Monday, October 18, 2010

another obit

And yet one more piece of evidence that some of the most evocative newspaper writing can be found on the obituary pages. This, an obit of basketball player Manute Bol, was forwarded to me by Melissa Martin, a former student. Here's just a taste of why obituaries are important, not just as testament to one person's legacy, but to what we as a society value. Click on the link above to read the whole thing.

Manute Bol, who died last week at the age of 47, is one player who never achieved redemption in the eyes of sports journalists. His life embodied an older, Christian conception of redemption that has been badly obscured by its current usage.

Bol, a Christian Sudanese immigrant, believed his life was a gift from God to be used in the service of others. As he put it to Sports Illustrated in 2004: "God guided me to America and gave me a good job. But he also gave me a heart so I would look back."

He was not blessed, however, with great athletic gifts. As a center for the Washington Bullets, Bol was more spectacle than superstar. At 7 feet, 7 inches tall and 225 pounds, he was both the tallest and thinnest player in the league. He averaged a mere 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he was a successful shot blocker given that he towered over most NBA players.

Bol reportedly gave most of his fortune, estimated at $6 million, to aid Sudanese refugees. As one twitter feed aptly put it: "Most NBA cats go broke on cars, jewelry & groupies. Manute Bol went broke building hospitals."

Friday, October 15, 2010

anyone can be a writer?

That's apparently what Associated Press seems to think. Fishbowl NY reports that the AP has given up the term "writer" in its bylines in favor of simply "Associated Press". Why? Because the story may be "written" by anyone else who happens to be on the job:

The Associated Press has changed how it is asking its reporters to refer to themselves in their articles as of October 26th. In a memo, Tom Kent, the AP’s deputy managing editor for standards and production, announced that the term “Associated Press writer” would be retired in favor of “Associated Press” in order to allow for the fact that, increasingly, articles may be written by photographers, videographers and radio reporters in addition to those working primarily in print.

Maybe there's a point here, but here's mine. Is reporting and writing so easy that anyone can do it? Professionalism and experience not necessary, apparently.

Wonder what would happen if writers and reporters considered ourselves photogs. If we've got a camera, we can do it, right? bk

Thursday, October 14, 2010

provide us no content

To you from Garrison Keillor. For those of us who believe that the news-industry-as-we-knew-it began its slow trek to hell in a handbasket the day that we began to use "content" as a catch-all for anything that appears on a screen that strings more than a couple of sentences together:

"I sure wish we could get rid of that word 'content' to refer to writing, photography, drawing, and design online. The very word breathes indifference--why would one bother about the quality of work when it's referred to as 'content'? I'm sorry to respond to your good question with a cranky diatribe, but this word has crept from New Media over to Radio Broadcasting where I live in my little cave and now my Show has become Content and is sent around to stations in a nice digital package that squashes the sound. Public radio, which holds itself up as a believer in quality, is cutting corners on all sides and I see this perfidious word 'content' as part of the downward slide. I loathe the word. It's like referring to Omaha as a 'development.'"

--Garrison Keillor, radio curmudgeon, in response to a listener question about how he develops "content" for his radio show, "The Prairie Home Companion," 2009

why writers write

Fabulous piece on the Canadian Journalism Project website on journalist Ian Brown ruminating on the joys of long form journalism. Here's what he says about our stock in trade -- information:

He thinks there are two kinds of information and that 80% of what news organizations produce is the first kind: the info that we need to know -- interest rates, traffic, what’s happening at Nuit Blanche -- but “it’s really kind of prosaic. It’s kind of like looking for your car keys instead of going on a voyage of discovery.”

There’s also a second kind of information, the information you didn’t know you wanted to know, but you are thrilled to discover that you want to. “I think that’s the kind of information that real writers -- writers who care about how you tell a story as much as the story you tell -- that’s the kind of information writers traffic in. You don’t need this information to live your daily life, but it does make your daily life more worth living.” It comes as well-told stories, he says, the kind of journalism that people want to reread.

If that's not enough to get you to read the whole piece, there's this: The story starts out with the way Brown found his lead for a story on infertility treatments.. It's not what you think. Or maybe it is.

Friday, October 8, 2010

how not to get a job, gonzo style

Gawker posted this excerpt from a letter the 21-year-old Hunter S. Thompson, asking for a job at the Vancouver Sun back in 1958. Needless to say, he didn't get the job. (You can find the entire letter here.)

On the other hand, it didn't really matter, now, did it?


October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City


I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.

Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I'll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I'll let my offer stand. And don't think that my arrogance is unintentional: it's just that I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you. [...]

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of. [...]

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

Monday, October 4, 2010

R.I.P.: The English Language

Great piece by the WaPo's Gene Weingarter about the demise of English as we know it. Here's just a taste:

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the "youngest" daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their "younger" daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the "Obama's." This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

The language's demise took few by surprise. Signs of its failing health had been evident for some time on the pages of America's daily newspapers, the flexible yet linguistically authoritative forums through which the day-to-day state of the language has traditionally been measured. Beset by the need to cut costs, and influenced by decreased public attention to grammar, punctuation and syntax in an era of unedited blogs and abbreviated instant communication, newspaper publishers have been cutting back on the use of copy editing, sometimes eliminating it entirely.

To read more, go here. bk

Thursday, September 30, 2010

will journalism become more socialized?

Mashable suggests that the future of social media in journalism is that one will blend into the other, with reports from "citizen journalists and bloggers" on social media becoming news source as well as news consumers.

From the article:
... these social tools are inspiring readers to become citizen journalists by enabling them to easily publish and share information on a greater scale. The future journalist will be more embedded with the community than ever, and news outlets will build their newsrooms to focus on utilizing the community and enabling its members to be enrolled as correspondents. Bloggers will no longer be just bloggers, but be relied upon as more credible sources.

...Reporting has always in some ways been a collaborative process between journalists and their sources. But increasingly, there’s a merger between the source and the content producer. As a result, more journalism will happen through collaborative reporting, where the witness of the news becomes the reporter, says David Clinch, editorial director for Storyful and a consultant for Skype (). Journalists, Clinch says, must be able to pivot quickly between the idea of using the community as a source of news and as the audience for news, because they are both.

This requires a shift in the mindset of journalists, who are used to deciding what news is and how it is covered, produced and distributed, said Alfred Hermida, professor of integrated journalism at the University of British Columbia. “Social media by its very definition is a participatory medium,” Hermida said. “There is a potential for greater engagement and connection with the community, but only if journalists are open to ceding a degree of editorial control to the community.”

