Tag Archives: newspapers

From The Archives: Can This Profession Be Saved?

Photo courtesy SXC.

Today’s post originally ran in November 2009, but is still just as relevant to the ongoing conversation about the re-invention of American journalism in 2012! Enjoy! – Liz

Can This Profession Be Saved?

I’ve finally read the synopsis of Leonard Downie Jr. and Michael Schudson’s report, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism, ” in the Columbia Journalism Review, as well as a number of reactions to it. I appreciate that CJR let the authors publish such a rich (30-page!) summary of their 100-page report.

Downie, a former executive editor for the Washington Post and currently a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, and Schudson, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, provide their take on what has led up to the current sad state of affairs at American newspapers, and to a lesser degree, at television and radio stations. They discuss the approaches of a number of new media operations (and are generous with links to the projects in question) and suggest several possible new business/nonprofit support models for the industry.

Whether you end up thinking the authors are offering sage advice to journalists, or are off in left field, you really should read the CJR synopsis or the report. It’s important that those of us working in the media have a say in what happens to our profession in the future, and the only way to do that is to be aware of where we’re at now and what people are doing NOW to adapt to the challenges and opportunities the Internet Era has brought us.

On the plus side

The report largely accepts that Web 2.0 and the other cultural factors that have disrupted American journalism are here to stay and cannot be magically “rolled back” by industry collusion (think simultaneous content firewalls on all major newspaper sites) or government mandate. I know this sounds mean, but this is a good sign!  I have been concerned about the number of journalists—including professors and veteran editors and writers—talking as if the Internet is something that must be, or even can be, “stopped.”

Downie and Schudson present a variety of options for fixing the current situation from across the business spectrum. They discuss multiple variations on publicly funded media, as well as foundation-endowed news projects and hybrid corporate/nonprofit news operations. By doing this, they are acknowledging that one model will not fit all in the future, and that journalists need to consider the context of their news operation or project when devising a funding plan.

The authors rightly identify local news coverage as one of the biggest casualties of the shifts in journalism over the past two decades, and do propose several ideas for reviving it. While local involvement and participation seems to generally be associated with our “bowling alone” culture, there are plenty of people who do care about it, and who now have fewer mainstream media resources for tapping into news about the community they live in.

On the minus side

I immediately noticed that there is almost NO discussion of the fate of the magazine industry, perhaps because that’s what my degree is in (magazine journalism) and because I have worked for nearly all my career as a journalist for magazines—either as a freelancer or a staff writer/editor. I believe that magazines had to face the decline of the so-called “mass media” far earlier than newspapers, after the death of “general interest” magazines such as Look, Collier’s and LIFE in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the time I was taking j-school classes in the 1980s, we were told that starting a magazine was much like starting a restaurant—if you know what you’re doing (business-wise) and can self-fund for part of the first five years in business, you have a good chance of making it. Notice that in that description there is no mention of whether the content (or the food) was any good, if competitors were using unfair tactics, or whether customers were reading (or going out for sit-down dinners) less and less. The focus was on establishing a niche and a business model first and foremost. Paying attention to the market, as well as knowing your craft well enough to produce a quality product, were also assumed parts of that model.

On a related note, Downie and Schuder make huge assumptions about the audience for news content and how they will, or should, behave. To be fair, this is something I’ve noticed over and over again when I read essays of this nature written by newspaper-based journalists. The report doesn’t focus much at all on what readers/viewers/listeners are telling journalists about how they’d like to receive their news, or what sorts of news they’d consider worthy of paying for online.

The authors even go so far as to proclaim that “American society must take some collective responsibility for supporting independent news reporting in this new environment,” and wonder out loud in another section whether journalism is a “significant public good whose diminution requires urgent attention.” These are important issues, but this mindset, coupled with a lack of curiosity or genuine connection to one’s audience, comes across as preachy and pedantic—not the sort of vibe one wants to project to attract supporters to an important cause!

