C.-area news. And with projects like its "Deals for Developers" series, the station's impact is growing.

Washington Post: also for regional news.

ARLnow: A much-read local news startup for Arlington County, where I live. It just hired its first full-time reporter.

Your most used mobile reporting tool or app:
Twitter's list and search functions. A reporter who doesn’t use Twitter is like a reporter who won't use a phone.

Words of wisdom for stations as they go forward with their digital efforts:
Put the audience first. What do they want and need to know, and where are they looking for that information now? Fill the information gaps in the lives of your audience.