Wednesday, April 27, 2011

a couple of j links -- strictly for comm 40

Here's a look at what it takes for the New York Times to cover the world -- from a piece in The Atlantic

And here are a couple of links that might (or might not) come in handy when you write your obit:

That's it. bk

Friday, April 8, 2011

what else we lose ...

Via Ted Pease once again:

“Scholars and commentators have been talking for some time about how the death of newspapers could have serious consequences for the quality of newsgathering. My research demonstrates a second, largely ignored ramification. The death of newspapers seriously threatens to put an end to some of the most important legal efforts in our democracy. . . .

“For generations, newspapers and newspaper organizations have expended substantial resources to litigate major cases to the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that trials are open to the public. They have funded the drafting of virtually every piece of open-government legislation on both a federal and a state level. They have then gone on to fund litigation efforts to ensure that these statutes, once passed, are obeyed by government officials. The death of newspapers can be expected to pose a serious constitutional crisis.”

—RonNell Andersen Jones, BYU law professor and former newspaper editor,
New study IDs threats the ‘death of newspapers’ may have on open government,” March 2011
(See Jones’ research abstract.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

The other reason why we love newspapers:

Thanks to Ted Pease:

“A 19th century Irish immigrant named O’Reilly called the newspaper ‘a biography of something greater than a man. It is the biography of a DAY. It is a photograph, of twenty four hours’ length, of the mysterious river of time that is sweeping past us forever. And yet we take our year’s newspapers—which contain more tales of sorrow and suffering, and joy and success, and ambition and defeat, and villainy and virtue, than the greatest book ever written—and we use them to light the fire.’”
—Adair Lara, columnist,
The San Francisco Chronicle,
December 30, 1999

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

the state of the news media, 2011

The Project for Excellence in Journalism just released its State of the News Media Report for 2011, and what the authors found is that it's good -- and it's not. While revenues have increased for almost all media over the past two years, newspaper revenues are still on a decline -- though the authors report that in most cases, cutbacks have ended.

What's most interesting is this finding: While news organizations still produce the content (what we used to call news), it's the tech folks who control its distribution. Which may or may not be a little bit scary. Here's a taste:

In the digital space, the organizations that produce the news increasingly rely on independent networks to sell their ads. They depend on aggregators (such as Google) and social networks (such as Facebook) to bring them a substantial portion of their audience. And now, as news consumption becomes more mobile, news companies must follow the rules of device makers (such as Apple) and software developers (Google again) to deliver their content. Each new platform often requires a new software program. And the new players take a share of the revenue and in many cases also control the audience data.

That data may be the most important commodity of all. In a media world where consumers decide what news they want to get and how they want to get it, the future will belong to those who understand the public’s changing behavior and can target content and advertising to snugly fit the interests of each user. That knowledge — and the expertise in gathering it — increasingly resides with technology companies outside journalism.

In the 20th century, the news media thrived by being the intermediary others needed to reach customers. In the 21st, increasingly there is a new intermediary: Software programmers, content aggregators and device makers control access to the public. The news industry, late to adapt and culturally more tied to content creation than engineering, finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.

Meanwhile, the pace of change continues to accelerate. Mobile has already become an important factor in news. A new survey released with this year’s report, produced with Pew Internet and American Life Project in association with the Knight Foundation, finds that nearly half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device. What they turn to most there is news that serves immediate needs – weather, information about restaurants and other local businesses, and traffic. And the move to mobile is only likely to grow. By January 2011, 7% of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet. That was nearly double the number just four months earlier.

The migration to the web also continued to gather speed. In 2010 every news platform saw audiences either stall or decline — except for the web. Cable news, one of the growth sectors of the last decade, is now shrinking, too. For the first time in at least a dozen years, the median audience declined at all three cable news channels.

For the first time, too, more people said they got news from the web than newspapers. The internet now trails only television among American adults as a destination for news, and the trend line shows the gap closing. Financially the tipping point also has come. When the final tally is in, online ad revenue in 2010 is projected to surpass print newspaper ad revenue for the first time. The problem for news is that by far the largest share of that online ad revenue goes to non-news sources, particularly to aggregators.

