Wednesday, July 29, 2009

hello sweetheart, give me twitter

Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired, spouts off: on the media (a word he doesn't use); on staying informed; and on the meaning of "Free." The Q-and-A with Frank Hornig was published in Der Speigel and on, by special arrangement.

Among other things, Anderson says he prefers twitter to newspapers, rarely reads one, and suggests that "media" may become a hobby, rather than a full-time job.

Read it and weep. Can't tell whether Mr. Anderson is elitist, ignorant, just being a provacateur. Or has way too much time on his hands. Here are some excerpts:

Mr. Anderson, let's talk about the future of journalism.

This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don't use the word "journalism."

OK , how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.

Sorry, I don't use the word "media." I don't use the word "news." I don't think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.

Which other words would you use?

There are no other words. We're in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don't have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words. Here at Wired, we stopped using them.

Hang on a minute. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers have changed the meaning of "media." But without the traditional news media they wouldn't actually have much to do. Most of the amateurs comment on what the quality press report. So did you read a newspaper this morning?



So how do you stay informed?

It comes to me in many ways: via Twitter, it shows up in my in box, it shows up in my RSS base, through conversations. I don't go out looking for it....

... If something has happened in the world that's important, I'll hear about it. I heard about the protests in Iran before it was in the papers because the people who I subscribe to on Twitter care about those things.

The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and others can publish their best reporting on the Web and you'd never read it?

I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don't go to mainstream media directly to read it. It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We're tuning out television news, we're tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it's just that it's not like this drumbeat of bad news. It's news that matters. I figure by the time something gets to me it's been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn't matter is not going to get to me.


If the audience goes online, will the revenues follow?

Yes. It's all about attention. That is the most valuable commodity. If you have attention and reputation, you can figure out how to monetize it. However, money is not the No. 1 factor anymore.


Attention and reputation are two non-monetary economies. The vast majority of people online write for free. We've tried paying some of our bloggers and they thought it was insulting. They're not doing it for the money, they're doing it for attention and reputation, or just for fun. For example, two years ago, I started this Web site called It's about being a dad and being a computer geek. We're writing about how to do things that are fun for kids and fun for dads. It's a community project, everyone contributes for free but we now have an audience bigger than many newspapers. And there are an infinite number of sites like this out there.

Can classic journalism, which is obviously more expensive to produce, compete with that sort of thing?

In the past, the media was a full-time job. But maybe the media is going to be a part-time job. Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby. There is no law that says that industries have to remain at any given size. Once there were blacksmiths and there were steelworkers, but things change. The question is not should journalists have jobs. The question is can people get the information they want, the way they want it? The marketplace will sort this out. If we continue to add value to the Internet we'll find a way to make money. But not everything we do has to make money.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

where have you gone, walter cronkite?

Apparently, to The Daily Show.

Time Magazine recently conducted a poll to find out, in the wake of Cronkite's death, who the respondents considered America's most trusted newsman. Jon Stewart, with 44 percent of the vote, came out on top of the three network anchors. (In a state-by-state accounting, Katie Couric won only Iowa. But with 65 percent of the vote.)

The Daily Show has long been the top source of news for college kids. But America in general? Tells us something about network news. bk

Monday, July 20, 2009

R.I.P. Frank McCourt

The New York Times reported last night that Frank McCourt, the Pullitzer Prize winning author of "Angela's Ashes", died of metastatic melanoma. He was 78.

Angela's Ashes, McCourt's memoir of growing up poor in Ireland, touched critics and readers everywhere:

“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,” the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage. “It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years."
A former NYC school teacher, first at Ralph R. McKee Vocational High School in Staten Island and then the selective Stuyvesant High School on East 15th St. in Manhattan, McCourt was a raconteur extraordinaire. While he never claimed to be a journalist, he was master of one of jouranlism's most important tools: the art of storytelling. An accompanying article in the Times recounts his methods for teaching his students to write, which involved a lot of storytelling of his own:

He was able to amuse his students and put them at ease, but he was also imparting a lesson. “Looking back, it was all part of a technique,” said Vernon Silver, Stuyvesant class of 1987 and a reporter for Bloomberg News in Rome whose book “The Lost Chalice” has just been published. “He wanted you to tell a story too. At the end of his stories, he would turn it on the class.”

