Sunday, December 12, 2010

What's old is new again: a Facebook 'newspaper'

World events stored in my basement.
(photo by me)

I'm more of an ink-on-dead-trees reader than a digital one: I like the feel and smell of newspapers; to study the typography and photos and story placement; to peruse the display ads as well as the bylines. I'll read the New York Times or Washington Post online, but I'm happier feasting on their printed editions.

Newspapers were with me growing up, and they still inhabit my house: yellowed pages in boxes in the basement shouting out horrific events; random titles in a bedroom closet acquired at airport newsstands; special sections filed away for -- well, I don't remember exactly what, but there they sit in a filing cabinet drawer.

But neither nature nor nurture seemed capable of passing along a love of newspapers to my children. Not even guilt worked: "If you don't read the paper, I could lose my job," I used to say. (It was offered in jest at the time, but turned out to be prophetic.)

So allow me a self-satisfied chuckle at PostPost, the "personal, real-time Facebook newspaper" (emphasis added).



Don't get me wrong: It's a cool idea and one of several services for use alone or on Facebook to organize news feeds coming to you via social media. (For example, I get a paper.li "newspaper" daily in my inbox with tweets shared on the topic of "journalism.")

Mashable, which offers a technical analysis of PostPost (isn't that nameplate reminiscent of the New York Post's?), sees it as a next step in sharing: "As more of us use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to find and share news, the traditional RSS reader is slowly getting replaced with these types of solutions."

Come Christmas break, I'll have to see whether either of my Facebook-focused Gen Y kids now "reads" a "newspaper."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sales, hyperlocal, social media: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Time to catch up on some reading:

"Robust Ad Recovery Bypassed Newspapers" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter offers his latest take on quarterly ad sales, noting that while results have turned positive for all other media, newspapers still had a stinky Q3. What's more, he says, the other media generally went from red to black by the second quarter, while newspaper ad sales continued to drop -- although industry executives contend the rate of decline has slowed. Be sure to take a look at the chart Mutter includes on various newspaper ad categories (auto, real estate, help wanted) that compares third-quarter numbers today with those of five years ago. The decline in ad revenue is striking.

"McClatchy CEO: Death of Newspaper Classifieds Greatly Exaggerated" (Poynter): As a bit of counterpoint to the above, McClatchy's Gary Pruitt indicated at a UBS investors' conference that he sees growth at his chain in classified ad sales, one segment of newspaper revenue punched repeatedly by the Internet and the likes of Monster and Craigslist. Interestingly, he credits much of the reversal to the shift to online classifieds.

Video interlude No. 1: Clever (and oh-so-discouraging) commentary on the state of freelancing.

"Determining Paths to Financial Sustainability: The Release of Our ‘Cookbook’" (Local Fourth): A class of graduate students at the Medill School of Journalism was given the assignment of figuring out how to make online hyperlocal news financially viable. As one of those students said in this post:
After 10 weeks of researching the subject, interviewing academics, residents, hyperlocal journalists and editors, one thing is for certain: there is no “secret” to making money in this space.

Bummer!

But the students did come up with a "cookbook" -- what they call "a step-by-step process that can be used to create a business out of a hyperlocal news website." Also take a look at other entries about the project on their class blog.

"Aron Pilhofer and Jennifer Preston on the New Shape of Social in The New York Times' Newsroom" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Not that long ago, it seemed that every media outlet was appointing a social media editor. Now, though, the thinking goes, there's less need for one individual to prod legacy newspapers toward social media (Facebook, Twitter, et al.) and engagement with readers because they're rapidly coming around. Key evidence in the about-face: the New York Times returning its former social media editor to a reporter's role. (News of the change originally broke on Poynter; another discussion on audience engagement is here.)

Also recommended:
  • "The Foreign Correspondent is Dead. Long Live the Foreign Correspondent" (Guardian.co.uk): An appreciation of journalists' work in far-flung, often-dangerous places and why it's still important. 
  • "Survey: iPad Newspaper Apps Could Slash Print Subscriptions" (paidContent): Could it be that the iPad is not the manna from heaven that newspaper publishers had hoped it would/could be?
  • "J-Schools Shift from Learning Labs to Major Media Players" (MediaShift): Geneva Overholser, director of the journalism school at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, says the media revolution/evolution has offered new roles to j-schools. 
Video interlude No. 2: Confused about WikiLeaks' cable leaks? Here's a 3-minute summary.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Layoffs ebb, but job-hunting has gotten no easier

Edward Scissorhands
From the looks of the numbers posted on the Paper Cuts blog, layoffs and buyouts at U.S. newspapers this year are well off the torrid pace seen in 2008 and 2009.

For 2010, says the blog, newspapers have cut loose some 2,800 employees -- which during the depths of the recession came close to the numbers it was posting for individual months. The job-loss total compiled so far this year compares with close to 16,000 layoffs/ buyouts in 2008 and just under 15,000 in 2009.

But while the blood-letting in newspapers may have abated, we're not close to replacing all of the jobs lost -- just ask any of us journalists laid off then and still not back in a newsroom.

And I've got to tell you the environment for job-hunters hasn't improved very much -- in the news business or elsewhere. All along, there's been a rushed and rude overtone that just hasn't gone away. Here are my latest gripes:
  • Left dangling: I happened to land two job nibbles in the same afternoon: w00t! I thought. I interviewed for both jobs (one in person, one via conference call with two top editors) and did editing/writing for each newspaper/website. But here it is, two months later, and I still don't know where on I stand on either position, despite several attempts at follow-up. Yes, the silence speaks volumes, but actual closure would be nice.
  • Little acknowledgement: What is it with academia? Granted, my exposure there is limited, but twice I've sent résumés in response to postings by colleges and both times the only acknowledgement of my application was a form to fill out that will help the college show it is complying with equal opportunity hiring laws. Months later, in both cases, a polite letter arrived saying I was an unsuccessful candidate -- with no communication in between.
  • No acknowledgement: More often than not, the response is no response at all -- ever. Not to your application, not to any inquiries you make (if you're lucky enough to find an actual person to make an inquiry to), not on their final decision on the position. (You usually discover the position has been filled when the successful candidate announces his/her new job.)
This -- how shall I phrase it? -- SUCKS!