You can also go here to download a podcast of an interview with Tom Rosenstiel on Wednesday's Forum on San Francisco's NPR station, 88.5 FM. bk

Thursday, March 3, 2011


From Today's Word on Journalism:

“For journalists charged with feeding the digital news flow, life is a barely sustainable cycle of reporting, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking and, in some cases, moderating the large volume of readers who comment online. I applaud these journalists for their commitment, but worry that the requirements of the digital age are translating into more errors and eventual burnout.”

—Arthur S. Brisbane, public editor, The New York Times, 1/10/2011
(Thanks to alert WORDster John McManus)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

in so many words: good ideas for making writing sing.

Check out this essay by Poynter's Roy Peter Clark that includes several tips for writing short stories that soar or making any writing rise above the ordinary. It's good advice for newspaper writing that can -- and should -- be applied to magazine writing, too.

Here's one tip to make will you hungry for more:

Thaw out the 5 Ws and H

This advice comes from editor Rick Zahler at The Seattle Times. The traditional version of the 5W’s freezes those story elements into informational ice cubes. If you thaw them out, the narrative begins to flow. Who becomes Character. What becomes Action. Where becomes Setting. When becomes Chronology. Why becomes Motive. How becomes Narrative. One of the great reporters of his day was Meyer Berger of The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer in the late 1940s for his narrative reconstruction of a multiple shooting. He wrote it on deadline and at great length. But he also was the master of the short human interest feature. Just before his death in 1959, he wrote a story, about 1,200 words on an old, poor, blind man who was once a classical musician. Then he wrote a sequel:

Eight violins were offered the other day to Laurence Stroetz, the 82-year-old, cataract-blinded violinist who was taken to St. Clare’s Hospital in East Seventy-first Street from a Bowery flophouse. The offers came from men and women who had read that though he had once played with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he had been without a violin for more than 30 years.

The first instrument to reach the hospital was a gift from the Lighthouse, the institution for the sightless. It was delivered by a blind man. A nun took it to the octogenarian.

He played it a while, tenderly and softly, then gave it back. He said: ‘This is a fine old violin. Tell the owner to take good care of it.’ The white-clad nun said: ‘It is your violin, Mr. Stroetz. It is a gift.’ The old man bent his head over it. He wept.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

for the mag class: the science of solid pitchery

Some wise words -- and good linx -- on crafting killer pitches, courtesy of my online writers' group:

Example 1: Here's a pitch that landed David Hochman an assignment from O (Oprah's magazine):
How are you? XXX has been saying such nice things about you lately, and it prompted me to get back in touch with an idea for the magazine. Please take a look at my website to see clips going back to good ol’ E.W. I’ve also written for O before.
As a prelude, let me say that today was a fairly typical Monday around here. I drove my son to school, squeezed in time at the gym, reacted to a thousand digital beeps and dings, and at 5:30, sighed lovingly to my wife as we stood over a box of organic mac & cheese explaining to our six-year-old that, no, he can’t have his own iPod.
To be fair, I have a very rich and satisfying life. My wife and I are deeply in love after twelve years together. Sebastian is an adorable joy, even when he’s pouting (well, sort of). And I’ve had enough positive, engaging experiences and friendships to rank as high as any other T-ball dad on the subjective happiness scale. Not that it’s a competition.
But some days, I do wish there was more. My wife and I talk about it all the time, and that’s the reason for my pitch: How can we bring more awe into our life?
Many people talk about “practicing” gratitude and slowing down for what really matters (three of my efforts on those fronts are here -- and, but true awe is pretty rare. The scientific research says if you’re lucky, you experience it once or twice a month. But those experiences are likely to make the emotional highlights reel of your year and, eventually, of your lifetime. By awe, I mean that elusive and overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration and amazement in the face of something beautiful, brilliant or otherworldy, and it’s territory I’d love to explore for the magazine.
I was struck by the findings of some Penn researchers earlier this who intensely studied and analyzed the most emailed articles published in The New York Times. The results were surprising, and, in fact, awe-inspiring. What topped the list were articles that stirred an “emotion of self-transcendence, a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than the self.” In short, articles brimming with awe.
My idea is to explore awe as an unsung emotion and investigate the latest research, the coolest science, and perhaps note some key moments in awe history, while also finding opportunities to up the awe quotient in my own life.
It’s hard to say exactly what awe is, but it’s easy to say what it’s not: the boredom of tracking Twitter feeds, the meanness of anonymous comments online, the fake thrall of too much television and texting.
Maybe this is too much information but I once experienced a moment so awe-filled (I can’t bring myself to say awesome), I still remember every nuance of it. I was a sophomore in college and after staying up nearly all night studying for both an art history and English lit exam, the synapses in my brain suddenly exploded with wide-eyed understanding. The moment was initially sparked by the sight of a button on a garment in an early Leonardo painting and ended five hours later with me truly hearing the music of John Coltrane for the first time. Regardless of the specific prompts, the experience created the sort of connectedness-to-all-things feeling I’d only read about in, well, the lives of the great artists and poets.
I quietly dubbed this powerful and mysterious moment my “epiphany” and it changed everything for me, and still resonates all these years later. My grade point average shot up from 2.8 to 3.9 and it awakened an awareness about what makes great art great, what Whitman and Frost were really talking about, and what T.S. Eliot meant when he wrote about “music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts.”
I’m not saying I need every day to be a moment in a William Blake painting. But it would be interesting to consciously harness a little of that spirit. A month of awe is what I’m proposing, and I’d start with researchers like Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman at Penn, who conducted the Times survey. I’d talk to architects of cathedrals, choir conductors, a Dan Gilbert or Robert Emmons type or two, and maybe a few connoisseurs of awe like this young man, who climbs to ungodly heights without rope, gear or safety net. All in an effort to see what I, my family and your readers can do to bring greater awe into all our lives.
It’s a topic that fascinates me more than almost any other and I’d love to write about it for O.
All the best,
David Hochman
Example #2: Same writer, entirely different approach, which resulted in a story for the New York Times.