A common exercise was asking students to describe what they had done when they got home the night before. “He would coax it out of us, showing us how to pay attention to mundane but telling details,” Mr. Silver said. “I remember a dialogue with a shy student. The kid said, ‘I did my homework.’ McCourt said: ‘No, no, no. What did you do when you walked in? You went through a door, didn’t you? Did you have anything in your hands? A book bag? You didn’t carry it with you all night, did you? Did you hang it on a hook? Did you throw it across the room and your mom yelled at you for it?’ ”

And on and on, until enough significant glimpses of the boy’s life emerged to begin to paint a picture....
We met him last summer at the Sun Valley Writers conference, first in a jammed breakout session, where he regaled the jam-packed group with tales of the classroom -- when he was most often addressed by "yo, teach" -- and of his disdain, by contrast, of academics and what he saw as their endless bluster on the philosophy of education. Clearly an inspiration to his students, many of whom who have had their own writing careers, he ended by telling us of walking through the Village one night when he ran into a former student.

"Mr McCourt," the former student said. "Remember me? I just wanted to say, thanks to you, I've become a poet."
"That's great, good for you," McCourt said, expecting a long tedious conversation about how he had inspired the kid way back when.
"No, no," the kid said. "I've been dead broke ever since. What I wanted to say was f*** you!"

Later, we ran into McCourt at the Haley airport. "Yo, teach," Tom called out. "Barbara here is a teacher, too." He walked over. "Yeah," I said. "But not the good kind. I teach college."

He shook his head. "College pro-fess-ors," he said with a smirk. "If I had it to do over again, I'd be a college teacher. Easiest job in the world...."

The conversation continued. What he said after that, you'll have to ask me.

photo credit: Hiroko Masuike for the New York Times

Sunday, July 19, 2009

when is a media star a journalist?

Probably never.

That's the answer, according to salon'com's Glenn Greenwald. In the wake of Walter Cronkite's death, he remembers not only the iconic television anchor, but also the late David Halberstam, contrasting them both to today's newsmedia stars. Read his piece here.

The former distinguished themselves by standing up to government. The latter, possibly in the name of access, toe the party line.

Implied, if not stated, is the suggestion that the hand-wringing and eulogizing in the wake of the deaths of these two legendary journalists smacks of a certain amount of hypocrisy. Speaking truth to power these days? Not even. Greenwald ends his piece thus:
In the hours and hours of preening, ponderous, self-serving media tributes to Walter Cronkite, here is a clip you won't see, in which Cronkite -- when asked what is his biggest regret -- says:

What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.

It's impossible even to imagine the likes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and friends interrupting their pompously baritone, melodramatic, self-glorifying exploitation of Cronkite's death to spend a second pondering what he meant by that.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

... and that's the way it was

The death of former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite marks the end of an era in journalism. At a time when the main , if not only, news sources were morning papers and evening news on three television stations, Cronkite became one of the most trusted men in America, the gatekeeper of all the public needed to know on each particular day. Each newscast ended with the iconic words: "And that's the way it is."

It was a simpler time in journalism, an era that might be difficult to explain to a wired generation accustomed to a 24 hour news cycle, available from thousands of outlets at any given time, and with no definitive voice of authority.

Shortly after Cronkite's death was announced, The NYTimes Brian Stetler interviewed CBS News President Sean McManus:

“It’s really hard,” [Mcmanus] acknowledged, “to remember just how influential and important he was.” He cited Mr. Cronkite’s famous declaration that the Vietnam war would end in a stalemate.

Viewers and Web readers now, he said, “are so used to being assaulted by so many streams of media that it’s hard for them to imagine that there were only three or four ways to get news and information on TV.”

On an evening when Mr. Cronkite was on the minds of the television industry, Mr. McManus sounded a sad note about the splintered media environment. TV executives are always looking for the next Cronkite, he said, “but I don’t think anybody will be in that position of prominence again.”
Cronkite took his responsibility seriously, breaking from his role as dispassionate anchor only a handful of times: when he announced that President Kennedy had died; when, after a trip to Vietnam, he pronounced the war there unwinnable, which turned the tide of public opinion; and when American astronauts first walked on the moon.

Former Merc television writer Charlie McCollum called the legendary Cronkite "television's wise man":

In a sense, he was a Mr. Rogers for adults, a man who could make sense out of things when things didn't seem to make sense.