Thankfully, the so-called candidate experience seems to be an ongoing topic in HR circles, judging from postings I've seen occasionally and, more recently, the discussion at a recruiting conference (video below). And it appears that development of a Candidate Bill of Rights (process, status, confidentiality) has been discussed, although not everyone sees a need for it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

C'mon in! Grab some coffee, write some news


The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., posted this rendering
of its new "open newsroom" project.

Once upon a time, when I worked for a niche weekly, I delivered a camera-ready help-wanted ad to the big local daily. I walked in the front door of the daily's building, inquired at the information desk on where to go, then almost rode the elevator upstairs with the paper's editor and publisher.

I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation (Hey, fellas, got any news I can poach?), but they, alas, stayed behind after we exchanged some pleasantries.

I delivered my ad, took the elevator back to the ground floor, then returned to my own newsroom.

Fast forward a few years and I was working at that daily, and no one  -- employee or outsider -- got anywhere in the building without a company-issued swipe card. Security concerns post-9/11 were the immediate cause of the installation of new electronic door locks everywhere, but I'm sure there was some peace of mind that no one -- foreign or domestic -- with a gripe against the paper might wander in.

That's why it seemed so radical that The Register Citizen in Torrington, Conn., decided to move its newsroom to new, coffeehouse-like space and invite the public in. It's all part of an effort by Journal Register Co., parent company to 19 daily and 150 weekly newspapers and affiliated websites, to remake itself as an open system in which readers are encouraged to participate -- as tipsters, barometers of coverage, even writers.

"Bringing the audience into the physical space and providing a welcoming area for readers and staff to interact will continue to foster greater engagement," says John Paton, Journal Register CEO, who began to champion openness soon after joining the company earlier this year, just as it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization.

Newspapers talk a good game of audience engagement. We invite readers to attend editors' daily meetings on coverage and story placement, then are surprised when anyone wants to. And look at how the New York Times' TimesCast morphed from a videotaped peek at the morning news meeting to a high-quality broadcast more akin to a five-minute TV-headlines show.

So throwing the doors wide open in Torrington -- "With no walls, literally, between the Newsroom Café and The Register Citizen newsroom where reporters and editors work," says its publisher -- will be an experiment worth watching.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lying, analyzing, breaking up: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your rest-of-the-weekend reading pleasure:

"Newspaper Execs: Still Denying, Still Crying and Still Lying to Themselves" (SimsBlog): Judy Sims, once an executive with the Toronto Star Media Group, writes about the same old same old she sees in mainstream media: "very smart people repeatedly do remarkably dumb things, killing their businesses in the process." The Internet is a disrupter, she says, and because history shows that disrupters eventually win, news execs need to convince themselves that
... their survival rests on becoming of the Internet, not merely residing on the Internet. That means becoming a platform. That means being open. The Internet is not just another content distribution method. It is social. It is collaborative. That means accepting that they are no longer publishers or broadcasters having a one-way “Gutenberg era” conversation with the masses.
Instead, newspapers talk about finding ways -- through pay walls, iPads, subscription models -- to re-create the scarcity they enjoyed until recently. "It’s a colossal waste of time," says Sims.

"‘Objective’ Journalism is Over. Let’s Move on." (Reflections of a Newsosaur): More and more it seems, the calls grow louder to shift away from some of the old conventions of journalism: Make journalists disclose any financial, political or other interests they might have in what they write, and allow them to show their own expertise/informed opinion in their work. The argument for both is that readers are better served: in the former, they're forewarned of any biases; in the latter, they benefit from years of accumulated knowledge in subject areas.

Music interlude.

"Analysing Data Is the Future for Journalists, Says Tim Berners-Lee" (The Guardian): Journalists may be more than scribes nowadays -- many can shoot video and many can code websites -- but among the most essential skills going forward will be mining data sets to find stories, says Berners-Lee. The Freedom of Information Law may be a journalist's best friend, but once you have access to reams of government data, can you make sense of them? That's where database skills come into play, a course of study few present-day journalists have mastered.

"Breaking up with Hotmail" (Slate): In this clever piece, Jack Shafer writes about his "promiscuous relationships" with various e-mail services as you suspect he would about women he has dated: some were easy to get along with, some were more difficult. And while Hotmail once had his eye, now it's Gmail:
Who do you think you're fooling, Hotmail? We all know you're the same broad we met back in 1996.

Lightning-round reads:

  • "Financial Times Proves Better Read than Dead" (Crain's New York Business): The salmon-colored financial paper's "stick-to-its-knitting strategy" (staying niche) seems to have kept the big bad Murdoch machine at bay.
  • "Unemployed, and Likely to Stay That Way" (New York Times): One badge of dishonor for the Great Recession is a record number of people out of work for longer periods of time. Could that be creating a new permanent "idle class" of unemployed in the U.S.?
  • "Remember when Newspapers Gave Bonuses around the Holidays?" (Poynter): Here's a new money-saving idea: recalculate the formula for vacation time to the company's advantage.
Bonus video: This was where you landed from a link in the provocative tweet "Did you hug a journalist today?"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving readings in journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Turkey eaten, house guests gone, it's time for some late-weekend reading:

"Why Spreadable Doesn’t Equal Viral: A Conversation with Henry Jenkins" (Nieman Journalism Lab): If you remember nothing else from this piece, take away its catchphrase:

"If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead."