Have you heard about Nathan Mhyrvold and his crazy new cookbook? "Modernist Cuisine: The Art & Science of Cooking" Comes out in December. 2200 pages. Retails for $625. The talk of the chef universe, apparently. Some early reactions:

"This book will change the way we understand the kitchen." --Ferran AdriĆ ," '
“The most important book in the culinary arts since Escoffier.” --Tim Zagat
“The cookbook to end all cookbooks.” --David Chang
"A fascinating overview of the techniques of modern gastronomy." --Heston Blumenthal
"Amazing! Unparalleled in its breadth and depth." --Wylie Dufresne

I think Mhyrvold would be a great profile for the section or for the Times magazine even. He's the former Chief Technology Officer from Microsoft who cashed out to focus on the zillion other interests he has, including cooking. He has finished first and second in the world championship of barbecue in Memphis. He holds more than 18 patents, he's a paleontologist and wildlife photographer and has degrees from Princeton and UCLA and worked under Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. For the book, he created a 20-person team at The Cooking Lab to invent new food flavors and textures by using tools such as water baths, homogenizers, centrifuges, and ingredients like hydrocolloids, emulsifiers, and enzymes.

Link to his book here:

To see the sort of interview subject he would be, watch the first three minutes of his TED talk here (I dare you not to continue beyond the first three minutes):

Must. write. about. him.

Example 3: a pitch from another writer for a story that ended up in Discover magazine not long ago:

I'm still waiting for some information regarding that other pitch (Chinese fungi repatriation). But here's another article I'm eager to write.

In 1884, after months of a dead-end strike, a group of pissed-off Ohio coal miners decided to sabotage the mine owned by the New Straitsville Mining Company. They loaded coal cars with logs, soaked them in oil, set them ablaze and pushed them into the mine. The mine caught fire, effectively ending coal mining in that part of Ohio. The New Straitsville fire has burned an estimated two hundred square miles of coal, and it still burns today. A few years ago, smoke began rising from the ground in the nearby Wayne National Forest, but the underground fire hasn't set any of the forest on fire, as mine fires in other areas have.

No one is quite sure how many coal fires are underway around the world—either by human activity or natural causes-- but most estimates are in the high thousands. There are hundreds in the United States, thousands in India and China, over a thousand in Indonesia. Australia's Burning Mountain is the world's oldest coal fire, at more than 5000 years old. In China, the world's largest coal producer, it's estimated that up to 200 million metric tons--ten percent of the all the coal burned there--are lost to coal fires. While there are far fewer coal fires in the US, it's possible that the amount of coal burned in mine fires is roughly equivalent to the amount burned for power generation.

