Tag Archives: online journalism

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links For June 9, 2013

loislanePhoto courtesy JD Hancock

Lois Lane Isn’t Dead, She’s Reinvented: How Journalists Can Adapt to the Changing News Sphere | Engage

Young journalist Stephanie Schaefer discusses how reporters of any age can stay passionate, and keep their careers viable, in today’s greatly altered media landscape. She encourages writers to study and leverage how readers are engaging with content these days (mobile/social media), to learn how to craft or collaborate with others to create integrated, multimedia/multisensory story experiences, and to retain a passion for storytelling. I couldn’t agree more with her points, and her optimism is refreshing without seeming naive.

A new kind of activist journalism: When finding solutions are part of journalists’ job, too

For old-school journos, this headline on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog is going to sound like heresy – until you consider that all the public affairs reporting done over the years is generally provided with the intent of making readers lives more functional by providing a comprehensive look at pressing problems and possible solutions, in addition to examining when a system is broken. Jan Schaffer, executive director of American University’s J-Lab, argues that with the changing business models for new media outlets, she is also seeing a change in how these outlets view their role in the community when it comes to presenting options to the status quo or encouraging particular solutions:

“To be sure, advocacy is still a dirty word for legacy journalists, unless it’s an editorial-board crusade. But activating examples are rising from both inside and outside mainstream media. …

“From my perch, I see many indie news startups embrace what I call more of a “soft-advocacy” comfort level with news. ClearHealthCosts.com is partnering with WNYC to map widely disparate costs of mammograms in the New York region. PlanPhilly has not only spotlighted the enormous problem of delinquent property taxes in Philadelphia, it reported on how the city might fix its broken system. When Catalyst Chicago reported there were too many empty seats in the city’s pre-school programs, it didn’t stop there. It worked with local community organizations to produce a series of forums on early childhood education. A year later, nearly all the pre-school slots were filled.”

Overall, a very interesting look at where journalism is headed, and how embracing this evolving role might also help make the new ventures more profitable/viable, as well.

What journalists need to know about ‘content marketing’

I’ll be honest – I could do with out the scare quotes in this Poynter.org blog post headline. I found them unbelievably off-putting, but this post by Shane Snow, who creates sponsored content for clients through his firm Contently, is actually a very solid guide for journalists who want to/are working both sides of the editorial fence. I am in complete agreement with Shane’s remarks about the need to retain a highly calibrated ethical compass:

“With the exception, perhaps, of independence, branded content ought to abide by the same principles as journalism: honesty and fairness, accountability and transparency. And because the goal of brand journalism is to create a favorable impression of a brand in order to further various business goals, disclosure must be added to its list of ethics principles. …

“It’s all about not deceiving readers. Brand publishers should make clear who is behind a piece of content and why. Journalists who write for brands need to ensure their clients understand the ethical reasons for such disclosure.”

If you’re drawn to the increasing number of good-paying gigs in content marketing, but are wary of tarnishing your reputation in traditional media, you need to read this piece.

What Public Radio Can Teach Nonprofits About Effective Storytelling

Get ready for a new way to engage with workshop/presentation content: this Storify version of a talk presented by Will Coley, nonprofit staff member turned public radio evangelist and Minnesota Public Radio reporter Sasha Aslanian includes an embedded slideshow on Prezi (which sort of blows PowerPoint out of the water …), live-tweets from the talk, and text summaries of their remarks. You can also access their radio example, an interview with Valencia, a local Twin Cities teen experiencing homelessness.

The thing I found most useful, as an aspiring audio producer, is the list of advantages to using audio for nonprofit storytelling. One that’s right at the top is that audio provides greater anonymity for subjects who may be in situations which call for confidentiality and privacy, while retaining a sense of intimacy with listeners. Another advantage for audio is that it is far cheaper to produce.

If your organization is thinking about multimedia storytelling, and they seem to have overlooked audio-only content, read/view/listen to this post and you can advocate for adding public-radio style audio storytelling to the mix.

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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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Writing as a microbusiness: An interview with Adam Westbrook

 

Today I am pleased to host an interview I conducted recently with UK journalist Adam Westbrook. Adam, a reporter who also works as a video producer, an instructor, blogger and the owner of his own series of writing-related microbusinesses (the concept of which will be explained in a moment), is one of the best documentarians of the entrepreneurial spirit manifested by today’s most successful nonfiction writers.

Adam is confident, focused, and excited about the future of journalism. After you read this interview, and perhaps some of his blog, you will be too.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a journalist.

After training at City University in London, I started my career as a radio reporter working in different cities in the UK. Over the next three years I covered all sorts of domestic and international stories and spent a short time reporting from Iraq.

At what point in your career did you realize that the journalism industry was undergoing substantial changes? How did you respond?