All well and good to have up to the minute information coming in by the minute, especially when disaster strikes, but who's going to make sure it's true? That the context is right? And can you really trust anyone who uses the term "content producer" when it comes to news? bk

the reports of its demise: greatly exaggerated

Internet entrepreneur Patricia Handschiegel spoke to the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association a couple of weeks ago. Here's what she had to say about the reputed demise of print, in general, and journalism in particular.

A group of newspaper publishers heard what I hoped to share with the industry, that 1. Google and other internet companies have no business telling anybody how to do content business, given that the majority have no real experience in it. 2. That newspapers (and all print media companies) have just as much opportunity and chance for success online, if not more, as anybody. And, 3. That print is not "dead" because platforms never truly die (hello, radio) -- and that anybody who says otherwise is inexperienced or they'd know better. If anything, the future opens more opportunity, not less, for those in the print media business.

Good ideas. More on her site, linked above. Hit "like". bk

Thursday, September 23, 2010

this and that

Odds, ends and linx:

First, go here for information about Santa Clara University's high school journalism competition. Now edging into its third year.

Go here for the latest Pew Center report on American's increasing hunger for the news -- and how they get.

Finally, go here for a rumination on whether writing for Facebook may someday be a staple of the college curriculum. Silly? Or not so much...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

the curious case of ines sainz

From our other blog: Unnecessary rudeness, in which Shannon goes into the ugly truth about sexual harassment of female sportscasters. She also wonders, for that matter, why anyone has to -- or wants to -- set foot in a locker room with a bunch of naked sweaty men:

Well, from a journalist’s perspective, you have to have equal access to do your job. If male reporters get (have?) to report from the sweaty, naked bowels of the locker room, then women do, too. Period. (For the record, any sports reporter will tell you, there is no more disgusting place on earth. No one wants to be there. And, sorry, but while we can all appreciate the value of a scoop, we’re not exactly talking about matters of national security here. Why can’t everyone just have another hot wing, and wait the three minutes it might take for whoever the game’s big storymaker is to throw on some clothes–or even a towel, for the love–and take it outside?)
There's more, much more. What's your take? bk

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

crash blossoms

What better way to gear up for a new year of teaching journalism than to point out what goes wrong with it.

In this case: crash blossoms, or the goofy headlines that result when words go missing or turn up in the wrong place. Wonder where the term itself came from? The New York Times Magazine's Ben Zimmer explained it all:

For years, there was no good name for these double-take headlines. Last August, however, one emerged in the Testy Copy Editors online discussion forum. Mike O’Connell, an American editor based in Sapporo, Japan, spotted the headline “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms” and wondered, “What’s a crash blossom?” (The article, from the newspaper Japan Today, described the successful musical career of Diana Yukawa, whose father died in a 1985 Japan Airlines plane crash.) Another participant in the forum, Dan Bloom, suggested that “crash blossoms” could be used as a label for such infelicitous headlines that encourage alternate readings, and news of the neologism quickly spread.
According to Zimmer, once he blogged about crash blossoms on a linguistics blog, examples came pouring in. Let's check:

One of my favorite crash blossoms is this gem from the Associated Press, first noted by the Yale linguistics professor Stephen R. Anderson last September: “McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers.” If you take “fries” as a verb instead of a noun, you’re left wondering why a fast-food chain is cooking up sacred vessels. Or consider this headline, spotted earlier this month by Rick Rubenstein on the Total Telecom Web site: “Google Fans Phone Expectations by Scheduling Android Event.” Here, if you read “fans” as a plural noun, then you might think “phone” is a verb, and you’ve been led down a path where Google devotees are calling in their hopes.

Nouns that can be misconstrued as verbs and vice versa are, in fact, the hallmarks of the crash blossom. Take this headline, often attributed to The Guardian: “British Left Waffles on Falklands.” In the correct reading, “left” is a noun and “waffles” is a verb, but it’s much more entertaining to reverse the two, conjuring the image of breakfast food hastily abandoned in the South Atlantic. Similarly, crossword enthusiasts laughed nervously at a May 2006 headline on AOL News, “Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.”

Much of the silliness results when headline writers leave out articles and such in an effort to save space, a trick that may have originated with the telegraph, which leads us again, back to Zimmer:

One clever (though possibly apocryphal) example once appeared in the pages of Time magazine: Cary Grant received a telegram from an editor inquiring, “HOW OLD CARY GRANT?” — to which he responded: “OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?”
All of which would seem pretty archaic until, you know, you think of Twitter. bk

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

a distinction with a difference

What's the difference between online journalism and journalism online? A lot, writes The Online Journalism Review's Robert Hernandez, who is on the faculty of USC's Annenberg School of Communication.

The latter is merely print journalism transferred to screen format. Not bad, not good, not really different. The former, however, is a different bird entirely, that takes all the web has to offer and uses it to both report -- and present. Let's let Hernandez tell it:

Journalism Online is what we use to lovingly call "shovelware," which is taking existing "legacy" content and posting it on the Web. We know that there is immeasurable value in having the paper's articles, radio show's podcast and TV show's newscasts available on the Web.

Text alone is perhaps the most powerful form of journalism on the Web.

But that is still Journalism Online.

What I do.... what I identify with... what I live and breathe is Online Journalism.

So, what is that exactly?

Well, it's hard to explain but I look at the latest technology and opportunities only available on the Internet and try to harness them for the advancement and distribution of storytelling and journalism.

I look at FourSquare and see how we can use that to find eye-witness sources in breaking news events. I look at photo gallery widget by TripAdvisor, meant for vacation snapshots, and see how it could enrich our coverage of, say, the World Cup.

I work with engineers and see how our crafts can work together and create new experiences. Like when we took RSS feeds from around the globe and mapped them for a Seattle Times project. It was based on the addicting, but somewhat pointless Twittervision.

As we've said before, and need to keep repeating: journalism is evolving, changing. And the internet -- not an end in itself, but merely a tool -- is helping that evolution take place. So long as we use it wisely. bk

Thursday, September 9, 2010

immersion in iraq

Check this interview with journalist David Finkel on KQED-FM, San Francisco's NPR station. Finkel, a Pullitzer-winner from the Washington Post, and one of my favorite magazine writers, talks about his 13 month immersion with a battalian of soldiers in Iraq. The result? His book, "The Good soldiers", gives a searing account of the price of war from the soldier's perspective.

All of which points to the value of both immersion journalism -- and going into a story with an open mind.

Magazine students might remember him as the author of "TV Without Guilt" and "The Last Housewife in America," both immersion projects that took the reader inside what could have been touchy subjects -- without agenda or judgement.

When he was awarded the Pullitzer for feature writing some years back, he said something like this in his acceptance speech: Start with an idea, but wait for the story. Love it. bk

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

who defines what's news?