"A good journalist doesn't just know the public, he is the public. He feels the same things they do," he once said. But no TV journalist ever empathized with America quite like Cronkite.

Read Cronkite's New York Times obit here.

photo credit: New York Times, Bettman/Corbis

Friday, July 17, 2009

staggering work and heartbreaking genius

Author and Muse Dave Eggers talked to about Hurricane Katrina, the future of journalism and Zeitoun, his new novel -- an oral history of a Muslim family caught within the vortex of the "Bush administration's two most egregious policy disasters -- the War on Terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina".

Here's what he had to say about the future of journalism:

I notice that you've been inviting people to appeal to you for a pep talk on the future of the printed word, which we're all very worried about. So if I were to write to you and say, "Dave, cheer me up about the future of writing," what would you say?

Salon still exists, thank God. I think there's a future where the Web and print coexist and they each do things uniquely and complement each other, and we have what could be the ultimate and best-yet array of journalistic venues. I think right now everyone's assuming it's a zero-sum situation, and I just don't see it that way.

Our students at 826 Valencia still have a newspaper class, where we print an actual newspaper, and we do magazine classes and anthologies where they're all printed on paper. That's the main way we get them motivated, that they know it's going to be in print. It's much harder for us to motivate the students when they think it's only going to be on the Web.

The vast majority of students we work with read newspapers and books, more so than I did at their age. And I don't see that dropping off. If anything the lack of faith comes from people our age, where we just assume that it's dead or dying. I think we've given up a little too soon. We [i.e., McSweeney's] have been working every day on a prototype for a new newspaper, and a lot of what we're doing is resurrecting old things, like things from the last century that newspapers used to do, in terms of really using the full luxury of the broadsheet newspaper, with full color and all that space.

I think newspapers shouldn't try to compete directly with the Web, and should do what they can do better, which may be long-form journalism and using photos and art, and making connections with large-form graphics and really enhancing the tactile experience of paper. You know, including a full-color comic section, for example, which of course was standard in newspapers years ago, when you'd have a full broadsheet Winsor McCay comic. So we'll have a big, full-color comic section, and we're also trying to emphasize what younger readers are looking for, what directly appeals to them. It's hard to find papers these days that really do anything to appeal to anyone under 18, and the paper used to do that all the time. I think there will always be -- if not the same audience and not as wide an audience -- a dedicated audience that can keep print journalism alive.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

good tweet, bad tweet

Changing the news one tweet at a time? I guess. But whether that's for good or ill remains to be seen.

A piece in the New York Times by Alan Cowell about the ubiquity of twitter chatter notes that most reporting out of Iran during the post-election protests came in the form of 140 characters or fewer. And much of that, in fact, made it into the mainstream press.

But then the piece quotes's tech-friendly Jack Shafer thus: “My zeal for Twitter knows a limit,” wrote Jack Shafer, editor at large of the online publication Slate, saying the welter of messages from the streets of Tehran was “more noise than signal in understanding the Iranian upheaval.”

On the other hand, but on the same subject, the New York Times' Brian Stetler sees tweets (and youtube videos) as filling the void when foreign correspondents have been called home and the powers that be may be imposing a news blackout. The cascade of citizen news that came out of Iran during those first days was a starting point for news organizations with no feet on the ground. The task then became to watch the news as it developed, sift and analyze it, and -- you hope -- vet it. Stetler writes:
“Check the source” may be the first rule of journalism. But in the coverage of the protests in Iran this month, some news organizations have adopted a different stance: publish first, ask questions later. If you still don’t know the answer, ask your readers.
In yet another story on the subject -- this one also cites twitter as the real-time source of news of Michael Jackson's death -- the AP's Jake Coyle looks at the inaccuracies or flat out lies that sometimes crop up on the twittersphere, such as the grossly exaggerated report of Jeff Goldblum's untimely demise. The problem with DIY journalism is the lack of accountability. Twits can tweet anything. He writes:

While involvement in the protests in Iran might be Twitter's most meaningful achievement thus far, some have noted that many inaccuracies were circulated.

That has raised the concern that some people or governments may use Twitter to spread disinformation even more dangerous than suggesting Jeff Goldblum is dead.

Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur," believes Twitter — and whatever real-time Web services follow in its wake — represents the future of both the Internet and media.

But Keen says the Iran coverage on Twitter "exposes all the weakness of the service, the fact that it's so chaotic and unreliable. Who knows who's tweeting what?"

Back to Cowell, who concedes that new forms of info-sharing does indeed make for new ways to gather news, but still suggests it adds a layer of complexity to the process. He writes:

News gathering takes time, energy, courage, people, humility, creativity and layers of editorial oversight to guarantee the authenticity of the final product. For all the human flaws of those who gather, edit, check and analyze it, news allows people to judge for themselves whether the people they voted into office merit their trust and their tax dollars.

As the Twitter revolution has shown, the ascendancy of new methods of spreading the news — a kind of digital, high-speed word-of-mouth — reinforces the need for assembling it, sifting it and trying to make sense of it.

Honest news is essential to ensuring that people know what their soldiers are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan as much as what their politicians are doing in their boudoirs or how they are composing their expense accounts. At its best, news bypasses spin to let readers know who is really winning on the far-flung killing fields of Pakistan or Gaza, just as it did in Vietnam.

We lose all that at our peril.

strictly for the style geeks

Reuters announced this week that its Stylebook has just gone online. No subscription necessary. Which is good news for anyone who finds it fun to read between the lines of arcane style rules.

For those of you in careers that leave you blissfully unfamiliar with stylebooks, they are dictionary-like tomes of alphabetized rules -- agreed upon by a quorum of editors -- regarding such matters as when you abbreviate, when you capitalize, when you use numerals, when you write out a number and what words to use when.

The rules have to do with brevity and precision, are often at odds with some of the writing rules you learned in English class, and sometimes tell you something about changing societal values. That's where it starts getting fun. For example, several years back, AP Style dictated that "internet" begin with a capital I. Now common usage has demoted it to lower case.

What Reuters brings to the table is a global sensibility. For example:

We take a global approach to the spelling of many words. Often, it’s the United States against the world. For instance, our preferred style is “artefact,” except in the U.S., where it’s artifact. Same goes for axe and axeing — our standards for most of the world — which become ax and axing in the U.S. There’s also “backwards,” which loses its “s” in American stories, and “leukaemia,” which loses that first “a” in the U.S. There’s plenty more: tyre and tire, titbit and tidbit, and defence and defense.

In the world of diplomacy, economics and academe, the G3 is Germany, Japan and the U.S.; the G5 extends membership to France and the U.K.; G7 grows the club to Canada and Italy; make it G8 with Russia; G10 adds Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. As for the G24, G30 and G77, you’ll have to look for yourself (we’ve got entries for them, too).

There are slang words to avoid (posh — though one former Spice Girl might object) and a number of common misspellings (Viet Cong, not Vietcong; ventricle, not ventrical; machinegun, not machine gun; and ketchup, not catchup or catsup).

What's most intersting, though, is the consideration given to controversial, or loaded, words, so that journalists can leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions. Case in point: "Terrorism"

“We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the adjective word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. … Report the subjects of news stories objectively, their actions, identity and background. Aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber” or “bombing”, “hijacker” or “hijacking”, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc.”

Monday, July 13, 2009

charting the chatter

The New York Times reports a study out of Cornell University that used sophisticated algorithms and heavy-duty computers to measure the news cycle. Using iconic quotes and buzz-phrases from the 2008 presidential campaign -- "lipstick on a pig", "I am not President Bush" -- the study found that traditional news sources lead -- and the blogosphere follows. By about two and a half hours.

No surprise here. Despite a few exceptions, such as Talking Points Memo, that tend to prove the rule, most blog posts (ahem) are riffs that rest on the backs of the work of professional journalists. Bloggers, unless they also happen to have day jobs as reporters, rarely have the time, the expertise or the access to break any news of their own.

Which is not to say there isn't a place for blogging in the newscape, but at least for now, this study suggests that bloggers will not be able to fill the void left by the ever-shrinking newsrooms.

The story includes a link to an interactive "memetracker", the tool the scientists created to find their results. Fun, actually. bk

Friday, July 10, 2009

out of the loop

Are journalists being left out of the loop when it comes to PR? That's what Claire Cain Miller suggests in a cover story in Sunday's New York Times business section. Thanks to social media, publicists and pr folks are bypassing reporters altogether, using facebook, twitter and influential blogs to get the word out -- and letting reporters come to them.

