Monday, June 22, 2009

Mark Purdy: Lessons from Dad

The newshook was Father's Day. The column, by San Jose Mercury New sportswriter Mark Purdy, was an ode to the life lessons he learned from his father -- a lawyer, judge and part-time basketball ref in small-town Ohio.

He recalls what he learned from his father while, as a young boy, he tagged along to games on Saturday afternoons. He loved every minute of it -- except for hearing the folks in the stands curse at his dad whenever they didn't like a call. Wherein comes the lesson that applies to life in general -- and journalism in particular.

From the column:

At some point, Dad must have worried about what I was experiencing in the stands because one night over a truck-stop burger, he told me:

"Look, when people are calling me a so-and-so, it isn't because they actually think I'm a so-and-so. They don't know me at all as a person. What they are really saying to me is, 'That foul call you just whistled makes me believe you are a so-and-so.' Don't worry about it. You should only get concerned if a good friend or a neighbor tells you that you're a so-and-so."

I nodded, but I didn't think too deeply about it — until many years later. After I landed my dream gig of writing a sports column, I discovered that some people responded to my opinions with vile phone calls or letters or (eventually) e-mails. It was then that I flashed back to that discussion. I realized that Dad had prepared me not just to view a game with as objective an eye as possible, but also how to deal with people who are obscenely personal in their criticism.

Do the job with integrity. That's what matters. bk

Saturday, June 20, 2009

into the sandbox

Leslie forwards this post from Mashable on "10 ways journalism schools are teaching social media."

Some good ideas for using the tools such as facebook and its clones and twitter to enhance journalism, such as real time reporting, crowdsourcing, and even e-interviewing. Okay, a phone or face-to-face interview is still better. But...

The idea is that, rather than ends in themselves (or, ahem, time sponges), social media can be useful tools. We just have to play with them awhile to figure out their best use. At which point, they may become as transparent as computers themselves.

Reminds me of a story I did on Xerox Park many years ago on a visionary program that brought in artists to work with computer developers on state of the art technology. The geeks wrote the code. The artists played with the apps -- "we're like kids playing in the sandbox with all these toys," said one of the artists -- to help the developers think outside the box. built

Anyway. Check out the full list here. bk

Friday, June 19, 2009


Baynewser reports that Scott Rosenberg, one of the co-founders of, just won a $335,000 Knight Foundation grant to build a site called MediaBugs, which will serve as a digital forum for reporting reporter's mistakes.

The goals are interconnected: to provide more transparency in the news biz; and to make journalists more comfortable with mea culpas. The pilot project will start in the SF Bay Area later this year. Stay tuned.

From the post:

"All journalists make mistakes, but they sometimes view admitting errors as a mark of shame," says the project summary. "MediaBugs aims to change this climate, by promoting transparency and providing recognition for those who admit and fix their mistakes. MediaBugs will create a public test web site in a U.S. city for people to report errors in any news report—online or off-line. Comments will be tracked to see if they create a conversation between the reporter and the error submitter, and then show whether corrections or changes resulted."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

brand yourself

Laura Rich provided this digest of the new rules for old journalists, gleaned from the recent MediaBistro Circus conference.

Read the rules -- most of which have to do with engaging with the audience, making best use of the Web and branding yourself -- here.

Good points, all. But left out of the equation were time -- lots of it -- and money -- little to none. The following comments, two of the few that questioned Rich's optimism, might be more reflective of the realities for reporters still on the job, or who want to be:

Interesting post - though I’m not sure how useful it will be for many in the field.

I’m now freelance, an author as well as a journalist, after 20-plus years in the field and I have a blog, a facebook page. I tweet, etc., because as a freelancer and author, I am the brand. But I am thinking about my husband, who works for a small paper. Over time, his job has grown to the point where he’s working huge hours, often blogging on what can’t fit into the paper. He’s on FB, but his job takes his all. I’m going to pass this along to him, but I can’t see him doing the independent branding - not for lack of will so much as time.