In other words, if something isn't compelling enough to share ("spread"), it might as well not exist ("dead"), says author and academic Henry Jenkins. In a Q&A with Nieman, he's asked to talk about his idea's implications for traditional news media. (One hint: pay walls inhibit spreadability, destroying any value the corralled information had.) 
 
"Weekness and Endurance" (New York Times): In case you missed it, David Brooks offered a paean to the weekly news magazine, which once fulfilled the country's "earnest self-improvement ethic" but more recently lost ground to the Lake Wobegon effect: that everyone already is above average. Now, says Brooks, referencing the Newsweek-Daily Beast marriage, "There must be room for a magazine that offers an aspirational ideal to the middle manager in the suburban office park, that offers a respite from the deluge of vapid social network chatter, that transmits the country’s cultural inheritance and its shared way of life, that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren’t."
 
Music video interlude.
 
"Another Setback for Non-Profit News" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter takes a look at the recent stumble by the American Independent News Network, a nonprofit that set up franchised news sites online "to inform public debate through journalism that adheres to the highest standards of the profession." But the recession hit the nonprofit as badly as any other news operation, resulting in the planned closing of The Washington Independent and cutbacks elsewhere. To Mutter, it shows the fragility of the new model that looks to foundations, subscriptions and other benefactors to fund journalism.
 
"My 2010 Holiday Gift Guide for Independent Online Journalists" (OJR: The Online Journalism Review): Since we're now officially in the holiday gift-giving season, Robert Niles offers a list of toys -- er, tools -- for the backpack journalist who want or needs to do it all.
 
Video interlude: Sesame Street offers parents an "app" parody.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Corrections, smartphones, paywalls: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Another good weekend for reading:

"The Wrong Stuff" (Media Bugs): MediaBugs, a 2009 grant winner in the Knight News Challenge, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, just expanded to the national stage as a place where errors can be brought to the attention of the media in the hopes of having them corrected. As founder Scott Rosenberg once explained, news operations are horrible at admitting they got something wrong, oftentimes leaving readers, listeners or viewers apoplectic. So with the Knight grant he created a website in the San Francisco Bay area where those mistakes could be reported and tracked, ratcheting up the public pressure to make things right. (Think SeeClickFix, but not for potholes.) Now Rosenberg is attempting to do the same on a national scale -- and none too soon, judging from the survey MediaBugs did of the corrections practices of some 40 national newspaper and cable TV operations.

"Mary Meeker: Smartphones Will Surpass PC Shipments in Two Years" (TechCrunch): Morgan Stanley is back with more data on smartphone adoption, indicating their sales will move past laptop and desktop computers combined by 2012 and skyrocket from there. And newspaper publishers are beginning to pay attention (pdf), with near-unanimous agreement by respondents in a just-released Audit Bureau of Circulations survey that the public will be relying more and more on mobile devices -- not only smartphones but tablets and e-readers too.

Rap interlude: Take a listen to this catchy rap ode to NPR's shows and personalities.

"The Content Project: Building an 'EZ Pass' for Paid Content" (eMedia Vitals): This online newsletter, which describes itself as serving print media executives wanting to move their businesses online, offers a look at one idea for generating new news revenue: a system of à la carte options for paid content that might include things like day passes, annual subscriptions and metered access. Registration creates a credit card-backed electronic payment account that will buy access to the content on any website that participates in the project. Say organizers, "The key to making this work is making it as simple as possible for users" -- like the EZ Pass many motorists use to pay road tolls.

"Seven Reasons Newspapers Are Not Rebounding Financially" (Poynter Online): Rick Edmonds, who follows the business end of the news business, writes about the challenges still facing newspapers, despite the deep cost-cutting of staffs and news hole during the recession. But as he takes stock through three quarters of 2010, the scary point No. 6 on his list says alot: "The 'death spiral' cycle continues."

"Jim VandeHei Talks Politico Pro" (Columbia Journalism Review): Despite the above, Politico, the website and newspaper covering Capitol Hill in D.C., has big plans for a pricey news service that will deliver deeper looks at policy and politics to subscribers. It's among a handful of such plans by media companies -- including behemoth Bloomberg -- to offer everything under the sun to those who crave (and can pay for ) it.

Geeky interlude: The New York Times on Nov. 14 put online a companion graphic to a print story that allowed readers to "fix" the U.S. budget deficit. The blog 10,000 Words takes a look under the hood in the graphic's creation.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Victims of recession now pawns for Congress?


Over 50 and Out of Work Trailer from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo.

As expected, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives today blocked approval of a three-month extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, which could affect some 2 million people by the end of the year.

Too bad members of the House didn't take the time to view some of the video stories on the website Over 50 and Out of Work, which offers heart-wrenching accounts by baby boomers displaced by the Great Recession. The trailer above introduces some of those affected, who talk more fully in individual interviews about their careers and how they became unemployed.

These are just regular folks -- your neighbor next door, an uncle, a woman at church -- who were whacked as the economy nosedived. Their stories are yours, too, if you share their label of long-term unemployed -- jobless for six months or longer. Worse, about a third of the 14.6 million Americans unemployed as of the second quarter this year had been jobless for a year or longer, according to the government.

In the videos, you'll meet Stan in Detroit, out of work since January 2009. He spent his career in manufacturing and was asked to retire from his job as an engineer when auto-parts maker Delphi Corp. stumbled. He figures the recession has hit him financially to the tune of about $500,000. Bob, on Long Island, worked in the financial services industry, pricing credit vehicles like bonds. Out of work since March 2009, he says his wife worries that he'll never work again -- as he does, too. Brian and Jessica were on the West Coast; he kept losing jobs in various fields as companies were acquired or faltered. When he landed with banking giant Washington Mutual, he figured he was set -- until it failed. The couple moved East and now live with Jessica's father.