Probably a good thing for journalism: leaves the shrinking real estate in newspapers and on newsites -- and the work of their shrinking staffs -- for real news.

On the other hand, as publicity becomes a DIY project, at least for start-ups, does it mean a whole new sector of communication grads will be destined for pink slips? Or a whole new job description that includes words like tweet, friend and digg?

From the story:

In response to dissatisfied clients and huge shifts in the media landscape, a new breed of publicist is emerging, says Brian D. Solis, a P.R. guy who writes a blog called PR 2.0. His firm, FutureWorks, has a broad definition of “writer,” a category that includes those in mainstream media as well as the tens of thousands of bloggers and Twitter users who have developed avid followings by writing about niche topics.

“Mommy bloggers are the new TechCrunch; they’re such an influential crowd,” Mr. Solis says.

Instead of calculating the impressions an article gets by estimating a publication’s circulation and pass-along rate, Mr. Solis counts the number of people who tweeted about a company and their combined following, the number of retweets or clicks on links, as well as traffic from Facebook and other social networks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

good bye, good luck...

Happy trails to the Printed Blog, an incomprehensible idea from the outset.

The New York Times reports that the ill-fated paper, the brainchild of John Karp, has folded up shop. Karp initially financed the paper with savings and credit cards and in the end, could not find the venture capital to keep the paper afloat. If you ever saw a copy -- which featured the worst of what blogs have to offer -- you won't mourn its untimely demise. (Full disclosure: I only saw one issue, but it was enough for me.)

From the Times' story:

Mr. Karp started The Printed Blog to try out a new solution to the problem facing all publications: readers are going online, but advertisers still pay more to appear in print.

His idea was to take free articles and pictures from blogs, with their permission, and print them on 11-by-17-inch pieces of paper. Then he sold ads to local businesses and distributed the papers at train stations in Chicago and San Francisco. Though he still had to spend money on paper, ink and delivery people, he tried to cut costs by putting commercial printers in the homes of the delivery workers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

whither the watchdog

Heads up from Jack (whose facebook avatar, appropriately, is a watchdog):

The Withering Watchdog: a PBS expose on the vanishing investigative reporter. Check the blurb below, then read it here. And weep. bk

Our Exposé episode called As Likely As Not is one of our strongest, not least because of how it evolved as we were working on it. It began as a story about sick U.S. nuclear workers being denied benefits they deserved. In the course of shooting it became a tragic story about one of those workers passing away before he and his family were fully compensated for his illness. Then, just as we were finishing the edit, without our ever having planned or imagined it, the story also became about a woman losing her job.

That woman is Laura Frank, an investigative reporter until recently employed by Denver's Rocky Mountain News. The Rocky went under on February 27, 2009, after having published newspapers in Colorado since 1859. Laura Frank's investigation for the Rocky, DEADLY DENIAL, became the basis for our show. Now we have commissioned her to do an Exposé original report, and it is a timely one indeed: an investigation into what some are concerned is the imminent demise of investigative journalism itself. It's a three-parter, and we're proud to present it exclusively on our site. She calls it The Withering Watchdog.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

jlinx goes trade school

Well, kind of.

Prompted by a searing essay by's Scott Rosenberg on how blogs have changed everything, I thought I'd also link to a few helpful sites on the how-to side of blogging and Web 2.0.