In the past, mine fires have been viewed as disasters for their impact on nearby communities –anecdotal reports of higher rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases, ruined landscapes, and the risk of mercury and arsenic poisoning –as well as the loss of a natural resource. But with growing concerns about global warming, experts want to know how much coal fires contribute to greenhouse gases. By one estimate, carbon dioxide emissions from China's coal fires may be as much as 1,120 million metric tons, about as much as US carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline.

The United States Geological Survey has recently launched an ambitious effort to measure the gases from the world's coal fires, beginning with the Welch Ranch Fire in Wyoming. There, a team of scientists found that this one mine emitted 12 tons of carbon dioxide and 270 milligrams of mercury every day. The USGS and its collaborators plan to combine the kind of ground testing used in Wyoming with airborne thermal imaging to develop a more precise estimate of global emissions.

Putting out mine fires hasn't been a huge priority in the past. Sometimes people dig down and try to remove the burning material; sometimes they dump in water or dirt or inject chemicals. These methods are rarely successful; most are also so costly that they are abandoned. In the last few years, though, a pair of firefighter entrepreneurs have developed a patented compressed foam that successfully fills the mine, starves the fire of oxygen, and then biodegrades. "That foam is earth friendly," says Lisa LaFosse', one of the partners in Texas-based CAFSCO. "I let my daughter play in that foam."

With new attention to mine fires' contribution to global warming, putting them out might become a higher priority around the world. But mine fires are complicated to understand and complicated to put out, says Glenn B. Stracher, a geology professor at East Georgia College in Swainsboro, Georgia, editor of Geology of Coal Fires: Case Studies from Around the World, and a member of the USGS team. "The work on these fires is highly interdisciplinary," he says. "You need geology, chemistry, biology, physics, math—there's something for everyone."

My article will discuss the ways that coal fires start, the complications of putting them out and the new methods that seem to be working, and the work of the USGS in measuring emissions and determining the urgency of putting them out. I'll interview Stracher and other members of the USGS team, LaFosse' and her partner, and people who live near one of the coal fires. And I'll visit at least one of the fires with Stracher or another member of the USGS team to get a firsthand look at these underground, ongoing conflagrations.


And finally, for a couple of good articles on the science of query writing, go here and here. bk

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And then there's this...

Speaking of the demise of journalism: President Obama granted FOX bloviator Bill O'Reilly an interview on SuperBowl Sunday. O'Reilly interrupted him FORTY-EIGHT times. And while chatting briefly about how people perceive him, O'Reilly spelled it out for Obama thus: "They hate you."

Go here to see all 48 of the interruptions. Or here, to watch the whole debacle. A case study in how not to do it. Especially if the president ever grants you an interview. bk

AOL + HuffPo? Good for Ariana, Bad for journalism

And with that, we all suffer: those of us who report the news. And those of us who believe in -- and rely on -- its relevance.

Among all the words spent ruminating on the merger, among the best come from the Los Angeles Times' Tim Ruttan, who suggests that when journalism becomes content, we all lose. He also compares the merger of one site -- AOL -- that pays very little with one -- HuffPo -- that doesn't pay at all to "a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates." Here's a taste:

The media-saturated environment in which we live has been called "the information age" when, in fact, it's the data age. Information is data arranged in an intelligible order. Journalism is information collected and analyzed in ways people actually can use. Though AOL and the Huffington Post claim to have staked their future on giving visitors to their sites online journalism, what they actually provide is "content," which is what journalism becomes when it's adulterated into a mere commodity.

Consider first AOL's pre-merger efforts, which centered on a handful of commentators and a national network of intensely local news sites called Patch. The quality of those efforts varies widely, but the best ones are edited by journalists who lost their jobs in the layoffs and buyouts that have beset traditional news organizations over the last decade. These editor-reporters are given reasonable benefits and salaries that are about what beginning reporters at major newspapers were paid three decades ago. Their contributors, by contrast, are paid a maximum of $50 an article, often less.

The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalists who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when that pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up — as it will with time — is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

the great middle east disconnect

While we in the West have extolled the virtues of our very American (ahem, San Francisco Bay Area grown) social media in spreading pro-democracy revolutions in the Middle East, and giving those of us in our comfortable homes access to real-time tweets and status updates, NYTimes columnist Frank Rich points out the uncomfortable fact that our digital emperor may be only partially clothed.