The emotions are just below the surface for these recession victims: They seem embarrassed to be where they are and scared of where they may be headed. I hope they (we) aren't further victimized by a lame duck Congress using the extension of unemployment benefits as a political football.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Giving news 'games' another chance

More and more, I seem to come back to the question of whether the news can be made into a game that makes it more appealing -- à la that old "Mary Poppins" song about a spoonful of sugar.

Today, the Nieman Journalism Lab posted a feature on "Future-Jobs-O-Matic," a project of "Marketplace," American Public Media's business program, that makes U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers fun to play with.

Specifically, Jobs-O-Matic takes data from the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, which lays out prospects for individual job titles over the next decade, and presents them interactively. Reading the BLS handbook: kind of dry. Clicking specific professions at Job-O-Matic: pretty cool.

Of course your first inclination is to find out what the outlook is for your own job. For me, it looked like this: not too bad, since the expectation is for an 8 percent increase in jobs in the author/writer/ editor category over the decade ending in 2018. The caveats, though, were that the growth will primarily be online and jobs for editors might even fall slightly.

But that picture was a bit better than the one offered for reporters: a 6 percent decline in jobs. "Competition will be tight," according to the outlook. Ugh.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twitter matches Facebook in awareness but not in numbers

I'm what's known as a "lurker" on Twitter, although this depiction of what I do seems a bit harsh:
The majority of Twitter users are “lurkers,” passively following and reading the updates of others without contributing updates of their own.
Sounds like I'm a hanger-on, eh? A follower rather than a doer. (Won't that look good on a résumé as a description of my social media skills!) But then note that lurkers form "the majority" of Twitter users in the above characterization, one of the findings in a report (pdf) released earlier this year by Edison Research/Arbitron.

The study, which drew on three years (2008-10) of tracking data on Twitter usage in the United States, provides an interesting peek into the microblogging service. Among the highlights, as noted by ReadWriteWeb:
  • Twitter users are more likely to live in higher income households.
  • Twitter users are well-educated: 63 percent have a college degree.
  • Twitter is disproportionately popular with African-Americans (25 percent).
  • 79 percent of Twitter users would rather give up their TVs than their Internet connections.
But while as many people know about Twitter (87 percent) as Facebook (88 percent), fewer use Twitter than Facebook, according to the study. Twitter has captured just 7 percent of the U.S. population aged 12 and older, vs. the 41 percent of the population who have a profile on Facebook.

The study goes on to note that most regular Twitter users also post status updates to a social networking site ("likely Facebook"), and so speculates that the difference in usage may have "less to do with any reluctance to create content per se" and more to do with Twitter's mass-broadcast quality. Or as one non-tweeting teenager told the New York Times last year, "... I don’t feel like everyone needs to know what I’m doing every second of my life.”

I'll cop to the lurker label, though, but in my defense I'll note that I do tweet too.

However, I signed on to Twitter with the express purpose of finding smart people saying smart things about journalism. I wanted them to help me make sure I wasn't missing out on any of the discussion. And they haven't disappointed, providing links to articles, studies, events and webcasts I might not have found on my own.

Along the way, I added more smart people by seeing who the original Smart Ones thought important enough to follow, and added them to my list of people to follow. So as I collected more and more names, my universe of links grew and grew.

It's hard to believe, though, that as this trickle of tweets becomes a torrent, it represents just a fraction of the population, as the Edison Research/Arbitron study suggests.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ready! Set! Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your rest-of-the-weekend reading pleasure:

"The Newsonomics of Journalist Headcounts" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Ken Doctor supplies an exhaustive rundown of journalism jobs lost in the last decade and those being created today. Bottom line: We've lost more than we've gained, even as "technologies and growing audiences have built out a huge capacity for news."

"When Campaigns Manipulate Social Media" (The Atlantic): Here's some food for thought post-midterm election: 140-character attack campaigns may be more worrisome in the future than deep-pocketed interest groups.

Creative video interlude: "A Life on Facebook."

"Rusbridger: Openness, Collaboration Key to New Information Ecosystem" (Poynter Online): Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian newspaper in London, writes about the "mutualisation" it employs that embraces Web attributes of openness (linking) and collaboration (working with readers and others). Be sure to follow the link to one example he gives, "Comment is Free," a cool comment website.

"U.S. Mobile Data Traffic to Top 1 Exabyte" (GigaOM): An exabyte, you'll learn here, is "a unit of information equal to 1000 petabytes or a billion gigabytes" -- which I still can't fathom, but the short of it is that our appetite for access to data whenever and wherever we want it is growing rapidly. Hello smartphones.

An appropriate music video interlude.

"I Am a Blogger No Longer" (The Atlantic): Marc Ambinder bids adieu to his gig as blogger for The Atlantic, saying he missed the rigor of print and found the 24/7 nature of online exhausting. "What I hope I will find refreshing about the change of formats is that I will no longer be compelled to turn every piece of prose into a personal, conclusive argument, to try and fit it into a coherent framework that belongs to a web-based personality called 'Marc Ambinder' that people read because it's 'Marc Ambinder,' rather than because it's good or interesting."

The post got folks talking on Twitter, and also spawned this: "Escape from Thunderdome" (Snarkmarket), a three-fer that dissects Ambinder. One interesting comment to the dissection, though, raises this point: maybe Ambinder got tired of being a brand, a supposed goal of all journalists going forward. Sacrilege!