Finally, the report points out one of the largest challenges in journalism’s current crisis—we can’t seem to decide if we’re a profession best suited to entrepreneurial or philanthropic support. I like the fact that the authors include both for-profit and nonprofit approaches to new media, but the way in which they are presented serves to highlight the lack of business sense many of us in the field seem to exhibit. What is it that newspapers do? They’re businesses. Wait, no, maybe we should run them as nonprofits? Wait, maybe we can sell ads and get foundation grants, too?

Late in the CJR synopsis, Downie and Schuder use the term “independent news reporting” fairly specifically, and that’s really what they are concerned about, not so much journalism as an industry or business sector. As they note, “it may not be essential to save any particular news medium … What is paramount is preserving independent, original, credible reporting, whether or not it is popular or profitable, and regardless of the medium in which it appears.” (Emphasis in that passage is mine.)

It bothers me that so many of their suggestions rely on government intervention, although I share their opinion that stronger support for radio and televisions stations receiving money through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be a good thing. I am a huge fan of public media; however, I also believe that journalistic enterprises can be successful as for-profit businesses. It remains to be seen how that will happen in the future—my feeling is that the “large public” that the authors seek to have journalism’s best work presented to may have already been replaced by a series of balkanized niches, each one hungry for content, but only within a narrow spectrum of interest.

Please use the comment section below to chime in about your reaction to the report, or the state of American journalism in general.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for April 14, 2010

Photo courtesy of SXC.

How Journalists are Using Social Media for Real Results
Mashable.com writer Brenna Ehrlich reports on how journalists are using social media for crowdsourcing, trend tracking, identifying leads and sources, and other research activities.

The Public Editor: The Danger of Always Being On
Clark Hoyt of the New York Times discusses the missteps that his paper is dealing with as they integrate videos, tweeting reporters and other new-media into the reporting of the day’s news. He writes that “several stumbles in the past few weeks have demonstrated some of the risks for a print culture built on careful reporting, layers of editing and time for reflection as it moves onto platforms where speed is everything and attitude sometimes trumps values like accuracy and restraint.”

Twelve Cool Tools for Writers and Others
Laura Spencer, posting on the FreelanceFolder blog site, offers a dozen tools for enhancing your writing productivity.

20 Hi-Tech Tools and Resources for Writers
Education writer Karen Schweitzer, guest blogging for The Writer’s Technology Companion, offers a list of useful (and mostly low-cost) online/mobile tools for writers. Everything from open-source word processing software to an Internet radio station for writers is covered.

Media tycoons wanted: Make your own newspaper
Interesting BBC story about The Newspaper Club, a company offering short-run printing for interested parties using the large presses run by major newspapers during their off-hours!

Bonus Links!
Two posts showing the view from the other side of the editor’s desk …

How to Get Ahead With Reporters | The Spin Within
Financial reporter turned publicist Lisa Fasig offers 10 tips drawn from her years as a journalist on how to help keep reporters happy and writing fair and balanced stories about your company or cause.

5 Ways to Better Engage Reporters | American Express OPEN Forum
Amy-Mae Elliot provides a handful of very simple, easy to implement tips for corporate PR departments to help make their company friendlier to reporters. Very good!

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for November 1, 2009

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Photo courtesy SXC.

NaNoWriMo
The fall madness known as National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo to insiders, starts today. The goal for this annual exercise in fictional speed-writing is to finish a 50,000 word (175 page) novel by midnight on Nov. 30.

Although I’m not a fiction writer myself, I like the challenge aspect to the event for several reasons:
• It gives writer-participants a near-term goal for completing a major work.
• It forces them to write consistently—probably every day—for an extended period.
• The consistency and goal pressure may actually relieve some writers’ perfectionist tendencies. The goal is to finish the novel—not write a great one! Writing what Anne Lamott would call a “shitty first draft” is definitely encouraged.

In 2008, NaNoWriMo had over 120,000 participants, more than 20,000 of whom crossed the 50k finish line. One variation of this event that might be of interest to writers in a variety of genres is NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. The contest (and its website) is more of a social network for daily bloggers, or those looking to improve their blog through marathon posting, and the challenge can be started at the beginning of any calendar month.