You do.

A recent dust-up between the New York Times and it's partnery, the, and online news non-rofit in the San Francisco Bay area that supplies local news stories to the NYT twice a week. The issue at hand? A column written by the editor of the Bay Citizen appeared to straddle the line between news, gray lady style, and editorial. All of which points to the ways in which digital journalism is changing the definition of the news as we know it.

Here's the cheat sheet for you. First, a column about the brouhaha from the Bay Citizen from the guy who wrote the column in question. Second, the NYT column about said column, written by the public editor. And finally, the Times' own Readers Guide to help readers distinguish fact from, um, opinion.

All of which calls for a little more sophistication o the part of the reader, if not the reporter. So here's the question: as we move away from the old school definition of he said/she said journalistic objectivity, as we appreciate the validity of point of view journalism (even though these changes require more work on the part of the reader) what does this mean in terms of an informed citizenry? Thumbs up? Down? No clue?

It's complicated. But whatever you think, it's kind of exciting, our here on the sidelines, watching it all evolve. bk

Saturday, August 14, 2010

journalism101: warning labels

Want to learn how to be a good journalist -- without taking a journalism class? Take a look at what these warning labels warn against. And then, do none of the above.

Here are just a couple:

To meet a deadline, this article was plagiarised from another news source.

To be fair, newspaper journalists have far too little time to do far too much, particularly with the steadily collapse of print circulations. If a story breaks just before the deadline, they may just copy it: but it seems only fair to require labelling in a case like this.

This article contains unsourced, unverified information from Wikipedia.

...and we all know what happens when you do this.

Journalist does not understand the subject they are writing about.

Now this'd be fine, if journalists were willing or able to call upon expert sources to verify claims, and then to quote their responses. Otherwise you get front-page headlines about cures for cancer based on small irrelevant studies on mice.

Friday, July 23, 2010

rules to write by

From Janet Fitch, author of "White Oleander" via the Los Angeles Times: 10 Rules for Writers. She's talking about fiction, but most of the rules apply to journalism, too, such as using dependent clauses, ditching cliches, writing in scenes, and finding replacements for over-used, anemic verbs.

Here you go. bk

Thursday, July 22, 2010

writing for free. or close to it...

Go here for an inside look at life on the "content farm". It's a look at the uber-creepy underbelly of digital journalism. If only all the underemployed journalists would just say NO...

The MediaShift piece, by Corbin Hier, starts thus:

"We are going to be the largest net hirer of journalists in the world next year," AOL's media and studios division president David Eun said last month in an interview with Michael Learmonth of Ad Age. Eun suggested that AOL could double its existing stable of 500 full-time editorial staffers in addition to expanding its network of 40,000 freelance contributors. Many of the jobs will be added to its hyper-local venture, Patch, while the majority of AOL's freelancers will work for the company's content farms -- Seed and the recently acquired video production operation, StudioNow.

These two areas into which AOL is ambitiously expanding are the fastest growing sectors of the journalism market. Hyper-local networks like and content farms such as Demand Media are flourishing. As Eun's bold prediction indicates, more and more journalists will end up working for new online content producers. What will these new gigs be like? To better understand, I reached out to people who have already worked with some of the big players.

And then gathered stories like this one about the worst -- and the biggest money maker -- of the bunch, Demand Media:

"A lot of my friends did it and we had a lot of fun with it," said one graduate of a top journalism graduate program when asked about her work for Demand Media. "We just made fun of whatever we wrote."

The former "content creator" -- that's what Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt calls his freelance contributors -- asked to be identified only as a working journalist for fear of "embarrassing" her current employer with her content farm-hand past. She began working for Demand in 2008, a year after graduating with honors from a prestigious journalism program. It was simply a way for her to make some easy money. In addition to working as a barista and freelance journalist, she wrote two or three posts a week for Demand on "anything that I could remotely punch out quickly."

The articles she wrote -- all of which were selected from an algorithmically generated list -- included How to Wear a Sweater Vest" and How to Massage a Dog That Is Emotionally Stressed," even though she would never willingly don a sweater vest and has never owned a dog.

As if that weren't demoralizing enough, Demand pays the grand sum of about 15 bucks per piece in order to take advantage of struggling journalists. One free-lancer, who wrote for Demand to supplement his salary as an adjunct professor, only made it worthwhile by writing three pieces an hour for four hours a day. You can imagine the quality of the reporting. Oh, wait.

When the industry appears to be crumbling around us, you do what you gotta do. I'm sure that there are a good number of folks who swallow their pride just because they want to write. But please, let's don't call it journalism. Or kid ourselves that digital outfits like Demand are going to fill the void. bk

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Jay Rosen on objectivity

From Pressthink, NYU prof. Jay Rosen's take on what "objectivity" is all about. What it isn't about is lack of opinion and the I-word. Journalism, after all, is the process of editting and choosing. What you leave in, what you leave out, what questions you ask, what you cover, what you don't.

Objective journalism is a form of persuasion, he writes, and what it is really about is damn good reporting -- and a lot of disclosure:

1. “Grounded in reporting” is far more important than “cured of opinion.” What editors and news executives should worry about is whether the news accounts delivered to users are well grounded in reporting. That’s the value added. That’s the sign of seriousness. That’s the journalism part. Original reporting and the discipline of verification—meaning, the account holds up under scrutiny—should be strict priorities. Whether the composer of the account has a view, comes to a conclusion, speaks with attitude (or declines these things) is far less important. Here, looser rules are better.

2. If objectivity is persuasion, it’s possible that its power to persuade can fade. This is particularly so because of what I said earlier: every act of journalism is saturated with judgment. By not disclosing such acts, “just the facts” sows the seeds of mistrust. All it takes is an accumulation of users who want to know where these judgments arise from. Ostensibly “objective” accounts will fail that test. Mistrust will rise. As the clamor grows, journalists may misidentify it as a demand for even more objectivity. Now you have something that looks a lot like a death spiral, at least for those users who are no longer persuaded. (In part because audience atomization has been overcome by the Internet.)

3. Disclosure sets the fairness bar higher. James Poniewozik of Time magazine was seeking an escape from that spiral when he said that reporters should disclose their political preferences:

Modern political journalism is based on the bogus concept of neutrality (that people can be steeped in campaigns yet not care who wins) and the legitimate ideal of fairness (that people can place intellectual integrity and rigor over their rooting interests). Voting and disclosing would expose the sham of neutrality—which few believe anyway—and compel opinion and news writers alike to prove, story by story, that fairness is possible anyway. Partisans, bloggers and media critics are toxically obsessed with ferreting out reporters’ preferences; treating them as shameful secrets only makes matters worse.