When I was training it felt very much like we could see storm clouds on the horizon, but none of us could have predicted how much the industry was going to change. In my years as a reporter I continued blogging about my work, and eventually started getting more involved in social media. It was around this time (in 2008-09) that I found my work online excited me more than working in broadcast news.

Then later in 2009 I decided to take a leap and quit my job to become a fully independent multimedia producer, and haven’t looked back.

You spend a lot of time on your blog writing about how journalists can (and should) create microbusinesses or other entrepreneurial ventures. Why do you think this is important?

I don’t necessarily believe everyone should start their own ventures -it is not for everyone. But at the same time, creating and publishing content on the web has become so much cheaper and easier, and the audiences bigger, that it seems to me to be a shame not to explore its possibilities. It’s also far more exciting (I think) than mainstream media because the rules haven’t been written yet, so there’s great scope to create the work and career suited to you. Meanwhile, starting a business involves a much lower overhead, and more people are finding it brings them freedom and creative satisfaction.


In your mind, how might the approach taken by a proprietor of a journalistic microbusiness differ from the way an old-school freelance writer looked at their sources of income?

As a freelancer, despite how much freedom you have you are still selling your time in return for money. So you are at the mercy of client wants and needs, and you are only making money for yourself. Entrepreneurship is about creating a product or a service that does not involve selling your time, but something else (that is) distinct from you; it also has the potential to generate wealth, jobs, etc.

If you’re just starting out, a freelance business is much easier to set up, so it’s definitely worth beginning down this path, but if it’s career freedom you want, you should investigate product or service ideas alongside.

What skills should writers trained to write for print consider adding to their professional toolkit at this point in time? How can they leverage what they already know?

There are so many, but don’t worry about becoming a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” If you want to make a living writing online, you ought to have an understanding of online publishing – so learn how to self host a WordPress blog and do some basic HTML. The great thing about the web is it is so easy to learn new skills, whether its video, data, graphic design or web design. I wouldn’t say professional training is necessary either. Just start practicing and get your questions answered online.

Why did you choose to make one of your latest projects, Inside the Story, a fundraiser for Kiva? How did that end up fitting into your professional/business plan?

The Inside the Story was a project idea I had running around my mind for a while, and when a gap came up at the start of 2012 I thought I might as well get busy and do it. I always imagined the book raising money for a good cause, and in retrospect it wouldn’t have been possible to get the caliber of contributors on board if it had been for my personal profit. In terms of my ‘business plan’ it didn’t cost me anything but my time, which I know how to use well, and was a good profile raiser. But mostly, I believe that generosity is a really important part of business online: you have to give lots away. It’s what I do with my blog every week too.

You’ve talked a lot on your blog about building a “portfolio” career. What did you mean by that, and how important is it in terms of managing one’s career as a journalist these days?

A portfolio career basically involves having more than one form of income to support you. Again, it’s made possible by the time and energy savings of working online.  So I make most of my income as a multimedia producer making films for clients; but I also lecture in journalism, do training and consulting and sell books. It’s got better variety and means you’re not reliant on just one job. Every business has a by-product, and there are always other ways to make money from the skills or products you already have.

Want to learn more from Adam Westbrook? He offers several e-books on journalism topics, including one that’s free!

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Write this Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC. 

Improving your writing by resting | Jeff Goins
Carol Tice, guest posting on Jeff Goins’ blog, presents a convincing case for taking one day off (and she means *completely* off) from writing and engaging via electronic devices each week.

Five Ways That Consistency Matters | Intelligent Editing
Geoff Hart explains why stylistic consistency matters, especially in the case of numbers (two vs. 2), capitalization, and word choice. I love his explanation about capitalization, since my pet peeve as an editor is inappropriate capitalization …

“In Western languages, capitalization indicates the start of a sentence or the presence of a proper noun. Changing from a capitalized form to a lowercase form triggers the reflex to ask whether the author has switched from discussing a named entity to a generic category. Each such hesitation slows reading, impedes comprehension, and increases the risk of an interpretation error.”

This post might come across to some as a little overly technical, but it’s good stuff for writers and the copy editors who serve them.

10 Must-Haves For Your Mobile Reporting Kit
Elana Zak, posting on the 10,000 Words blog, provides a nice summary of the tools that a 21st Century reporter needs to do his or her job. Some are obvious (mobile phone, business cards, a case to carry your gear) but some are not obvious to those who haven’t been out in the field since the rise of the smartphone (extra memory cards, a USB microphone). And her suggestion to bring a mini first-aid kit is just good common sense!

26 Tips for Writing Great Blog Posts | Social Media Examiner
Social media consultant Debbie Hemley takes readers from A to Z with good advice about writing blog posts that get read and shared. I’ve been blogging since 2007 and I learned a ton! Some of my favorite sections are Categories, Descriptions, Original vs. Curated Content, and Valuable Content.

