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