But first, a few words from Rosenberg, who compares web communication to the telephone -- rather than the television:
... Like the telephone before it, the Web will be defined by the choices people make as they use it, constrained by -- but not determined by -- the nature of the technology. The most significant choice we have been making, collectively, ever since the popularization of Internet access in the mid-1990s, has been to favor two-way interpersonal communication over the passive reception of broadcast-style messages. Big-media efforts to use the Net for the delivery of old-fashioned one-way products have regularly failed or underperformed. Social uses of our time online -- email, instant messaging and chat, blogging, Facebook-style networking -- far outstrip time spent in passive consumption of commercial media. In other words, businesspeople have consistently overestimated the Web's similarities to television and underestimated its kinship to the telephone.
People who have no experience blogging often fail to understand the essentially social nature of the activity. Blogging is convivial. Bloggers commonly blog in groups, whether formally (as with our Salon bloggers) or simply through the haphazard accretion of casual connections. In these groups, what you contribute is obviously important; but so is where you choose to place your attention. Reading is as much a part of blogging as writing; listening is as important as speaking. This is what so many bloggers mean when they claim that "blogging is a conversation": not that each post sparks a vigorous exchange of comments, but that every post exists in a context of post-and-response that stretches across some patch of the Web, link by link, blog to blog.
and finally:
Whatever the outcome of each of our individual bets, we can now see that collectively they constitute something unprecedented in human history: a new kind of public sphere, at once ephemeral and timeless, sharing the characteristics of conversation and deliberation. Blogging allows us to think out loud together. Now that we have begun, it's impossible to imagine stopping.
Now then. A few links on the how-to's (or not-to's). offers these lists of the top mistakes made by beginner bloggers. Go here and here.

Go here for's look at the newest blogging craze -- which has led to a book deal or two -- Tumblr, which is essentially a tool for posting snarky pictures under a single theme. Good example: Look at This Fucking Hipster

And finally, go here for a "blook" (you'll see why the crazy name) on incorporating all the toys that are out there into the the future of journalism as well as this collection of essays, from the same source, on the impact of social media. (You may have to scroll down the page. Look for the "social media" heading.) Thanks, Jorem Thorn. bk

Monday, July 6, 2009

The media did it.

No need to round up the usual suspects. When things go south, just blame the media. No need to define the term. You might also tack "mainstream" onto it, as well. No need to define that, either.

But definitely, set up a tedious either-or: you're either part of the media or, uh, you love your country, for example.

Yes, this is about Sarah Palin's rambling resignation speech and her subsequent fourth of July Facebook post where she pits herself (the good) against the media (the bad) and what those elitists say about her (the ugly).

Slate's Anne Applebaum deconstructs Palin's message here, conceding that, as a writer for Slate, she must be part of that (sigh) mainstream media.

Even though I live in an obscure corner of Eastern Europe, I now recognize that it is impossible to escape the assumption that, by writing in this space, I belong to the "mainstream media." I therefore feel it incumbent upon me to respond to Sarah Palin's Fourth of July Facebook message, in which, among other things, she attacked the "main stream [sic] media" for its reaction to her surprise resignation from the governorship of Alaska—a reaction that, she wrote, "has been most predictable, ironic, and as always, detached from the lives of ordinary Americans who are sick of the 'politics of personal destruction.' " How "sad," she continued, "that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country."

Friday, July 3, 2009

"If you are a true journalist, the world is going to kick your ass."'s Cary Tennis ruminates on the life of a would-be print journalist here. Upbeat, downbeat, he writes about the ultimate choice -- passion or paycheck -- and how the print journalist, ahem, the writer might-can-should adopt to a new world where information is in motion.

Interesting riff, top to bottom. But oxcart drivers? Really? I think we long ago got away from the idea of j-school as trade school. It's not the delivery system that matters -- it's the goods.

But I digress. Here's a taste of his piece. But if you're a starving j-school expat, read it all:

Yeah. That's the ultimate irony, no? That in the midst of remarkable and unprecedented change, in the midst of the greatest stories to happen all century, we are paralyzed by some changes in the delivery system. Well, we do know, as McLuhan taught us, it is not just the delivery system; paper itself is a kind of message; it tells us that information is permanent, whereas the Net tells us that information is in motion. So the print journalism curriculum may have taught, incorrectly -- because it is taught by ox-cart drivers -- that information is permanent, not that it is in motion, and you may well be struggling to throw off that teaching, as perhaps you must if you are to tweet your way to victory. We must ask: If information is in motion, does that make it more or less true? That depends on whether you believe the world is in motion. Obviously the world is in motion. So information must be in motion as well.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

pay to play

Words fail.

Politico reports that the Washington Post has circulated a flier that offers health care lobbyists and the other usual suspects "access" to the power players -- administration officials, top health care reporters, etc. -- in the health care debate.

Access is defined thusly: you pay us anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 and your place at the table is reserved. Price includes dinner and cocktails.

The shenanigan came to light when an outraged lobbyist leaked the flier.

From Politico's story:

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — was a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

And it's a turn of the times that a lobbyist is scolding The Washington Post for its ethical practices.