Want to Make Money Online? Here’s What Sells | Online Journalism Review
Online journalism expert Robert Niles discusses five alternatives to paywalls for web content that can generate revenue for journalists. They include advertising, e-books, videos, merchandise and events.

“Write What You Know” Does Not Mean What You Think It Does | Fuel Your Writing
Icy Sedgwick discusses the old saw to write (fiction, especially) from your own experience, and helps readers go beyond the literal implications. Here’s a sample of her advice:

“Don’t take (the directive to write what you know) so literally – I’m pretty sure Tolkien didn’t have to go to Middle Earth, and JK Rowling never went to Hogwarts! The fundamental fact is that what you know is humanity, and how the world works, and human nature is fundamentally the same. While we all have different drives, desire, fears and goals, we have the same basic needs. The setting is just window dressing … characters need to be believable, even if they aren’t based in our reality.”

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for March 20, 2011

Photo courtesy of SXC.

4 tips for writing killer headlines—from Gawker

Michael Sebastian, writing on PRDaily.com, discusses four tips drawn from a report in The Atlantic about the huge online success of Gawker Media, whose websites pull in 32 million unique visits per month (on par with the New York Times and twice as many as the Washington Post).

How you can get involved with the online journalism community today – 10,000 Words

Lauren Rabaino, a contributor to the 10,000 Words blog, provides an excellent list for journalists wanting to become more integrated into the online journalism community. Among her suggestions: join the Carnival of Journalism blog symposium, host a chat on #wjchat, create a meetup for members of the Online Journalism Association in your city, or participate in a Hacks/Hackers event, which is dedicated to uniting writers and programmers.

Blogging is Such Sweet Sorrow | The Artist’s Road

Patrick Ross writes about the difficulty of blogging and provides sage advice for authors and other considering doing blogging as part of their “social media platform.” As a committed blogger who all too frequently sees people pushed into blogging who really don’t understand or like it, I can say his post is a very good introduction to the joys and hard work of blogging, especially for those doing it to promote a book or service or business.

Another misleading story reports that blogs ‘r’ dead | Wordyard

Author and website builder Scott Rosenberg provides some perspective on a February 2011 New York Times report that blogging is on the decline with kids aged 12 to 17. Rosenberg asserts that the NYT skips over the part of the Pew Internet study that forms the basis of the article that indicates that blogging is still increasing among adults over age 30.

Tips on Writing to Impact Change (from my wise friends) | sophia leadership

Heather Plett, developer of the Sophia Leadership project and blog, surveys her friends for tips on how to write in a way that promotes change. Some very basic and very profound advice is shared! The Sophia Leadership project is a movement that its blog describes as “about ALL of us (women and men) learning to trust our feminine wisdom more and letting it change us and change the world.”

Here’s a Washington Post Story With All the Editor’s Notes In It

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan publishes the online version of a WaPo story about cervical cancer that was mistakenly published with notes from an editor still embedded in the story. It’s an interesting look at how an editor looks at a writer’s work. The comments section is also interesting — several commenters get stuck on the editor’s question about a single statistic!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for June 23, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

300 Words
300 Words is a project developed by Erik Proulx and Hugh MacLeod which is designed to put some peer pressure on writers to keep writing. Inspired by Hugh’s “daily quota,” it is a space is for anyone who wants to make a modest commitment to writing 300 words per day.

The Five Unwritten Rules of Guest Posting on Blogs – Danny Brown
Danny Brown, a social media marketer, gives tips for writing a guest post for someone else’s blog that helps your brand and your cause.

5 Ways Traditional Journalists are Embracing Social Media
Lauren Dugan, writing on the Social Times blog, discusses the ways in which web-savvy journalists are using social media to create better content.

What All Content Creators Need to Learn From Roger Ebert | Copyblogger
Mark Dykeman discusses what Roger Ebert’s journey, in which his voice has been silenced by cancer surgery that took the lower part of his jaw, but his writing is more prolific than ever, can teach writers and other content creators.

Create an online newsroom that reporters will love
Jessica Levco, writing on Ragan’s PR Daily, shares 10 tips for publicists from Pete Codella, CEO of Codella Marketing, that relate to building an effective newsroom for a company. Every one of them I can relate to–they make journalists happy!

The rise of page view journalism means companies must generate their own media
By Tom Foremski, writing on the Every Company Is A Media Company blog, discusses the rather distressing consequences of media companies assigning stories on the basis of the page rank they are expected to generate, and how smaller companies (and story sources) can combat this.

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Feed Me, Digital Edition: RSS feeds for tracking the online journalism revolution

Photo courtesy SXC.

If you’ve followed Write Livelihood for the past few months, you’ll notice an increased emphasis on links to information on writing for social media, the future of journalism, and the convergence between print and digital media. Although I seek to cover the entire enchilada of issues–from craft to personalities–related to nonfiction writing, those three issues seem to be an increasingly important part of the “filling.”

