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%).