Hilarious video interlude: The Washington Post generates a lot of chatter for a video -- featuring a befuddled Bob Woodward -- that introduces its new iPad app. (It even earns a jab from Washington City Paper.) But I want to know about the hole in the sole of Ben Bradlee's shoe -- real or a prop?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jobseekers vs. openings still out of whack


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this week released its latest JOLTS data (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey), and as always the Economic Policy Institute was ready with its own analysis (and graph, above).

According to the BLS, the ratio of unemployed persons to available jobs was 5-to-1 in September, slightly weaker than in August (4.8-to-1), but better than the ratio seen when the recession ended in June 2009 (5.8-to-1). Since July 2009, though, the number of job openings has increased 25 percent, says the BLS, to 2.9 million in September.

But hiring levels have remained anemic. (JOLTS, released monthly, looks at job openings, hires and separations -- quits and involuntary -- on the last business day of each month.) According to the BLS, September saw 4.2 million hires, up 9 percent since the recession ended but below the level of 5.0 million hires when the recession began in December 2007.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says the latest JOLTS report shows the same "stalling out" in the economy that has characterized other labor market data since earlier this year.

Then the EPI adds this twist: "if we were to include not just the 14.8 million unemployed workers, but also the 9.5 million 'involuntarily part-time' workers -- part-time workers who want and are available for a full-time job, and are therefore likely job searching -- the ratio would be 8.3-to-1."

Criminy!

EPI also uses the JOLTS release to draw attention to the planned Nov. 30 expiration of long-term unemployment benefits, and calls on Congress to extend them through 2011.

Friday, November 5, 2010

New media, extinction, gridlock: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
It's the weekend. Time to wrap your brain around these ideas:

"New Journalism Ecosystem Thrives" (Investigative Reporting Workshop): The iLab, as it's called, a part of American University's School of Communication, set about chronicling the new nonprofit news operations that have risen as Old Media has declined. Charles Lewis, founder of the group, calls it a "living resource" in that it is a first pass at a list, with additions and corrections expected. One interesting finding: "Of the 60 nonprofit organizations profiled here, 38, or 63 percent, were begun just since 2006," he writes. And another: some two-thirds of the people who work full-time for these organizations once were employed at commercial enterprises. Be sure to click on the interactive map and the link to the detailed list of the nonprofits, complete with head-count and budget information.

Music video interlude: Because my daughter and I couldn't get far enough into the crowd at the Stewart-Colbert rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to see anything via JumboTron or hear everything we wanted to (over the constant chanting of "Louder, louder, LOUDER!" from those behind us.)

"NBCU: Old Is the New Young" (Mediaweek): Boomers, rejoice. You no longer are irrelevant once you hit the far side of the 25-54 demo. Now, says NBC Universal, 55-64 is just as important for advertisers as 18-34. And the company has even given the group a new name: AlphaBoomers. W00t!

"Launch of Newspaper Extinction Timeline for Every Country in the World" (Trends in the Living Networks): In case you want to keep track of how soon the newspaper (the ink-on-dead-trees variety) will disappear, futurist Ross Dawson has obliged with a color-coded map and graphic outlining "key factors" in their extinction. For the U.S., he predicts they'll be irrelevant by 2017; Canada isn't far behind at 2020. Unfortunately, some of the countries where newspapers are likely to hang on longer have also been identified as among the most dangerous for journalists, so moving there might not be a good career decision.

"10 Things I Wish I Knew about Freelancing a Year Ago" (Adam Westbrook): Westbrook, a radio broadcaster turned multimedia journalist, offers lessons from his 12 months as a freelancer. You'll need to click over to a French site to get the actual list, but the tips are in English. (Is it just me, or do some of them sound more negative than positive: "Being underpaid sucks"; "Cold-calling does not work"?) Words to the wise in any event.

Bonus video: Last week, I attended a day-long program in Washington, D.C., put on by the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, a group that offers free training to business reporters. (Disclosure: I've taken several of their courses in the past year; I'm a fan.) Our lunch speaker was Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, who coordinates Wonkbook, a blog about economic and public policy. His talk, pre-election, focused on how partisan Congress had become -- particularly the Senate -- and predicted "less and less will get done" with a new Congress in which each party controls a house. The Reynolds Center taped his talk. Listen for his discussion of the predicted gridlock beginning at about 3:50.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Record number of jobless at year-plus

Here's a startling statistic: Nearly a third of the people listed as unemployed in the second quarter had been jobless for a year or longer. That was 30.9 percent of the 14.6 million then listed as unemployed, or about 4.5 million people.

The numbers are in an October report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that says the number of long-term unemployed had "increased sharply" since the December 2007 start of the Great Recession. (The recession was declared officially over in June 2009.)

In fact, the report says, the share of the labor force jobless for a year or longer reached a record high in the quarter.

It's common that when the Labor Department puts out its monthly report on employment, the number of so-called long-term unemployed, or those jobless for more than six months, is broken out. But the report doesn't usually go more granular, to detail specific numbers in the two long-term categories (27-51 weeks, 52+ weeks).

That is in the new BLS report. What's more, it also shows how significant the run-up in the year-plus ranks of the unemployed has been: from 9.5 percent of the jobless population in Q2 2007 to nearly 31 percent in the same quarter this year.

A new monthly report on employment is due tomorrow morning. Bloomberg News is predicting the unemployment rate for October will remain at 9.6 percent, as it has been for the previous two months. More of the same isn't encouraging, and was cited yesterday by the Federal Reserve as one reason it had decided to embark on purchasing $600 billion in long-term Treasury bonds to try to jump-start the economy.

FRIDAY UPDATE: The government did indeed report an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent for October, and put the number of long-term unemployed (total at 27 weeks or more) at 6.2 million for the month.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend read, D.C. edition

This list of things to read is coming to you from Washington, D.C., where I'm visiting.