In this sense neutrality can hamper credibility because it masks the hard work of proving you can be fair despite the fact that you have your views.

4. The View from Nowhere may be harder to trust than “here’s where I’m coming from.” Objectivity is often seen as safer by self-styled traditionalists in the mainstream press. But I like to put the accent on what’s tendentious about it. So I make use of my own term, the View from Nowhere, to describe the ritualized uses of objectivity and suggest that there is something strained about them. Easing that strain is not impossible. It means shifting to a different rhetoric: “Here’s where I’m coming from,” sometimes called transparency. This is a different bid for trust. Instead of viewlessness, “You know where I stand; judge accordingly.”

5. In deciding what the rules should be, the wise newsroom will trade polarity for plurality. Lose the binary! Instead of two rigid poles—neutrality or ideology, news or opinion, reporter or blogger, adults or kids—I recommend a range of approaches that permit journalists to report what they know, say what they think, develop a point of view in interaction with events, and bid for the trust of users who have many more sources available to them. A plurality of permissible styles recognizes that trust is a puzzle unsolvable by a single system of signs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

and more:

Go here for a free guide to paying markets for essayists. Download at no charge for the next 30 days. Last updated, Dec. 2009. Author: Erika Dreifus. bk

looking for freelance love at 35,000 feet?

Go here for a listing of in flight magazines, organized by region. Great gig for freelance travel writers or wannabe freelance travle writers.. Rumor has it, airline magazines still pay. As in livable wages.
Once you get the actual listings (free on the website), you can probably find the contact info via the goog-lay. bk

the power of words: who controls the agenda?

Fierce media critic Glenn Greenwald excoriates the New York Times and other members of the mainstream media for backing down from using the word "torture" to describe water-boarding at the behest of the Bush administration.

This, according to a study by Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The Bush administration-dictated euphemism of choice? "harsh interrogation techniques."

What's in a word? Lots. It's a pernicious case of letting the folks with the most vested interest in the outcome control the agenda: the press abdicating its role of watchdog.

There could be any number of reasons why the NYT played the toad in this case. I suspect a lot had to do with access to a very closed an secretive White House. Piss off your limited sources, and what access you had tends to dry up. All of which, it seems to me, seems to me to turn the First Amendment, and all its intent, on its head.

Back to Greenwald:

In response to the Harvard study documenting how newspapers labeled waterboarding as "torture" for almost 100 years until the Bush administration told them not to, The New York Times issued a statement justifying this behavior on the ground that it did not want to take sides in the debate. Andrew Sullivan, Greg Sargent and Adam Serwer all pointed out that "taking a side" is precisely what the NYT did: by dutifully complying with the Bush script and ceasing to use the term (replacing it with cleansing euphemisms), it endorsed the demonstrably false proposition that waterboarding was something other than torture. Yesterday, the NYT's own Brian Stelter examined this controversy and included a justifying quote from the paper's Executive Editor, Bill Keller, that is one of the more demented and reprehensible statements I've seen from a high-level media executive in some time (h/t Jay Rosen):

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said the newspaper has written so much about the issue of water-boarding that "I think this Kennedy School study -- by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories -- is somewhat misleading and tendentious."

You can find the above links, a pdf of the Harvard story, and more thru Greenwald's piece. bk

Saturday, July 3, 2010


In which the Onion reports on technology the way we wish, you know, tech beat reporters reported on technology. In this case, it's a new social network called Foursquare. From the infamous Onion:

NEW YORK—While millions of young, tech-savvy professionals already use services like Facebook and Twitter to keep in constant touch with friends, a new social networking platform called Foursquare has recently taken the oh, fucking hell, can't some other desperate news outlet cover this crap instead?

Launched last year, Foursquare is unique in that it not only allows users to broadcast their whereabouts, but also offers a number of built-in incentives, including some innovative new crap The New York Times surely has a throbbing hard-on for.

In fact, why don't we just let them report on this garbage and call it a day?

Compare, if you dare, to the New York Times piece on same. Meanwhile, back to The Onion, which also skewers that handy formula for writing a trend piece in which the expert quote follows close behind the nutgraf:

As you've no doubt guessed from reading a dozen similar articles in The Washington Post, now's the part of our "trend piece" where we quote an industry expert like Leonard Steinberg, a Boston University communications professor and specialist in his field who remarks in a rather defeated tone that Foursquare represents a revolutionary new way for businesses and customers to interact.

"Through its competitive elements like badges and points, Foursquare helps generate brand loyalty," said the Ph.D.-holding individual, whose decades in higher education were basically shit upon by our inane questions about various bits of Foursquare ephemera. "It's a unique and transformative social networking tool."

"Can I go now?" he added.

Love it. In every possible way. bk

Friday, July 2, 2010

... and we're back.

Well, sort of. With a backlog of interesting bits and pieces about the state of journalism these days. First up, a piece from the London Times by Ed Ceasar about the soaring interest in j. schools these days -- despite the dismal state of the industry itself:

A good job in journalism is a licence for nosiness, a soapbox on which to perorate and a backstage pass to the live performance of history. It can make the blood boil and the mind race and the days pass in an arrhythmic heartbeat. A bad job in journalism is like a bad job anywhere. Still, we must look like we’re having fun — almost every week I receive an email from some poor sap wanting to know how to break into the business. I tell them: starting a career in journalism has always been a crap shoot, and becoming successful is like finding Wonka’s golden ticket. There are, however, ways to up your chances.

Nicholas Tomalin — the wonderful, bombastic Sunday Times writer who died in 1973 reporting from the Golan Heights — thought he knew the answer. In 1969, a happier time for the industry, he began a piece in this magazine by asserting: “The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.” But if Tomalin were commissioned now, he would strike out that famous gambit and start again.

Today, you’ll need luck, flair, an alternative source of income, endless patience, an optimistic disposition, sharp elbows and a place to stay in London. But the essential quality for success now is surely tenacity. Look around the thinning newsrooms of the national titles. Look at the number of applicants for journalism courses, at the queue of graduates — qualified in everything except the only thing that matters, experience — who are desperate for unpaid work on newspapers and magazines. Look at the 1,200 people who applied in September for one reporter’s position on the new Sunday Times website. You’d shoot a horse with those odds.

And yet, in the UK as well here in the U.S., more folks appear to have caught the bug. They want in. What do you think is the draw? And why now? The Times' Ceasar gives a hint:

There will be those who could think of nothing worse than meeting poor Afghanis, or hoodwinking politicians, or testing the patience of Scotsmen. Fair enough — sell cars. But there will also be those for whom the idea of such encounters is intoxicating, and the prospect of reporting such experiences more thrilling still. These people, if they are lucky and tenacious enough, become journalists.