For one thing, one 20 percent of the population in Egypt has internet access. For another, the revolution only grew stronger when the government shut down the internet. But the more important question he addresses is this: One reason we in the West were obsessed with the social media hype was because we had no context for the real story: the grinding poverty in Egypt that fostered the demonstrations in the first place:

The social networking hype eventually had to subside for a simple reason: The Egyptian government pulled the plug on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger. “Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

No one would deny that social media do play a role in organizing, publicizing and empowering participants in political movements in the Middle East and elsewhere. But as Malcolm Gladwell wrote on The New Yorker’s Web site last week, “surely the least interesting fact” about the Egyptian protesters is that some of them “may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another.” What’s important is “why they were driven to do it in the first place” — starting with the issues of human dignity and crushing poverty that Engel was trying to shove back to center stage.

Exactly. But why was the story about social media in the first place? Because we had no other story to tell. No context. No backstory. No reporters. Back to Rich:

That we often don’t know as much about the people in these countries as we do about their Tweets is a testament to the cutbacks in foreign coverage at many news organizations — and perhaps also to our own desire to escape a war zone that has for so long sapped American energy, resources and patience. We see the Middle East on television only when it flares up and then generally in medium or long shot. But there actually is an English-language cable channel — Al Jazeera English — that blankets the region with bureaus and that could have been illuminating Arab life and politics for American audiences since 2006, when it was established as an editorially separate sister channel to its Qatar-based namesake.

Al Jazeera English, run by a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is routinely available in Israel and Canada. It provided coverage of the 2009 Gaza war and this year’s Tunisian revolt when no other television networks would or could. Yet in America, it can be found only in Washington, D.C., and on small cable systems in Ohio and Vermont. None of the biggest American cable and satellite companies — Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner — offer it.

The effect of this disconnect -- by not supporting our own foreign correspondents or allowing access to news orgs that do -- means we often just don't get it. Political upheavals take us by surprise. We demonize what we don't know. And we end up trivializing important political events as "twitter revolutions."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the Fox in the newsroom

I don't particularly mind that Fox News has a decidedly right-wing bias. What I do mind is that they have camoflauged that bias as "fair and balanced." Which I think has led to a widespread lack of faith in the news media in general, wherein viewers (and readers) who can clearly discern that fair and balanced, Fox is not -- go looking for bias in every other news org. And distrust them all.

And for that, we have Rupert Murdoch to thank. On that subject, Politico reports what NYTimes Executive Editor Bill Keller told the National Press Club on Monday:

I think the effect of Fox News on American public life has been to create a level of cynicism about the news in general. It has contributed to the sense that they are all just out there with a political agenda, but Fox is just more overt about it. And I think that’s unhealthy.
We have had a lot of talk since the Gabby Giffords attempted murder about civility in our national discourse, and I make no connection between the guy who shot those people in Tucson and the national discourse. But it is true that the national discourse is more polarized and strident than it has been in the past, and to some extent, I would lay that at the feet of Rupert Murdoch.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Literature of Fact presentations

For the mag. class:

Here's the (roughly chronological) order for the oral presentations starting Monday, Jan, 31:

Capote, Truman

Didion, Joan

Thompson, Hunter S.

Fong-Torres, Ben

Sheehy, Gail

Ephron, Nora

McPhee, John

Kael, Pauline

DeFord, Frank

Ehrenreich, Barbara

Rodrigues, Richard

Conover, Ted

Kidder, Tracy

Kotlowitz, Alex

Langewiesche, William

LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole

Lewis, Michael

Schlosser, Eric

Klosterman, Chuck

Good luck. bk

Friday, January 28, 2011

unintended consequences

While we were all starry eyed about the wonders of the interwebs, and clearly not paying attention, we got stuck with this:

"Content": not to be confused with news
"Content farms": worse still
"Search Engine Optimization": the death of news as we know it?