One of the signs headed to the
"Rally for Sanity and/or Fear" in DC.
(photo by me via cellphone)
"They're Too Scared to Laugh" (Miami Herald ): If you paid any attention to Big Media over the past week, you know they practically tied themselves into a knot over the Stewart-Colbert "Rally for Sanity and/or Fear" in Washington, D.C. Edward Wasserman offers a humorous slant on all the navel-gazing. (For the record, I was at the event, but found it easy to separate the journalist from the private citizen.)

"Letting Go of the Rope: Why I'm No Longer a Newspaper Subscriber" (OJR: The Online Journalism Review): One-time newspaperman Robert Niles writes about his decision to let his subscription to the Los Angeles Times lapse as a way to protest the "sexist and lewd behavior" displayed by now-former executives at owner Tribune Co. Take the time to look at the comments section: there's a split decision there as to whether Niles is courageous or cowardly in what he did.

Video interlude: A funny take on social media and journalism by local news station KDFM in Dallas.

"SEO Is Dead, and the New King Is 'SMO'" (PaidContent): Having just taken a webinar on SEO (search engine optimization, or using keywords to ensure online hits for your work), this caught my eye. Rather than thinking SEO, argues author Ben Elowitz, we should think "social media optimization": making content so compelling that readers share it with others to whom they're connected on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Best of all, he says, "the big opportunity is now once again creating and refining the most appealing content possible."

A message from the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce is directed across Lafayette
Square park toward the White House.
(photo by me via cellphone)
"Using the Power of Publishing to Influence: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Entry into the News Biz" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Since we now live in a world where everyone can be a publisher, this is a cautionary tale on the importance of knowing who or what is at the root of a publication. Nieman focuses on the online and print publications produced by the U.S. Chamber that put the news through a pro-business prism. Jan Schaffer, executive director of the J-Lab at American University, terms it "a lens through which they look at the news and they want to report the news through that lens."

Bonus interlude, election edition.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The weekend? Don't relax; read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Another weekend, another reading list:

"Meaty News Topics Are Popular -- And More Profitable" (Journalism 2.0):  This is encouraging: The top news topics over the summer involved serious issues -- unemployment, the Gulf oil spill, mortgage rates, egg recall -- as opposed to celebrity fluff. That's according to a company that works with publishers to monetize content, as measured by website traffic and ad revenue per thousand page views. Huzzah!

"The Newsonomics of the Ad Recovery" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Not so encouraging is this: Advertising is coming back, but newspapers aren't getting as much of it as their TV and magazine peers, says media analyst Ken Doctor. What's more, the pace of online ads is up, too, but newspapers haven't gotten digital as quickly as they should, so they aren't in a position to take best advantage of that trend. Sigh!

"This Is Not a Blog Post" (Slate): Did you know that blogs were morphing into Web magazines and 'zines were becoming blogs? Don't care? Well, some people do, and this piece in Slate explains why the descriptor "article" will bestow gravitas whereas "post" won't.

"How Free Can It Be?" (The Fiscal Times): More on paying or not paying interns -- from a writer who uses unpaid assistants to write a story about using unpaid assistants.

Dazed and Confused yet? Time for a video interlude with bonus music backup.

"New York Times to Launch Texas Regional Edition by Month's End" (PoynterOnline): Three of anything makes a trend, right? (Ask any newspaper assigning editor.) So that must be what we have with the New York Times partnering again with a new online operation to produce specialized pages for its national edition in select U.S. cities. The Times already set up such arrangements in San Francisco with the new (2010) Bay Citizen and in Chicago with the new (2009) Chicago News Cooperative. Now it's Texas's turn. I wonder what metro is next?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Have notepad, will soldier?

Image from Army National Guard website.
I suspect the guy at the left is filling the job of "public affairs specialist" for the Army National Guard, a post I've seen listed by help-wanted aggregator Indeed.com.

You know how it is: You troll job boards -- even Craigslist -- to see what's out there or what you're not aware of. And the aggregators help out by letting you set up alerts for particular job titles and geographic areas for the wide help-wanted net they cast. That's why the "public affairs specialist" title keeps landing in my email every few months.

The first time I clicked on the ad, I felt duped: I thought there really was such a position available, as opposed to it being an enticement to join the reserves.

In fact, I had to read deep into the ad before it dawned on me that there would be more to applying for this job than submitting a cover letter, résumé and writing samples:

Job training for Public Affairs positions consists of nine weeks of Basic Training, where you’ll learn basic Soldiering skills, and up to 12 weeks of Advanced Individual Training at the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. Part of this time is spent in the classroom and part learning hands-on skills focusing on your Public Affairs specialty.
The advanced training at Fort Meade sounds interesting, but the basic stuff likely would be a tad tougher than a day at the gym. Luckily, although highly qualified otherwise, I can't meet the age requirements. (Phew!)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do unemployed need 'Fairy Jobmother'? Yes, says reality TV.



Shoot! Another casting call missed. How'd that happen?

All I needed was to have been out of work for awhile and to have lost all hope of having a career. A financial setback probably would have earned me a few points, too.

Piece of cake for any of us 6.1 million Americans felled by the Great Recession and classified as "long-term unemployed" (out of work six months or longer) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Really, though, I hope the participants in Lifetime's new "Fairy Jobmother" get something more out of the cable TV reality show than their 15 minutes of fame. (Even this season's recession-themed "The Apprentice" promised face time with real executives.)

The official website for "Fairy Jobmother" is a bit thin: very basic job-search and résumé-writing tips; clothing advice from the winner of Lifetime's Season 7 "Project Runway" (cross-promotion alert!); and a couple of lame-sounding "Career Kick Start Boot Camps" attended by series star Hayley Taylor that seem to offer the same tips as the website.