Let's hear your take. bk

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bloomberg on journalism

Apparently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an iPad fiend. So says the New York Observer. Ironically, he's also a fan of paper, and reminds us what will save the publishing industry: Quality, not gadgetry:

"There is something to the content that we’ve forgotten about, and we’ve gotten so carried away with the technology.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

coming to a screen near you

Go here to read about Sports Illustrated's prototype magazine for the web, accessible via Google, and, at least as far as the prototype is concerned, combining pretty much the best of both print and digital journalism. the plan is that both the web version of the magazine and the Google app store from which you can buy it will be ready in the fall. From the story on "All Things Digital":

Sports Illustrated hasn’t come to Apple’s iPad yet, but the magazine is already showing off a new version of its future: A digital version designed with Google in mind.

This one, which Editor Terry McDonell showed off at Google’s I/O developer conference today, looks a whole lot like the one the publisher says it is bringing to Apple’s gadget soon. The real difference here is the way readers/buyers get their hands on the thing: Rather than buying it from Apple’s App Store and downloading it to your iPad, you would access it via your Web browser, after purchasing it from an app store Google manages.

And here's the prototype, which is pretty similar to the prototype SI developed for the iPad:

Friday, May 14, 2010

more on mags

The WSJ reports on a brand new crowd-sourced magazine, appropriated called "48 Hours Magazine" that was put together on the web over the course of one weekend.

It was all an experiment to use the internet to shake up the old way of producing a magazine. According to Mathew Honan, editor at Wired Magazine and one of the founders of the project, they put out a call to about 5000 likely suspects, asking for submissions, expecting maybe 500 and instead received 1500. From the article:

The magazine was sent to the printers on Sunday. Proofs of the 60-page edition will be back to the editors in about a week, Mr. Honan said, and the magazine will be shipped after that. A Web version is set to go up sometime in the next few days, he added.

There aren’t any subscribers because the magazine will be sold through a print-on-demand service called MagCloud, in another break from the traditional magazine model. So it’s still not clear just how many magazines will be shipped, or even what the exact price will be, although Mr. Honan guessed that it would be about $10 or $11. The magazine has four full-page ads, and with advertising and purchases expects to make enough to pay some of the staff and have money to invest in the next issue.

Mr. Honan said the editors plan to produce another edition of 48 Hours and that he thought the project showed that old media could move more quickly and could take advantage of the crowd-sourcing concept. “If you give people an outlet to do something interesting and cool they’ll kind of flock to it,” he said.

A great experiment and maybe a way to combine digital and print magazine journalism in a way that works. But what I couldn't help wondering when I saw the number of submissions: that's a lot of folks willing to do a lot of work on spec and/or for free. Just one more indication that journalists need day jobs? bk

news vs public relations

Just one example. Easy comparison.

Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom.

But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. They also criticize BP for refusing to use well-known scientific techniques that would give a more precise figure.

The criticism escalated on Thursday, a day after the release of a video that showed a huge black plume of oil gushing from the broken well at a seemingly high rate. BP has repeatedly claimed that measuring the plume would be impossible.

Subsea efforts continue to focus on, firstly, progressing options to stop the flow of oil from the well through interventions via the blow out preventer (BOP) and, secondly, attempts to contain the flow of oil at source to reduce the amount spreading on the surface. These efforts are being carried out in conjunction with governmental authorities and other industry experts.

Further investigation of the failed BOP, using remotely-operated vehicles and a variety of diagnostic techniques, has increased our understanding of the condition of the BOP and allowed planning to continue for a number of potential interventions, including for a so-called “top kill” of the well.

This would involve first injecting material of varying densities and sizes (also known as “junk shot”) into the internal spaces of the BOP to provide a seal, before pumping specialised heavy fluids into the well to prevent further flow up the well. Plans for this option are being developed in preparation for potential application next week.

Work continues to collect and disperse oil that has reached the surface of the sea. Over 530 vessels are involved in the response effort, including skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels.

Over 120 flights have been made to apply dispersant to the spill since the response effort began.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

it's the pix, stupid

A new MediaWeek survey shows that magazine readers overwhelmingly (92 percent) prefer print to online versions of their favorite mags. And hooray for those of us who read them -- and write for them.

Could it be the fact that most mags provide something lasting in the way of good photography, not to mention stories that have staying power -- and extend for more than a screen-and-a-half? Not for nothin' are magazines sometimes referred to as "books". From the story:

Amid print media's many struggles, polling by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council finds people who subscribe to magazines are loyal to the medium, and in no hurry to ditch print magazines in favor of online versions.

And these people are scarcely technophobes, though, as many of them say magazine ads lead them to advertisers' Web sites.

Conducted in March and April among adults who subscribe to at least one magazine, the poll found 92 percent of respondents saying they receive print editions of magazines to which they subscribe. Nearly as many, 90 percent, said print is the format they prefer. Just 24 percent said they expect eventually to switch to an e-reader for their magazine consumption.

Indicating the role print publications now play in steering people to the Internet, though, 48 percent of respondents answered affirmatively when asked whether they "go online to find more information about the advertisements in your printed magazines." A somewhat larger number of them, 63 percent, said they'd do so "if the advertising in your printed subscription magazines was customized."

bias by photo editor..

... and headline.

Check this story from CJR that questions the WSJ's choice of a photo of Elena Kagan playing softball. Clearly, it was an odd picture to slap on the front page. Was the editor making a point, playing to the conservative audience? Has the paper changed under Rupert Murdoch? Writer Ryan Chittum, who once worked for the WSJ, says yes.

The post offers good examples of the ways in which the news can be biased in subtle ways: photos, headlines and subtle selections. Read it all here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

quick hits: then again not.

In case you missed these:

Newsweek is on the sale rack. Makes me sad, then again not. Since it changed its format this year, the name of the magazine has been a misnomer. Read more here and here.

Reporting via social media can be efficient and economical, then again.... Go here for an ooops story on how HuffPo came up with the WRONG Facebook page for the Times Square bomber.

On the other hand, here's how found the guy who found the prototype for the iPhone. Yep, it started with Facebook.

Finally, journalism is reportedly dying, but then again not. Go here for a story on the growth of sports journalism classes in university journalism programs. From the story, by award-winning sportswriter Dave Kindred:

Of the many reasons a man would want to be 21 again, number four or five on my list would be today’s full palate of journalistic choices. When I was 21, a reporter/writer interested in sports could work for a newspaper or magazine – end of story. Today’s students have newspapers and magazines (for a while, anyway) along with hundreds of outlets from the big boys at, AOL’s Fanhouse, Yahoo! Sports, and to newspaper websites, blogs, and niche blogs reporting on every aspect of SportsWorld. Today’s 20somethings see sports journalists on television, hear them on radio, read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook.