All of this has to do with the news that Demand Media, which defines "content" in terms of how high a story will play on Google searches and pays writers less than twenty bucks per assignment, has gone public. If that's not enough to make you cringe, TechCrunch reports that the parasitic company is now valued at $1.5 billion:

Today, for example, I wanted to write something about Demand Media’s IPO. Given the hideously cynical nature of their business, the dreck that passes for their content, the appallingly low rates paid to their writers (who have – apparently – created $1.5bn worth of value) and now a plagiarism scandal (wait – they don’t even write their own dreck?), it’s clear that Demand is a hideous company. In fact it’s absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever to say that buying shares in them is the web content equivalent of buying stock in Nestle Africa or stocking up on Fanta in the 1940s. I mean, yes, there’s clearly money to be made, but I wouldn’t want that kind of karma.

In honor of the above, Tech Crunch links to a spoof by Danny Sullivan of what the NYTimes front page would look like, Demand Media style. It will make you laugh until, of course, you realize that the joke is on us. bk

Thursday, January 27, 2011

... the power of journalism is when we make those "intimate connections"

Thank you, Ted Pease -- journalism professor at Utah State:

“The heart of journalism is storytelling—we are storytellers and story-listeners, and that was the magic of [Pulitzer’s newspaper] The World.

“[Today], the media are increasingly becoming a purveyor of [only] information, but information without knowledge and context is of little use to us. The cacophony going on—you turn on the average television station and you have a crawler about news, you have weather, you have stocks and you have someone talking in the middle, and there’s no narrative thread to link us.

“If you ask people to reflect on a disaster … when they read about the Haitian earthquake, they are not as moved as when they read about the one girl who is trapped for two days under the rubble. That intimate narrative story is what connects them. That’s why we read novels: those stories connect us with the experiences of others. The power of journalism to change the world is when we make those intimate connections.”

James McGrath Morris, biographer and author, Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power (2010), discussing the impact of the giant newspaper baron on American journalism
at Utah State University, Jan. 25, 2010.

Click here for hour-long interview on Utah Public Radio

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

along the lines of "you get what you pay for..."

Want to know what's wrong with journalism? Here's a hint: a pitch from to join their stable of news writers. In its entirety:
Hello News Writers,

Helium is putting its efforts behind building the News community and growing our News outlet on the web. I'm really excited about the potential this community has for success and recognition.

Before your stories start appearing on sites such as Google News, we need to have a News site that is built up with lots of content -- so we're encouraging you to write, write, write News stories now! During this transition period of starting out to shining bright on the web, we are temporarily offering a $3 Upfront Payment for each News story you write.

The Upfront Payments are in addition to the earnings of $1 per 1,000 valid views your News stories receive.

Once the News community is up and running strong, your News stories have the potential to receive thousands of views per hour, which equate to higher earnings.

When writing News stories, be sure to follow the Helium Guide to News Writing. There's a section titled "How to get your news story approved on Helium" -- be sure to follow these requirements, or your story won't be approved.

I look forward to reading and approving your News stories!

Stephanie Silverstein | Community Outreach Manager, Channel Manager Program Coordinator

Saturday, January 22, 2011

cyber (in)civility

In which we dig into the escalating incivility that greets sports writers, thanks to the anonymity of the interwebs Go to to find out how sportswriter Jeff Pearlman dealt with some of his vilest haters.

He tracked them down. And called them up. Here's a taste of his column:

Recently, in response to something I wrote on my blog about Jeff Bagwell and the Baseball Hall of Fame, Matt tweeted me a couple of times.

The words were snarky and snide and rude. His final message, however, left an extra special impression: "I got caught up in the anonymity of the internet. I'm sorry and here is a legit post with my criticisms." Upon opening the pasted link, I was greeted by a nasty pornographic image that would make Sasha Grey vomit into the nearest trash can.


Normally, this sort of thing doesn't faze me. Write sports for a living (especially online, as I do for, insults come with the turf. You're dumb. You suck. You're an idiot. You're a moron. I'll never read your crap again. That's the %#$$ #$@@#$ %$$# thing I've ever heard. How do you have a job? Go to hell. Screw yourself. Drop dead.

I've heard them all, and aside from occasionally entertaining my wife with a reading from my Greatest Hits Packet ("I call it my 'Go back to Africa' folder," says Howard Bryant, an African-American senior writer), I turn the other cheek and move on.

But not this time.

This time, I aspired to know why Matt, cloaked in the anonymity provided by the internet, felt the need to respond in such a way to, of all things, a Jeff Bagwell post.

So, going deep, deep, deep undercover, I tracked him down and, shortly after our exchange, gave him a call....