The events, scheduled in Los Angeles and New York City a few days before the series airs Oct. 28, suggest attendees can "Interview with a Lifetime rep," but then offer this fine print:
"This is not an offer for employment, permanent or temporary, but an offer to participate in an interview process for consideration for a three-month paid freelance job opportunity subject to Lifetime’s applicant and hiring review process. Lifetime is an equal opportunity employer."
To which I say: Huh?

Both the show and Taylor are imports from Britain, where "Fairy Jobmother" is popular. (Here's a YouTube review from a perky Brit who likens the show to "Supernanny" for the unemployed.) Lifetime has ordered eight hour-long episodes.

The cable network describes Taylor as a stay-at-home mom who started offering career advice to others as a volunteer, then parlayed that into a reality show. Points for gumption, eh fellow job hunters?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend-ending, week-beginning reading

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Let's be quick and dirty:

"The Newsonomics of Replacement Journalism" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Media analyst Ken Doctor coins the phrase "replacement journalism" to evaluate whether new digital news enterprises are beginning to fill the gap left by the great whacking sound that signaled significant downsizing at newspapers nationwide beginning in 2007. His conclusion: no one-lost/one-gained net, but we're seeing some reversal of the losses. (Fingernails-on-blackboard alert: The piece really needed a final edit before posting.)

"The Online Migration of Newspapers" (MIT Communications Forum): This podcast features a conversation with David Carr of the New York Times and Dan Kennedy, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston who blogs at Media Nation. It's led by David Thorburn, a professor of literature at MIT and director of the school's Communications Forum, which says "the fate of newspapers" is one of its ongoing subjects. The first few minutes are filled with announcements, so jump to about 5:00. If you'd prefer a written summary of the discussion, go here. Bottom line: print will survive.

Music video interlude.

Consider the following as two sides of a sort-of-the-same coin:

"Marimow Out as Inquirer Editor; Deputy Named Interim Boss" (Philadelphia Inquirer): You don't usually find newspapers being this up-front about their internal processes. But in Philly, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editor of the Inquirer was returned to the ranks of reporter because he didn't have the digital skillset the paper's new owner wanted leading the newsroom. Note to journalists on the gray side of their careers: Get hip with multimedia or else!

"Storify's Burt Herman on the Evolution from Reporter to Entrepreneur" (OJR: The Online Journalism Review): Bert Herman had spent a decade overseas as an AP reporter and bureau chief when he decided to return to the States for a journalism sabbatical at Stanford. That led to an extension of the sabbatical and the founding of Storify, a process by which users can "take the best of social media and make it into a story -- to 'storify' it." This Q&A charts the founding of the start-up; on Vimeo, Herman posted an explanation of how Storify works:


Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.


Even quicker and dirtier:

"Accessing America from a Chevy Impala" (Society of Professional Journalists): The subhed tells it all: "One trainer. 1,009 journalists. 45 days. A rented car. 14,000 miles. Tons of records."

"Kindle Singles: A New Potential Home for In-depth News?" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Why not put newspaper series there, asks Nieman's Joshua Benton.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Use your weekend well: read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
It's going to be a long weekend for some as they enjoy the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, so there will be plenty of time to get into these:

"Citizen Journalists? Spreading Like a Cold" (Miami Herald): At the risk of being impolitic -- or a dinosaur -- I got a chuckle out of this column by Leonard Pitts Jr. Written ostensibly to criticize the latest "sting" shenanigans of James O'Keefe III, he of pimp, prostitute and ACORN scandal fame, it just went off on the idea that anyone with access to the Web should be considered a journalist:

If some guy had a wrench, would that make him a citizen mechanic? If some woman flashed a toy badge, would you call her a citizen police officer? Would you trust your health to a citizen doctor just because he produced a syringe? Of course not. But every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a blog is a "citizen journalist."
The column earned a slap on Twitter from media critic Jay Rosen ("Just got off the phone with the museum of curmudgeon studies. They won't take this, even as a donation"), and grimaces from others over this analogy:  "...citizen journalism is to journalism as pornography is to a Martin Scorsese film: while they may employ similar tools -- i.e., camera, lighting -- they aspire to different results."

"Reform the Media? How 2009." (Xark): Dan Conover says it's easy to look at an analysis of what went wrong when Sam Zell took over Tribune Co. and put the blame on money-grubbing egomaniacs. But, he posits, "The truth of the matter is that the biggest obstacles to meaningful reform include many of the most well-meaning 'good-guys' in the New Media game."

So Conover, a newspaper veteran, outlines what he sees as the "simple truths" of today's media landscape before concluding: "It's time to stop talking about saving the news media, reforming the news media, or even politely waiting for these old companies to die a dignified death." Instead, it's time to blow them up.

Musical interlude No. 1.

Here's a three-fer on local news startups:

  1. "New Voices: What Works" (J-Lab): Jan Schaffer, who runs J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at American University in Washington, D.C., reports on five years' worth of lessons learned from the four dozen community news projects launched since 2005 with financial help from a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant administered by her group. Her list of "takeaways" includes several interesting points: that citizen journalists are a high-churn way to get content; that the sites aren't replacing local coverage lost as legacy media have contracted; that the projects haven't yet grown into self-sustaining businesses.
  2. "Community News Sites Are Not a Business Yet" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter picks up on that last "takeaway" in a post on his blog that praises Schaffer for the research in her New Voices report but laments that none of the sites has found the "magic bullet for saving journalism." On the plus side, some of the sites have survived longer than the typical new small businesses, Mutter says.
  3. "Local Startups Seek 'Future of Journalism'" (NetNewsCheck): One weakness of local news startups, mentioned before by Mutter and picked up here, is that while laid-off journalists may have the essential news-gathering skills to launch local sites, they often lack the business savvy needed to sustain them. Or, as one former journalist who now studies startups noted, the journalist-turned-publisher is "pathologically unable to talk about money."
Musical interlude No. 2: I often tune out the pre-flight safety rundown offered by the airlines (especially if I'm on multiple takeoffs and landings in the same day), but I'm sure I would have paid attention to these.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Adding a dash of gonzo to my cover letter

I've always struggled with cover letters. No matter how many I write, no matter what tone they take, I always worry they're lacking something.