"Sports journalism isn’t dying, it’s transforming," said Tim Franklin, once the editor of The Baltimore Sun and now director of the NSJC. "When I meet with students, they’re excited about the future. They will have a different career path than we had. But when they look around, they don’t see the abyss. They see a changing, but dynamic, landscape. . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

print stinks.

Love this quote from Anna Quindlen (thanks to Utah State journalism professor, Ted Pease):

The Book

"There's no question that reading off-paper, as I think of it, will increase in years to come.... And there's no question that once again we will be treated to lamentations suggesting that true literacy has become a lost art. The difference this time is that we will confront elitism from both sides. Not only do literary purists now complain about the evanescent nature of letters onscreen, the tech aficionados have become equally disdainful fo the old form. 'This book stinks,' read an online review of the bestseller Game Change before the release of the digital version. 'The thing reeks of paper and ink.'"
--Anna Quindlen, columnist and book reader, Newsweek, April 5, 2010 (

Gets your fingers dirty, too. On the other hand, rarely leaves you cursing the spinning beachball of death. bk

Sunday, April 25, 2010

on the art of the obit: esp for comm 40

The best obituaries illuminate the real drama that is ordinary life. They can be at once touching and insightful, providing the reader with a look at a life well-lived as well as giving readers a hint at what the community values.

Here are two recent ones from the San Francisco Chronicle, celebrating the lives of two former staffers. The first, on retired reporter Malcolm Glover, not only sheds light on the life of an old-school reporter whose first martini was expertly mixed by Cary Grant, but also opens a window on police beat reporting:

"He was the original cop reporter," said a longtime colleague, retired Chronicle and Examiner reporter Larry Hatfield. "If it was a story in any way involving cops he was wonderful, because he could get the cops anywhere to talk. He was a good reporter."

The key was that Mr. Glover had worked so long in the police beat that he knew everyone, from the police chief on down, from way back. But as much as that, it was his smooth style on the phone and in person that turned stories.

"Malcolm never let me down," said John Koopman, who edited him as morning metro editor at the Examiner. "When you needed something, he'd get that sly grin, that twinkle in his eye and say, 'Gimme five minutes.'

"Then he'd go away and five minutes later he's got the chief on the line."

The second, on 28-year-old Alicia Parlette, connects you with a woman you never knew, but may wish that you did. It starts like this:

Alicia Parlette, who turned her incurable cancer diagnosis at age 23 into a Chronicle series about her experience, died just before noon Thursday at UCSF Medical Center.

She was 28.

Ms. Parlette's 17-part series, "Alicia's Story," drew tens of thousands of followers, who read about her trips to the doctor's office, the therapist's couch, her relationships with family and friends, and her faith in God.

Monday, April 19, 2010

DIY magazines

But is it journalism? Does it have to be?

Go here for the latest in self-publishing via MagCloud. Interesting questions arise as to the nature -- and future -- of magazine journalism. Your turn. bk

Thursday, April 15, 2010

hello sweetheart, get me rewrite

Two reminders of what we've lost and maybe what we won't miss when it comes to the glory days of the newspaper.

First, from the New York Times, a piece by A. O. Scott on a film fest of 43 great newspaper pictures, starting soon in the Big Apple:

Remember newspapers? Neither do I, to tell you the truth, even though I’ve been working at this one for more than 10 years. But you have to go back a lot further— nearly half a century — to sample the sights, sounds and smells that still evoke the quintessence of print journalism in all its inky, hectic glory.

Or you could go to Film Forum, where a 43-movie monthlong series called The Newspaper Picture opens on Friday with Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole.” The program is a crackerjack history lesson and also, perhaps, a valediction. Not a day goes by that we don’t read something — a tweet, a blog, maybe even a column — proclaiming the death of newspapers, either to mourn or to dance on the grave. And even if those old newsprint creatures survive, say by migrating to the magic land of the iPad, they sure ain’t what they used to be. Where are the crusty editors and fast-talking girl reporters of yesteryear? I’m peeking over the cubicle wall, and all I see are Web producers and videographers.

And then there's this, from The Pitch, categorized as "studies in crap". It's a slightly less elegaic look at newspapers as they were back in the mid-1960s via a thrift store book entitled "Your Career in Journalism" by M. L. Stein. Among the gems culled by blogger Alan Scherstuhl:

  • "The journalist enjoys good standing in his community. He is even likely to be held in awe." (page 47).
  • "The day may not be far off when a city editor will say to a reporter, 'Check your space gear. You're going to the moon.'" (page 86).
  • "If you are a college graduate in journalism, you may land a job before you even leave the campus."
  • "The story that a reporter worried and sweated over will be read by thousands and perhaps millions of people who will be informed, enlightened or amused. ... He has prestige and influence that most persons can never hope to attain."
  • And then there's this:

  • Sometimes, Stein seems admirably forward-thinking. He writes, "The door is no longer closed against you, girls, and you can often compete with men for the same positions at the same salary."

    But then he offers the girls this advice:
    "Let's assume the Indian ambassador to the United States and his wife visit your city. Someone from your paper will interview him on such weighty matters as East-West relations, India's neutrality policy, and so forth. But, as a reporter from the women's section, you will talk to Mrs. Ambassador about the problems and pleasures of being a diplomat's wife, her role in Washington, her views about American women, etc."
    Perhaps he would think more highly of women if the world's most famous girl reporter hadn't failed for decades to crack that Clark-is-Superman case.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

what's in a name?

To name or not to name, once again. Rather than going over old ground, go here from some previously charted territory on anonymity on the web, specifically as regards the odious juicy campus.

On a more releant note, the New York Times reports that several serious news sites are rethinking previous policies that let readers comment under the complete cloak of anonymity. Originally, reporter Richard Perez-Pena writes, opening up the web to any and all who wanted to join the conversation was looked upon, at least by some, as admirable:

From the start, Internet users have taken for granted that the territory was both a free-for-all and a digital disguise, allowing them to revel in their power to address the world while keeping their identities concealed.

A New Yorker cartoon from 1993, during the Web’s infancy, with one mutt saying to another, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” became an emblem of that freedom. For years, it was the magazine’s most reproduced cartoon.