As I learn more about the impact of online developments on traditional journalism, I find myself turning to a small cadre of sources for information and inspiration. These four blogs/websites are well worth plugging into your RSS reader in order to keep up to date about what’s happening to professional writing and content creation today.

Word Count: Freelancing in the Digital Age

Michelle Rafter’s blog is a new one in my RSS feed, but I like that she covers freelance writing and editing. Much of the coverage I see on how the Web is changing journalism focuses on newspaper reporters and editors losing their jobs. Which is of course important, but it doesn’t help the thousands of freelancers find their way in a shifting media environment.

Michelle mixes thoughts about the state of digital media with pointers on how to interact effectively with editors (yay!), recommended reading, and tips on the basics of the writing craft. Recent posts have covered how to write first-person profiles; how readers can participate in selecting what topics the Online News Association offers presentations on at its 10th annual gathering; links to free or low-cost classes freelancers can take to pick up skills they need to create content online; and tips on how to get editors to respond to you faster.

10,000 Words: Where Journalism and Technology Meet

Mark Luckie’s blog is new to me, but already I’m in love with it. The author of the Digital Journalist’s Handbook, Mark mixes news about where multimedia journalism is going with plenty of how-tos. Best of all, he practices what he advocates–most posts are liberally sprinkled with photos, illustrations, infographics, videos and slideshows that demonstrate his assertions. He also frequently provides lists of journalists to follow–which is helpful for those of us looking for role models in this new media landscape.

The Center for Social Media (at American University)
The Center, located within American University’s School of Communications, says its mission is to “investigate, showcase and set standards for socially engaged media-making.” It covers topics such as fair use, copyright issues in YouTube mash-ups, how different communities of producers gauge the impact of their media projects, the future of public media and photojournalism, and much more.

I like following the RSS feeds from the center because the organization is charged not only with keeping tabs on new media trends, but also questioning them. The academic environment in which they’re located also assures that their website has a hefty resources section, which provides information on fair use and copyright, documentary film research, audience engagement and social media distribution strategies.

Nieman Journalism Lab

I was originally drawn to this blog/site because of the Nieman Foundation’s reputation in running the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University. I like the combination of academic rigor, real-world sensibility and fundamental optimism that this blog offers.

As the “about” page of the blog says,

“The Nieman Journalism Lab is an attempt to help journalism figure out its future in an Internet age.

The Internet has brought forth an unprecedented flowering of news and information. But it has also destabilized the old business models that have supported quality journalism for decades … We want to highlight attempts at innovation and figure out what makes them succeed or fail. We want to find good ideas for others to steal. We want to help reporters and editors adjust to their online labors; we want to help traditional news organizations find a way to survive; we want to help the new crop of startups that will complement — or supplant — them …

“We don’t pretend to have even five percent of all the answers, but we do know a lot of smart people. Primary among them are our readers; we hope your contributions will make the Lab a collaborative exchange of ideas. Tell us what’s happening around you, or what should be.”

That last point is worth highlighting as well. Too often, reader input on what’s working and what isn’t is an afterthought, even in an age of “user-generated content” and other interactivity with one’s audience. The fact that Nieman puts it front and center in its mission means it’s providing an example for other news media organizations to follow.

The question to you …

What are your favorite blogs/RSS feeds for information on the online-inspired transformation of journalism?

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for February 19, 2010

Image courtesy Zsuzsanna Kilian via SXC.


How Alfred Hitchcock can make you a better storyteller

Awesome how-to post, complete with embedded film clips, from the very cool 10,000 Words blog.

10 Pathways to Inspired Writing | Copyblogger

Power blogger Matthew Cheuvront offers 10 somewhat surprising tips on how to perk up your blog posts. He makes such heretical suggestions as reading actual (paper) books and listening to entire music albums from beginning to end!

Writing skill is no longer enough to sustain journalists

Robert Niles writing on the Online Journalism Review. He argues that more people are writing and sharing information than ever before and that journalists will have to bring something extra to the table to get people to pay for what they write.

People Share News Online That Inspires Awe, Researchers Find

John Tierney writing for the New York Times about a University of Pennsylvania study that indicates that people prefer e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they like to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.

Did You Show Up For Your Job Today?

James Chartrand, posting on Fuel Your Writing, discusses an excellent talk by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, who, Chartrand says, reinforces one very important point: “You are separate from your inspiration,” so it pays to show up and write even when you’re not feeling inspired.

5 Ways to Manage Distractions for Increased Productivity

Seth Simonds writing for FreelanceSwitch. A list of very sensible ways to handle common distractions in the multimedia, social media, hyper-connected world that is many freelancers’ lot.

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Can this profession be saved?

Photo courtesy SXC.

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: 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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