Maybe I can get him to start linking his pieces to his FB page at least…

All the techniques and branding in the world won’t do anything for your bottom line. As a freelancer for 20 years the going rate has dropped from $3/work to $0. Setting up a corporate model where the work is less important than the comments on it or the delivery method is counter productive. If you’re working on your facebook page, twittering and branding, you’re not researching, verifying and writing. There are only so many hours in a day and all these suggestions that fact as well as the fact that without places that buy a journalists work, it’s all just advertising a product, journalism, that doesn’t exist.
Most of the comments contained links to the commenters' blogs and websites: Rule #1 when it comes to branding. I should probably do likewise. bk

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

more from Jack

Jack forwards this piece from Monday's New York Times on the need for news organizations to protect journalists who do their jobs outside their comfort zones, vis-a-vis the detainment of Current TV journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee in North Korea.

The article points out the differences in the protection that buffers reporters backed by traditional news organizations versus the risk faced by freelancers, or journalists working for smaller start-ups, like Current TV.

The plus side of the risk-benefit analyis:

Start-up news organizations like Current TV are increasingly sending journalists to the world’s hot spots, putting a spotlight on news stories in new ways. It is, experts say, another consequence of the fragmented media landscape and the declines in international news coverage by traditional outlets.

The unconventional assignments are an expression of the generational changes in news coverage, especially in TV, where the jobs of camera operators, sound technicians and producers have, in many cases, been subsumed into one do-it-all position. And being unencumbered by a traditional news outlet has its advantages, as the reporters are sometimes free to take more risks.

On the other hand:
The Committee to Protect Journalists found that in 2008, at least 56 of the 125 jailed journalists worked for online outlets and that 45 of the total were freelancers.

“These freelancers are not employees of media companies and often do not have the legal resources or political connections that might help them gain their freedom,” the committee reported.

As news divisions hit by the recession make cuts in foreign coverage, freelancers shoulder more of the risks. “Pretty soon we’re just not going to have any of the types of stories Laura and Euna went to cover,” said Daniel Beckmann, a friend of Ms. Ling and a former colleague at Current TV.

j.linx: more than a clever name

Occasionally, things work. This photo of Melissa Segura and Jack Gillum popped up in my inbox over the weekend. The two former j-kids met, for the first time, at the IRE conference in Baltimore. Apparently, they found each other thru, ahem, jlinx.

I asked for the backstory. Jack wrote this:
If only you were here! Melissa looked me up and we met on the last night of the conference. It was great to hear what she's been doing with SI, and that they (for now, like USA Today) still value investigative reporting.
Melissa wrote this:
In this small, rather in incestuous world of journalism, I recognized Jack’s name (thanks to your blog), in the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference guide. Jack, the superstar that he is, was leading a hands-on workshop in Baltimore about how to export PDFs into Excel. Meanwhile, I tracked down my fellow Bronco and explained to him what life at SCU was like when Father Serra roamed the campus and the Mission was still under construction. I’m simultaneously frightened and relieved that someone so young is so smart.

But I was mainly thrilled that another alum was as infected with the Holy Ghost of Journalism as I am. And that, in turn, is a tribute to you!

Monday, June 15, 2009

media culpa?

Apparently, Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, understands the scary influence of the fashion media on young and impressionable women. According to a letter she sent to fashion houses throughout the U.S. and Europe, she says "enough already" to the fashion industry's sick and twisted love affair with cadaverous models.

About time.

The letter was never meant to be made public. However, a copy was leaked to the London Times, which reported on it here.

From the Times article:

The editor of Vogue has accused some of the world’s leading catwalk designers of pushing ever thinner models into fashion magazines despite widespread public concern over “size-zero” models and rising teenage anorexia.

Alexandra Shulman, one of the most important figures in the multi-billion-pound fashion industry, has taken on all the largest fashion houses in a strongly worded letter sent to scores of designers in Europe and America. In a letter not intended for publication but seen by The Times, Shulman accuses designers of making magazines hire models with “jutting bones and no breasts or hips” by supplying them with “minuscule” garments for their photoshoots. Vogue is now frequently “retouching” photographs to make models look larger, she said.

It bears repeating: the magazine photoshops pix of incredibly shrinking models to make them look larger. bk

Thursday, June 11, 2009

slow liquidation

Slate's Jack Shafer writes about the possible demise of the Boston Globe and other big city dailies, here.

He references Phillip Meyer, who first recognized the potential demise of the newspaper industry in The Vanishing Newspaper and again addressed the subject last year in AJR. A newspaper's monetary worth is largely measured in good will, he theorizes. And when the newspaper engages in a process of slow liquidation (the late Molly Ivins had it so right), well, that good will erodes along with the advertising revenue. I call it hesitation cuts.