When news sites, after years of hanging back, embraced the idea of allowing readers to post comments, the near-universal assumption was that anyone could weigh in and remain anonymous. But now, that idea is under attack from several directions, and journalists, more than ever, are questioning whether anonymity should be a given on news sites.

It's a good question, one that many big thinkers are rethinking. Back to Perez-Pena:

Some prominent journalists weighed in on the episode, calling it evidence that news sites should do away with anonymous comments. Leonard Pitts Jr., a Miami Herald columnist, wrote recently that anonymity has made comment streams “havens for a level of crudity, bigotry, meanness and plain nastiness that shocks the tattered remnants of our propriety.”

No one doubts that there is a legitimate value in letting people express opinions that may get them in trouble at work, or may even offend their neighbors, without having to give their names, said William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia’s journalism school.

“But a lot of comment boards turn into the equivalent of a barroom brawl, with most of the participants having blood-alcohol levels of 0.10 or higher,” he said. “People who might have something useful to say are less willing to participate in boards where the tomatoes are being thrown.”

All of which is another reminder that one of the issues in all things digital is the fact that the technology often outpaces our ability to think about it. bk

Thursday, April 8, 2010

on the job training?

... or slave labor. Is an internship by any other name, well, still an internship? You choose.

Is the experience worth the (lack of) paycheck? Or are eager college kids -- in a down economy -- being taken advantage of by everyone on the j-side from Huffington Post (which once auctioned off an internship to the highest bidder at a charity auction) to Rolling Stone.

Go here to read a New York Times piece questioning the legality of unpaid internships. The piece also points out that many unpaid internships often have little experiential value as well as also pondering whether kids from wealthy families end up getting an unfair leg up the career ladder. From the story:

One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots.

At Little Airplane, a Manhattan children’s film company, an N.Y.U. student who hoped to work in animation during her unpaid internship said she was instead assigned to the facilities department and ordered to wipe the door handles each day to minimize the spread of swine flu.

Tone Thyne, a senior producer at Little Airplane, said its internships were usually highly educational and often led to good jobs.

Concerned about the effect on their future job prospects, some unpaid interns declined to give their names or to name their employers when they described their experiences in interviews.

While many colleges are accepting more moderate- and low-income students to increase economic mobility, many students and administrators complain that the growth in unpaid internships undercuts that effort by favoring well-to-do and well-connected students, speeding their climb up the career ladder.

Sticking with the publishing side, Daily Finance blogger Jeff Bercovici notes that The Atlantic, possibly red-faced after the Times' piece, has announced that it will start paying its interns. But he also includes some horror stories about pubs that don't -- despite the fact that the law says employers must provide either cash or college credit along with meaningful work:

But many other companies employ interns who receive neither cash nor credit -- even though such an arrangement falls into exactly the legal "grey zone" Atlantic Media is exiting. A search of online job listings in magazine publishing turns up plenty of unpaid internships for non-students, although in most cases credit can be had for those who want it. A listing for a fashion internship at Interview magazine specifically states, "College credit is not required," while one at Us Weekly merely says credit is "available." It's not much different in online media: A spokesman for the Huffington Post says the site " has both paid and unpaid interns, who work at the site for the training, experience, and exposure." Adds the spokesman, "We're careful to follow all employment guidelines."

Those guidelines, however, are fairly subjective and, taken literally, rather unfavorable to employers. They require, among other things, that any company employing unpaid interns derive "no immediate advantage" from the work they do to ensure that the emphasis is on job training, not exploitation. That rule seems to be honored mostly in the breach at places like Rolling Stone, which is owned by the same company as Us Weekly, Wenner Media. A former intern there says her job was mostly transcribing interview tapes and fetching coffee for editors.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

the war in Iraq, via social media

SF Chronicle Executive VP Phil Bronstein talks up the value of social media when it comes to war coverage, vis-a-vis WikiLeaks' recent leaks of encrypted government footage that tracks what transpired when an Apache helicopter crew opened fire on a dozen people -- including two Reuters photographers -- on the streets of Baghdad back in 2007.

He contrasts war coverage via social media versus his own reporting in the Phillipines over 20 years ago, when his notebook and his photog's camera were the only instruments of recorded fact.

From his piece in today's Huffpo:

I've seen a fair number of people killed in countries at war, including combatants, journalists and civilians. Even at ground level, though, in the midst of bone and blood spray, sorting things out is near impossible.

I am sure of one thing: tragedy aside, this is all good for us in the bigger sense, starting with the video release. Transparency is the victor here. More information and even more yelling back and forth gives everyone more data and opportunity to make up their own minds. And it keeps life-and-death topics like war fully in the bull's-eye heat of aggressive social interaction.

That's what's really changed since my war correspondent days. No one today has to be a passive non-combatant in the important moments of our culture.

jack on the radio: SCU journalist makes good... again!

Here's Jack! Listen to his interview on in Birmingham, via this podcast, as he discusses the latest installment of his USA Today series on the $$$$$$$$$$$ of collegiate sports. Listen for the number of documents he and his partners went through -- and his dismissal of a million bucks or so as "chump change."

Meanwhile, here's a taste of the latest story in the series:

Michigan State outspent the upstart [Northern Iowa] Panthers by $9.4 million to $1.5 million in men's hoops last year. Spartans coach Tom Izzo, who will be participating in his sixth Final Four this weekend, makes more than $3 million a year — more than 10 times what Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson had been making.

Yet their athletic departments have one thing in common: Without millions in help from their universities, neither could pay its bills. Michigan State's $81 million budget last year included $3.7 million in university subsidies. Half of Northern Iowa's $17 million budget came from subsidies and student fees.

Monday, April 5, 2010

whither the white house press corps?

Will twitter, facebook and whatever new big thing is just waiting around the corner mean the death of the (relevance) of the White House press corps?

And does it matter that power can take its message directly to the people?

We've noted here that news orgs, in an attempt to conserve resources, have been folding their Washington bureaus, thus diminishing the number of journalistic filters nosing around the heart of our nation's government. On the other hand, do reporters who are invited into the inner sanctum of the Washington press corps always get the job done? (Note: the run-up to the war in Iraq)

The Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove tackles the question of whether news that's direct-from-white house-to-your house is not only going to clear out the chairs in the briefing room, but also undermine the public's right to know:
For as long as there has been a White House, a healthy tension has existed between the president, who seeks to convince the citizenry with calibrated messages and images, and the middlemen of the Fourth Estate, who traditionally convey, interpret, rebut, deride, and otherwise filter those messages and images. Every so often, the president takes his revenge, as Obama did on Friday, mocking skeptical reporters who have been questioning the positive impact of health-care reform. "Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm and you planted some seeds and they came out next day and they looked—Nothing’s happened! There’s no crop! We’re gonna starve! Oh, no! It’s a disaster!" Obama told a town meeting in Maine. “It’s been a week, folks. So before we find out if people like health-care reform, we should wait to see what happens when we actually put it into place. Just a thought.”