The Reconstruction of American Journalism
This link takes you to a watershed report by two esteemed professors at the Columbia University School of Journalism discussing the monumental changes in print journalism these days and proposes action steps to support and maintain quality public affairs reporting.
I haven’t read the PDF version of the report yet, or a shorter synopsis article written by the report’s authors that is posted on Columbia’s popular journal on the state of media, the Columbia Journalism Review. However, I do plan to read these documents, as well as the robust section of responses to the report that’s also on CJR’s website, and post my own take here at Write Livelihood.

For now, here’s beginning of the CJR synopsis version of the report, which lays out the stakes of the questions being asked and offers a hint as to the direction that the authors’ answers will go…

“Newspapers and television news are not going to vanish in the foreseeable future, despite frequent predictions of their imminent extinction. But they will play diminished roles in an emerging and still rapidly changing world of digital journalism, in which the means of news reporting are being re-invented, the character of news is being reconstructed, and reporting is being distributed across a greater number and variety of news organizations, new and old.

The questions that this transformation raises are simple enough: What is going to take the place of what is being lost, and can the new array of news media report on our nation and our communities as well as—or better than—journalism has until now? More importantly—and the issue central to this report—what should be done to shape this new landscape, to help assure that the essential elements of independent, original, and credible news reporting are preserved? We believe that choices made now and in the near future will not only have far-reaching effects but, if the choices are sound, significantly beneficial ones.”

Which Type of Digital Journalist Are You?
After you’ve taken time to read the Columbia University report on the future of journalism, you’ll want to read this post from Michelle V. Rafter’s WordCount blog.
Rafter links to a survey conducted by Northwestern University that explores the current online and social media habits of 3,800 journalists working in 79 newsrooms. (You can download the PDF of the report’s findings.)

The report places journalists who participated in the survey into one of six categories, based upon their desire for digital change …

Digitals: Spend the majority of their time online, perhaps have never worked for a print-only operation, feel comfortable at events hosted by the Online News Association.
Major shifters: Spend a lot of time online outside of work, wonder why they’re not being asked to spend more time exploring online potential for their content when they are at work.
Status Quos: Comfortable with the modest amount of time (average: 30 percent) that they spend producing online content.
Turn Back the Clocks: Only 6 percent of survey respondents fit this category. These folks hope the Internet somehow implodes and print will once again rule.
Moderately Mores: Wouldn’t mind dividing their work time evenly between print and digital content production.
Leaders: According to Rafter, this group is comprised of high-level publishers and editors who typically spend more time focused on print but would like to shift more of their attention to online operations.
Obviously, between the Columbia report and this one, there’s a lot of introspection being done on what journalism means in a blogging, socially networked world, and what it will take for today’s journalists (especially the veterans) to function successfully in a transformed industry landscape. (And if you’re wondering where I fit in the six groups mentioned above, I’d say somewhere between a Moderately More and a Major Shifter, with my tilt being toward a Major Shifter mindset.)

Bonus Links!!

Keeping a project alive
David Hewson, author of the popular Nic Costa novel series, has provided a great set of tips for keeping your writing projects on track, even when you’re not at the keyboard working on them.

People Watching for Character Development
From Shelby Rachel, guest blogging on the If You Give A Girl A Pen blog. Great thoughts on how to use observation in your fiction development.

Viral Loop Chronicles Part 1: Forget Everything You’ve Heard About Book Publishing
From the The Penenberg Post on Fast Company.com. The first in a series about how to get a book published in the social media age.

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Write this Way: Writing and Editing Links for February 16, 2009

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Image courtesy SXC.

Tips for “tweeting” productively on Twitter, confusion surrounding the best way to save journalism in the digital age, and myths and truths about freelancing are all on tap today in our monthly link-fest. Plus, a couple of fun and useful bonus links (as always).