What he found was not what he expected.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the very best writing advice. ever

The 25 commandments of good writing, courtesy of the Guardian's Time Radford. (Thanks to Alice Joy).

The golden rules to write by start here:
1. When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.

2. You are not writing to impress the scientist you have just interviewed, nor the professor who got you through your degree, nor the editor who foolishly turned you down, or the rather dishy person you just met at a party and told you were a writer. Or even your mother. You are writing to impress someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Parson's Green and Putney, who will stop reading in a fifth of a second, given a chance.

And go straight uphill... Click, read and learn. bk

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

first -- and last -- draft of history

Terrific quote from Errol Morris, courtesy of USU journalism prof, Ted Pease:

History on the Hoof

"We often do not realize that history is perishable. It depends on evidence. There are countless stories where evidence is lost, corrupted or hidden, and hence, our attempts to re-assemble a picture of reality are doomed at best. If we lose all the evidence of the Battle of Hastings, what then can we say about it? Journalism may be the first draft of history, but sometimes it’s the only draft. It is often the journalist who collects evidence before it is lost."
Errol Morris, filmmaker (Thin Blue Line, Fog of War…), author and New York Times blogger (The Opinionator), from a 2010 commencement address to the Berkeley School of Journalism

autism, vaccines and the science of science writing

Salon today posts a great interview with Seth Mnookin, author of "The Panic Virus", which investigates the "anti-vaccine campaign that linked childhood vaccinations with autism, a link that has been scientically debunked. He particularly calls attention to the role the media played in accelerating the panic and, in so doing, casts a light on not just bad science (writing), but bad reporting in general. Sometimes there just aren't too sides to a story, and sometimes the good story, the dramatic one, isn't the right one.
Here's an excerpt:

The other entity that you indict pretty strongly is the media and journalists for playing a huge role in propagating a lot of false myths. I should say at this point that you have a really tough chapter devoted to a 2006 article written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and which Rolling Stone and Salon co-published. That was a specific case in which the story tried to link autism to the thimerosal. That has been thoroughly debunked by every serious inquiry. Was that report typical of the sort of journalistic problem you saw?

I do think that the media has more -- we have more responsibility for this than really any other single entity. There are a number of reasons for that. One is this false sense of equivalence. If there's a disagreement, then you need to present both sides as being equally valid. You saw with the coverage of the Birther movement; it's preposterous that that was an actual topic of debate. The fact that Lou Dobbs addressed that on his show on CNN is an embarrassment. It's not a subject for debate just because there are some people who said it was. I think you see that a lot in science and medicine, for a number of different reasons including the ways in which it can be hard to explain basic fundamental issues -- so I think that is a huge, huge issue and that's the huge issue that doesn't come into play in the story. And I think it's an absolute cop-out for reporters to say, "I've fulfilled my responsibility by presenting two sides." Sometimes there aren't two sides.

The false equivalency comes into play, really, in the situation of the MMR [measles-mumps-rubella] vaccine with Andrew Wakefield; you had him and a handful of researchers versus millions of doctors and researchers. I'm not talking about initially when his study first came out, but several years later when there had been all of these follow-ups. And obviously, you can't quote millions of doctors in one story; on the one hand this person thinks this, and this person thinks this. You're not talking about one person versus another. If I said that, oh, I have a report that Derek Jeter's going to quit baseball, no one would run that because it would be embarrassing. Because there's no information to support it. If I said that I have good information that Boeing is about to buy IBM, you know, people wouldn't run that. But for some reason when it comes to health and science, you don't get that. Instead of feeling embarrassed by running stories that people agree aren't true, it's kind of like, oh, we want to get out ahead of this controversy.

Then there's the other type of reporting in which (and this is true of a lot of journalists) they're looking for a really good story, and maybe they have preconceived notions about the way government works and you know corporations tend to be out for their own interest, not the public's interest. That's a different kind of journalism that created problems on the story.