From Shafer's post:

"Slow liquidation" shows up in the winnowing process at many local and regional dailies today: fewer reporters, fewer comics, fewer sections, fewer features, smaller pages, smaller news hole, and higher home delivery and newsstand prices.

Writing again last year in AJR, Meyer plotted an "elite newspaper" strategy for the slow liquidators. His plan is no resurrection prayer for dying dailies, but it makes more sense than running a newspaper down, down, down until it has one subscriber paying $5 million for home delivery, and then he dies.

Meyer thinks newspapers should accept that their mass audience is drifting away. (In the most recent reporting period, Globe circulation was down almost 14 percent over the previous year.) They should accept that non-news readers have stopped reading dailies, accept that newspapers can no longer satisfy everybody all the time with an "all-you-can-eat" buffet, and concentrate on publishing content of higher value. And they should "peel back" to their core functions of news, investigation, analysis, and interpretation "in a print product that appears less than daily, combined with constant updating and reader interaction on the Web."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the digerati come to

Can geeks save journalism? Andrea Ragni forwards this piece by Matt Villano, who poses this very question. He writes about several j-school programs that throw journalists and programmers into the same pot to see what they they cook up. The idea is to teach reporting to techies so that, possibly, they can engineer the solutions that so far have eluded the rest of us.

Interesting concept. Andrea wants to know what you think.

From Villano's piece:
Programmers and journalists may seem like strange bedfellows; many criticize the Internet for the layoffs, buyouts and bleeding bottom lines that characterize the news business today. But, as emphasized by a report released last month by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the World Association of Newspapers, traditional news outlets must "cross the digital abyss" if they wish to survive. The problem, of course, is scraping together the capital to invest in new technologies.

These kinds of forecasts prompted Rich Gordon, director of digital innovation at Medill, to convince the Knight Foundation in 2007 to start funding the new curriculum. Recognizing that traditional news platforms are struggling to keep content relevant online, Gordon, the former new-media director for the Miami Herald Publishing Co., approached the problem a different way. "Instead of media organizations always playing catch-up, the objective should be for them to incorporate data in new and different ways from the very beginning," Gordon says, noting that, in addition to Digg, websites such as ProPublica, EveryBlock and PolitiFact have achieved this goal successfully. "It makes perfect sense to have programmers involved with this effort from the very beginning." (See the 50 best websites of 2008.)

could THIS be why we worry about the future of journalism?

Look what I found today on an essay that ponders who will pay for journalism if and when the journalism industry goes away.

Isn't this the question we've been asking here for months, months and more months? And Time is asking the question NOW? I'm baffled.

From the piece:
Let's assume that you can improve journalism as much as you want, take advantage of the possibilities of new media as much as you want, but in general, people still simply do not want to pay for it, and it still remains worth far less to advertisers than it used to be. Let's assume newspapers fold en masse, and going online-only does not save enough money to pay people to do journalism as their chief source of income. That's gone.

What replaces it? And by that, I mean, who pays for what replaces it?

Writer James Poniewozik then follows up with a list of possibilities. Again, none of which are new. Incredible, really, that a weekly newsmag would be so far behind the curve. Maybe it tells us something about why journalism as we know it is in trouble, yeah? bk

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Andy Rooney on Newspapers

For those of you who got chills -- or even teary -- watching the closing credits of "State of Play", here's more. Click on the link for a video of Andy Rooney's ode to newspapers on 60 minutes a few weeks back.

I originally had the video embedded, but for some reason couldn't turn it off, much to the chagrin of some loyal readers. That's why it's gone. bk

Friday, June 5, 2009

AdAge on Arianna

Sure, I like HuffPo as much as the next liberal, but i couldn't agree more with AdAge's Simon Dumenco. He points out the irony in the fact that Syracuse's Journalism School is giving its "Fred Dressler Lifetime Achievement Award" to the woman whose business model relies on kicking journalists to the curb.

Arianna pays writers in "exposure". Not money. Which is great, if you already have a day job, or don't need one. But whether her fault or not, the problem is that the model has spread to any number of digital news sites that are reluctant to pay for content. (Content. What is that, exactly?) And expect writers to not only thank them for the privilege, but come back for more:

Write for us! We'll give you visibility! We'll pay you by the click! You never have to leave the building! All you have to do is riff on other people's work!