Our first featured link comes from Maria Schneider’s excellent blog, Editor Unleashed. Like many writers, I’ve been struggling to figure out the best way to use Twitter, a social networking application centered around text-message-length communications (140 characters or less), and she has come up with writer-specific Twitter tips, plus a list of 25 folks to follow on the service, including authors, agents, book publishers and publicists.

Schneider, a former editor of Writer’s Digest, admits that Twitter can be intimidating at first:

“At first, Twitter feels like being at a cocktail party where you know no one. But if you focus on making the right connections, Twitter can actually be quite useful.

“There’s a bunch of publishing types using Twitter and following them is tapping into the zeitgeist—a never-ending stream of conversations, random thoughts and links. It gives you access to lots of smart, interesting, connected people.”

In case you’re wondering what you’re actually supposed to say/do (or “tweet,” in Twitter parlance) once you’re connected to these people, she has also written a very insightful post on how to build up your Twitter “street cred.” For example, I learned that you should follow the 60/40 rule when promoting your own stuff to the Twitterverse, as well as the fact that you should never ask for followers—Schneider calls it Twitter suicide.

All in all, her posts are a friendly introduction to the fast-moving, almost ephemeral world of Twitter—and a good guide to using it for more than detailing what you had for breakfast.

Our second stop today is at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, where veteran journalist Michele McLellan has posted parts one and two in a multi-part series on ideas that get in the way of saving journalism.

It seems everyone with a pulse (or at least a journalism degree!) is aware of the business struggles of daily newspapers across the nation. In her first post, McLellan takes on the idea that only the newspaper industry can produce quality journalism, and that endowments should be used to save newspapers in communities where a for-profit model is failing:

“Right now, the newspaper industry does produce the bulk of original reporting that we find in print and on the Internet …. But the superior performance of the Internet for a growing number of users and advertisers is transforming the journalism and the business model, and thought leaders in the industry itself recognize there is no going back.

“As long as people believe that only the news industry equate newspapers-only with good journalism, the debate is heading down a blind alley. It might be possible to raise an endowment for a beloved newspaper in a few communities. But I don’t see a lot of monied people—much less taxpayers if that is proposed—willing to underwrite a product that is only one player, albeit an important one, in the field.”

After that treatise, she takes on the even stickier issue of whether readers will pay for online content in her second post. She admits there are no easy answers. The newspaper-centric model of paying a set fee for all content bundled by a single provider hasn’t worked, and the potential for micro-payments to take up the slack from traditional publication advertising is extremely controversial. Other models, which include voluntary consumer funding of projects they deem worthy of coverage (keeping tabs on the local school board, for example), are still very much in the development stage.

Whatever your belief about the future of American newspapers and/or journalism, this series of posts will give you food for thought.

Finally, if you’ve worked as a freelance writer or editor for years, as I have, you tend to rub up against some very odd notions of what your life as a freelancer must be like. And if you’re a newbie freelancer, you may very well wonder if the ecstatic or apocalyptic claims of the joys or sorrows of the freelancing life could possibly be true. Laura Spencer, a contributing author at Freelance Folder blog, did a great job recently of sorting out some lies, myths and half-truths related to freelancing.

She covers everything from needing money to get started freelancing (a myth, she says) to freelancers typically working for next to nothing (a half-truth, she asserts). Here’s her take on the number one item on her list, “freelancing is an excuse for not working at all.”

“According to this myth, none of us are working . . . not really. We are either spending our days playing computer games or in front of the television with a box of chocolates….

“The real culprit here is the difference between the experiences of a significant portion of the population and that of most freelancers. For many people, work is synonymous with a place that you go each day. If you don’t go anywhere, then you must not be working. Technology is changing this perception, but it will take some time before it is completely gone.”

Bravo! And if you like that train of thought, Laura also posted a companion piece on 10 things you’ve heard about freelancing that are actually true.

BONUS LINKS!

Storybest

Storybest is a “social content network” for storytellers (of any genre) powered by the filtering/ranking service coRank.

CPSIA: Book Banning in the Guise of Safety

A cautionary tale from the Bookshop Blog on (we hope) unintended consequences of Consumer Product Safety Commission’s updating of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

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