"Underwriting Opportunity: An evening with the right people can alter the debate," says the one-page flier. "Underwrite and participate in this intimate and exclusive Washington Post Salon, an off-the-record dinner and discussion at the home of CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth. ... Bring your organization’s CEO or executive director literally to the table. Interact with key Obama administration and congressional leaders."

From the flier itself:
“Spirited? Yes. Confrontational? No. The relaxed setting in the home of Katharine Weymouth assures it. What is guaranteed is a collegial evening, with Obama administration officials, Congress members, business leaders, advocacy leaders and other select minds typically on the guest list of 20 or less. …

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000 … Hosts and Discussion Leaders ... Health-care reporting and editorial staff members of The Washington Post ... An exclusive opportunity to participate in the health-care reform debate among the select few who will actually get it done. ... A Washington Post Salon ... July 21, 2009 6:30 p.m. ...

Embarassed by the Politico story, the Post has issued a statement that disavows the participation of the newsroom in any access-for-money event, but stopped short of cancelling the event. And, oh yes. Shouldn't it be "... the guest list of 20 or fewer"?

Thanks, D. Fact. bk

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

why narrative matters

Jack forwards this piece by Eli Saslow from Sunday's Washington Post on the horrific train crash in D.C. last week. He cites it as an example of why newspapers still matter. And, I might add, the folks trained to work at them.

What you'll see as you read is the incredible power of narrative journalism, when reporters take the time and effort to reconstruct a scene, to develop characters and to viscerally engage the readers by putting faces to the news. The abstract becomes concrete. We can't step away.

There's news: The minute-by-minute updates you find online. We need that. Have become dependent on it, in fact. But then there's this, which takes incredible amounts of time, talent and space -- and, if we don't watch out, may soon die out.

From the piece:

Train 112: a nondescript Metro train, six cars in all. Car 1079: at least 16 people scattered across 68 seats, lost in their own worlds late on a Monday afternoon. Baker stood up again. If he walked to the rear of the car, he would be closer to his exit at Fort Totten. He would shave nine seconds off his commute home. That seemed important.

Baker tossed his blue backpack over his shoulder and walked the full 75 feet to the back of the car, passing all the other passengers on his way. There was a dentist reading a book about golf; a college student closing his eyes after the fourth day of an internship; a young architect fiddling with his cellphone; a 17-year-old checking her makeup in a small mirror before applying extra lip gloss.

Near the front of the train, a 23-year-old named LaVonda King was on her daily trip to pick up two young sons from day care. She had just finished a cellphone conversation with her mother, who suggested that King print advertising fliers for her new hair salon. A good idea, King agreed. She already had the keys to the shop and a name she had daydreamed about since high school: "LaVonda's House of Beauty."

In the far rear of the car, Dave Bottoms listened to an iPod. A chaplain who had just finished his first day on the pastoral staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bottoms, 39, felt scattered from the stress of a new job. Wasn't today his dog's seventh birthday? Did his new BlackBerry work? Were there any leftovers in the fridge for a quick dinner? Bottoms reached into his backpack and grabbed a photocopy of a homily by St. Irenaeus. Maybe, Bottoms thought, a little reading would quiet his mind.

...and we're back!

Some catching up to do:

Leslie forwards this post from marketing guru Seth Godin, who ruminates on the meaning of "free" in what he calls the attention economy. Though he's coming from a marketing perspective (uh, "the dark side"?), what he has to say applies to the j-biz as well:

In an attention economy (like this one), marketers struggle for attention and if you don't have it, you lose. Free is a relatively cheap way to get attention (both at the start and then through viral techniques).

Second, in a digital economy with lots of players and lower barriers to entry, it's quite natural that the price will be lowered until it meets the incremental cost of making one more unit. If a brand can gain share by charging less, a rational player will.


People will pay for content if it is so unique they can't get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people. We'll always be willing to pay for souvenirs of news, as well, things to go on a shelf or badges of honor to share.

People will not pay for by-the-book rewrites of news that belongs to all of us. People will not pay for yesterday's news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance. Why should we? A good book review on Amazon is more reliable and easier to find than a paid-for professional review that used to run in your local newspaper, isn't it?

Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won't work. The big reason is simple:

In a world of free, everyone can play.