Definitely. And I think that gets to another issue that comes into play with science and medicine. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but more so than in other areas there is a willingness to have people write about and cover these issues who don't have any background in them. You wouldn't ask me to go write about hockey, because I don't know anything about hockey. But if something came in over the wire about a cancer study, often times, especially now with the cutting of science sections, that assignment could end up on a general reporter's desk. You wouldn't ask me to cover business or the movie industry without knowing something basic about it. I don't know how this happened, but I think there has to be some sort of movement away from, oh, like, we're going be the first ones with this juicy story. And then in the days and weeks to come, we'll figure out what the reality is as to, you know, what it would be really embarrassing if we were the first ones on a story that ends up being completely ridiculous. And ultimately, that's going to hurt our credibility with viewers, readers, whatever.

Monday, January 17, 2011

why you need to read ...

.. so that, if you are ever in the running for Miss America, you won't make a fool of yourself during the Q and A. Case in point:

FishbowlLA reports that Miss Nebraska was asked how you balance the public's right to know with the need for national security with regard to the latest wikileaks. Here's her answer:
You know, when it came to that situation, it was actually based on espionage, and when it comes to the security of our nation we have to focus on security first, and then people’s right to know. Because it’s so important that everyone in our borders is safe, and so we can’t let things like that happen, and they must be handled properly, and I think that was the case.
She didn't have a clue what "situation" she was talking about, now did she? And by the way, she won.

Friday, January 14, 2011

on the one hand...

According to Denver Westword, Denver's alt-weekly, the Denver Post broke precedent yesterday by printing an ad on it's editorial page, something that is Just. Not. Done.

You can figure out why it's verbotin, yes?

On the other hand, there's that issue called survival. Which ultimately takes bucks.

From the piece:

The ad in question touts, a health-care advocacy organization. While health care is a controversial topic these days, the copy soft-sells the message in a way that likely made accepting the ad easy for business types at the Post.

Why did SE2 want the ad on the op-ed pages? "Because policy nerds like us read it and we thought the novelty of an ad in this section would get noticed," the blog item points out.

What think you? What drives the page? Pragmatism or principles?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

digital life on the news frontier: a sign of the change

Good news for the digerati, news-variety: Columbia Journalism Review has begun a living, growing database of digital news sources. It's called The News Frontier Database, and here's how it defines itself:

The News Frontier Database is a searchable, living, and ongoing documentation of digital news outlets across the country. Featuring originally reported profiles and extensive data sets on each outlet, the NFDB is a tool for those who study or pursue online journalism, a window into that world for the uninitiated, and, like any journalistic product, a means by which to shed light on an important topic. We plan to build the NFDB into the most comprehensive resource of its kind.
Here's the criteria used for inclusion in the list:

(1) Digital news sites included in the NFDB should be primarily devoted to original reporting and content production.

(2) With rare exceptions, the outlet should have at least one full-time employee.

(3) The digital news site should be something other than the web arm of a legacy media entity. (There’s no doubt that some of the most important online journalism is being produced by the websites of newspapers and other legacy media, but this database is devoted to a new kind of publication.)

(4) The digital news site should be making a serious effort to sustain its work financially, whether that be through advertising, grants, or other revenue sources. (The language and spirit of this last criterion borrow from the work of Michele McLellan.)

good news for the magazine industry: looking UP

According to Reuters, the magazine industry has posted its first upswing in revenue in the past three years:

Advertising revenue at consumer magazines rose 3 percent in 2010 to about $20 billion, according to data from rate cards compiled by the Publishers Information Bureau.

People magazine, published by Time Warner Inc's Time Inc unit, pulled in the most ad revenue in 2010 at $1 billion. Ad revenue at the Food Network magazine, a joint venture between Hearst and the Food Network, grew the most -- 174 percent in 2010 compared to the prior year.

During the 2010 fourth quarter, magazine ad revenue climbed 4 percent.

The revenue growth shows that magazines, battered by advertising declines that followed an economic downturn, are recovering like other media such as broadcast television.

It's a sign, yeah? bk

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

wondering where we've been the last few months?

It's available for preorder here, here and here, a probably a few other places, too. To learn more, check our blog. And be sure to become a fan. bk

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the sun comes up: not news...

The sun doesn't come up? news.

Here's the question that came up in class yesterday:
Why don't journalists ever write about the good news?

The student went on to talk about friends who avoid the news as if it were swine flu because, you know, it's all just too depressing. It's not just college kids. I have heard similar sentiments from friends my age who should know better.

So why do we cover stuff that's perceived as bad news? Do we have an obligation to appease squeamish readers? And what constitutes "good news" when it comes to news?

Just asking. bk