I've ranted (okay, riffed) about the insidious practice here, here and here, among other venues. No good can come of it. Not for writers. Not for readers. (er, users?)

From the post:

I've been raging about HuffPo's devaluation of content -- and, ergo, content creators -- since late 2007, when HuffPo co-founder Ken Lerer told USA Today the company had no plans to ever pay its bloggers: "That's not our financial model. We offer them visibility, promotion and distribution with a great company."

At the time, a HuffPo contributor, Blake Fleetwood, wrote an open letter to Jim Romenesko's media blog, saying, "For HuffPo to have paid their posters from the beginning would probably have doomed the experiment at its inception." Well, fine -- except that last year The New Yorker was reporting that HuffPo was already basically break-even. And insiders have floated a valuation for the company of $200 million. I've questioned that bloated figure in this column as recently as January, but even if HuffPo is worth half that or a quarter of that, well, it's unconscionable for Huffington and Lerer and the backers of HuffPo to create millions for themselves on the backs of bloggers duped into working for "visibility." Especially since the most obvious beneficiary of the HuffPo visibility dividend is Arianna Huffington herself.

Rosen on blogging

Go here for a transcript of a live chat with NYU prof Jay Rosen on blogging pointers, via Poynter. As you'll see, while anyone can create a blog, there's a lot more involved in making a success of it.

Among his tips:

"It is best to learn to be a great linker, and from that become a thinker. One of the simplest forms I would teach students is 'the round-up post,' pulling together the best of what's online on a recent controversy (Gingrich calling the judge a racist, for example). And from those posts students can learn to think about.... what's missing in this conversation? That is the next post!"

let the grandees do it.

Michael Kinsley has an interesting take on what he thinks might be the best business model to keep news orgs alive: "to be a flyspeck on the balance sheet of a large company with other things on its mind."

From the post:
For seven years I was editor of Slate, owned then by Microsoft (and now by The Washington Post Co.). We watched our pennies, but we were given what we needed to produce a good product. Never once did the company interfere with our content, no matter how much we goaded it. Never once did it even ask politely if we would publish an executive's op-ed about the future of computing. Why? Partly because we were too small to bother with. But mainly because as unsentimental business types they knew that interfering would destroy the value they were investing millions to create.

One trouble with placing your hopes in a grandee restoration is that earlier grandees made money from newspapers. Pouring money acquired elsewhere into a money-losing business is a less appealing proposition. Amazingly, though, there are rich folks who are eager to do this. Why? Based on my experience as editor of the New Republic, owned then and now by Marty Peretz and family (as well as close observation of others who have chosen to squander large fortunes on media properties), motives include sincere concern to preserve an important institution, a desire to influence the political debate, a misplaced belief that better management could make the thing profitable, hunger for status and -- believe it or not -- a desire to hang around with journalists. Hey. We're better company than horses, a more traditional way to squander a fortune.

twittersphere, take two

The Neiman Journalism Lab has a quick post on a site called Muck Rack, which aggregates tweets on journalists who tweet.

It started as "cesspool of banality", writes Zachary M. Seward, who now sees a certain amount of utlity to the site. Tweets are categorized into beats, loosely, allowing you to follow the trends that reporters are, well, following.

No matter that one of the top trends a couple weeks back happened to be Adam Lambert, the loser on "American Idol." bk

leads: twittersphere style

Mashable's Ann Handley offers a comparison of twitter to journalism in this post, aptly titled: Everything I Need to Know about Twitter I learned in J School.

It's more about style than substance -- or at least purpose -- which is where the comparison ends. Nonetheless, good points if you happen to be a twit. Or follow one.

Use what you learned about leads, heads and inverted pyramids to make tweets more effective, she writes. Here's an example:

Lead with the good stuff

In journalism, the “inverted pyramid” style places the most important information at the top of any story, and then the ensuing narrative explains and expands on it. In other words, the first paragraph should contain enough information to give the reader a solid overview of the entire story. Approach sharing links or information on Twitter in a similar manner, giving the strongest and most compelling bit in the tweet, and then link to the rest of the story elsewhere.