Until relatively recently, middlemen like [CBS senior White House correspondent Bill] Plante had the upper hand, and the media filter was robust—notwithstanding persistent and clever attempts by various White House communications gurus to bypass the journalistic kibitzing. But these days, as Plante acknowledges, the filter is fraying.

And the MSM’s relevance is up for grabs.

At the very moment that social media and enhanced technology are proliferating and gaining audience share by the tens of millions, giving President Obama powerful interactive tools to communicate directly with the public, the old media are in a world of hurt.

With their audiences eroding along with advertising revenue, long-established television and print outlets are painfully cinching their belts. They are shutting down Washington bureaus, firing hundreds of experienced journalists and—as with a planned presidential trip this Wednesday to Prague, where Obama will sign an arms-control deal and meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev—not even anteing up for the usual White House press charter. Members of the press corps who wish to cover the visit will have to make their own way to Prague by flying commercial.

Two screens (I mean pages) later, the last word goes to veteran White House correspondent, 89-year-old Helen Thomas:

Thomas, at 89, might have slowed down a bit since her wire-service days, but she’s still combat-ready with a sharply honed question. “The difference between a news conference and interviews is that the questions from the ‘rabble’ will come from left field,” she said, “and they will ask something that will really startle him” and push the president off his talking points.

Thomas is naturally skeptical of the new media and all the Facebooking and tweeting. “I think we’re all suffering from the real lack of true communication,” she said. “We can be ignored totally—almost. The White House feels they have other ways.” She also lamented the proliferation of bloggers, some of whom are formally accredited to the White House.

“There’s no accountability for a blogger,” she scoffed. “They can ruin lives, reputations, and once you send something into the air, it’s going to land, and there’s nothing that can curb them from saying anything they want. Everybody with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist, and everybody with a cellphone thinks they’re a photographer.”

journalism's top ten

NYU came up with a list of the top ten works of journalism over the past decade. Note No. 2. A note of validation for all those who fell in love with Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's work in either Advanced J. or Mag. J. -- or who have come to appreciate the importance of immersion journalism.

Image from winner 2
2 Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, 2003

A model of immersion reporting and narrative storytelling, this deeply empathic, deeply disturbing portrait of life among the underclass challenges the received notions of poverty theorists and ordinary readers on the left and the right alike.

Go here for a review of the book. bk

Friday, April 2, 2010

journalism, redefined?

TechCrunch reports on a PR Newswire study that suggests that the majority of bloggers consider themselves journalists though only a fifth of them found their blogging to be their major source of income. What's interesting to me is whether these bloggers are reporters who are blogging as part of the job; journalists who have been laid off and are now blogging to make ends meet (and apparently not getting it done); or random bloggers who CALL themselves journalists -- because they can.

I also wonder about the use of social media reported below. Do traditional-media journalists use it less because they are not as tech-savvy or progressive? Or because they question the credibility of the sources?

In any event, is all this changing the definition of what we call journalism?

From the study:

Blogger/Social Media Perception & Influence
The majority of bloggers now view themselves as journalists – 52%. This is a marked increase from 2009 when just one in three had the same opinion. Yet, despite viewing themselves as professional, only 20% derive the majority of their income from their blog work; a 4% increase from 2009.

Among the total respondents, the use of blogs and social networks for research increased significantly in 2010 as compared to 2009; however this spike appears to be skewed by online magazine/news reporters and bloggers. While 91% of bloggers and 68% of online reporters "always" or "sometimes" use blogs for research, only 35% of newspaper and 38% of print magazine journalists suggested the same.

This divergence was also seen when using social networks for research. Overall, 33% of respondents indicated using such assets, but blogger usage (48%) was greater than newspaper (31%) and print magazine (27%).

This contrast is even sharper when considering Twitter. 64% of bloggers and 36% of online reporters confirmed employing Twitter as a research tool. On the other hand, newspaper reporters (19%) and print magazine reporters (17%) appear to find less value in using Twitter for research. Newspaper and print magazine reporters also source Twitter less frequently than their media counterparts, with 19% and 22% saying they have used a Twitter post in a story. This is sharply different from bloggers (55%), online magazine/news (42%) and even TV news (48%).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

web-first at the christian science monitor: one year later

Check out this Mediabistro Q-and A with John Yemma, the editor of the Christian Science Monitor. He talks about what it means to go web-first, and how digital journalism can make print editions viable:

The Monitor's decision to go online-only last year was seen by many as a major step in the evolution of newspapers. What was the genesis of that decision?
For about two years before they hired me, [the paper] had been involved in a fairly deep-dive [analysis] into the future of print. They looked at their financials, they looked at the future of print, they did prototyping of a weekly in two different forms -- a slick weekly and a tabloid weekly -- and they'd already made a lot of progress along the lines of moving from daily print to weekly print. It seemed like where they weren't making much progress, and where they were still caught in the old paradigm was "What do we do with print? How do we make it most effective?" -- when what we really needed to do was go Web-first. Print should be there, but it shouldn't be the lead dog on the dogsled.

Even though print still makes the bulk of the money?
In fact, that's true of the moment. And it's certainly true with most newspapers. But it's clear that the future is digital. That doesn't mean that you won't have print. It just means that you either lower the frequency of print -- which is what we did -- or you do what the Globe and the Houston Chronicle and others have done, which is to decrease your print footprint... down into your core readership areas, so that your supply chain and distribution chain is much cheaper. And then you raise your subscription rates -- which all of the big companies have done. So that's an attempt to keep print viable.


How has your revenue model worked since the move away from daily print, and how has that affected your workflow generally?
Our revenue streams now are print circulation, print advertising, syndication sales and Web ad revenue. We have a daily subscription email with about 2,000 subscribers at $84 a year, that has an abridged version of the daily news stories. I think we've got the mix right for us.

It works because we've been able to unharness the manpower that used to be devoted to daily print, and free them to work on Web-first content. That's been the big revelation. When you have print on a daily basis, then everything funnels into those print deadlines. Everything backs up from that, and everything that you're doing is oriented toward that one deadline, so you're not really optimizing your posts for the Web, you're not thinking about trending stories, you're not thinking about when the best time to post something is, and you're not living Web-first. And that's what we've done in the past year. We've taken a culture that had been a traditional news culture, and we've transitioned them to a Web-first one where they understand the rhythms of the Web better. That's probably been a big factor in contributing to our increase in Web traffic.