So I looked for a few tips in the letter Hunter S. Thompson sent in 1958 to the Vancouver Sun, where he thought he might like to work. The Ottawa Citizen featured it in a story last week.

The letter offered a suggestion of the full-blown gonzo to come, but overall was really pretty tame:
As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.
Makes you wonder, though, what kind of blogger Thompson might be today.

 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In the nick of time: Weekend reading

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
To wrap up your weekend:

" 'Newspaper Companies that Will Survive Will Not Consider Themselves Newspaper Companies' " (Poynter Online): Romenesko posted an on-the-money message to the troops from Dallas Morning News Publisher and CEO James M. Moroney III on the occasion of the paper's 125th anniversary -- but the words should resonate with anyone involved in journalism. That's because Moroney, incorporating remarks he made at a recent community luncheon, lays out clearly why newspapers -- or rather their newsrooms -- are important: scale.

Indeed, he uses the word scale at least 15 times to explain that the newsrooms of metro newspapers are the only organizations that can match the scale of the entities they cover. "[I]t is only the newspaper companies that have the scale of resources to match up to the scale of our local governments," he writes. Some newspapers endangered that balance as they made big cuts in expenses -- i.e., personnel -- in the face of declining ad revenue. But he warns that "If newspaper companies continue to reduce the scale of the reporting resources in their newsrooms, they will level the reporting playing field with local TV stations and give up their competitive advantage."

Moroney sees the Dallas paper surviving in print form for at least another decade -- print revenue is still too valuable to give up. But he advises that in the future, "[N]ewspaper companies that will survive will not consider themselves to be newspaper companies. They recognize that they are local media companies. They will distribute content on paper, through the Internet, via the mobile web, through applications and any other way technology lets consumers access news and information. They will make themselves an indispensable resource of local news and information for citizens of the communities they serve."

"Why Connie Schultz Won't Give up on the Fight for Good Journalism" (Poynter Online): Similar to the aforementioned, this is a don't-give-up-the-good-fight pep talk: Stop listening to the gloom and doom and remember what it is about journalism that is so infectious to its practitioners.

For Schultz, it's righting wrongs among the disenfranchised in the working class -- but also reminding everyone of the importance of journalism: "No amount of random blogging and gotcha videos can replace the journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people," she writes. "If you're a journalist, you already know that. If you're the rest of America, chances are you have no idea."

Schultz' essay is part of the Voices & Values of Journalism project, which offers views on aspects of journalism from two dozen so-called "thought leaders."

Video interlude No. 1, inspired by Schultz' roots.

"Why I am Not a Journalist: A True Story" (PressThink): New York University professor Jay Rosen offers an entertaining other-side-of-the-coin account of how he almost became a journalist. After breaking an unknown (to him) code of conduct, though, he became a media critic instead.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reading for the weekend

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
For your mind's enjoyment this weekend:

"AOL, Journalism Schools Team Up to Offer Students Credit for Patch Work" (USAToday): I thought we had turned the corner in the debate over whether interns should be paid. But now, come to find out, a handful of journalism schools has signed on with Patch, the hyperlocal news initiative owned by AOL that is setting up shop in towns and cities across the country. And these worker bees will be working for college credit, it seems, not pay. Which kind of flies in the face of AOL's big brag that it's going to be the "largest net hirer of journalists in the world" -- when the common definition of hire assumes that pay is involved.

"The Second Great Migration to New Media" (Salon): Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and new-media thinker, puts together an interesting piece linking the recent moves to online organizations by some well-regarded print journalists. His conclusion: They no longer want to be antiseptic in their reporting, but to add some voice. (Coincidentally, that also turned out to be the reason cited this week by a new-media hire, poached by Yahoo, in returning to his old employer, Gawker.)

Video interlude No. 1: If you've never seen Steven Johnson draw and narrate a graphic: enjoy! You also can watch his talk at TED on "Where Good Ideas Come From" here.

"You Are What You Tweet: Balancing Journalism with Social Media" (Journalism 2.0): I haven't yet gotten through the whole Ustream presentation contained here of the panel discussion in Seattle organized by the Online News Association. But its topic is related to the issue raised in Salon by Dan Gillmor: If journalists are being encouraged to engage readers on social media, how personal vs. professional should they (and can they) be.

Bonus music video.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Feel better? Great Recession has ended



Way back when, in a more innocent time, "The Dating Game" was one of the oh-so-nearly-risqué game shows produced for network television by Chuck Barris.

And every time I hear mention of the National Bureau of Economic Research's Business Cycle Dating Committee, I think of the show, because of the clever "Dating Game" treatment Fortune magazine gave the group -- complete with iconic daisy graphics -- in a 2001 story explaining its complex work.

So the show's peppy theme song came to mind this week when the news broke that the committee finally had put an end date on the Great Recession: June 2009.

Yes, it took the panel more than a year to assess when the economy began to rebound, just as it took until late 2008 for the group to set the start of the recession at December 2007. Why the lag? A Q&A explains. (And if you really want to make your eyes bleed, click on the Excel spreadsheet on the committee's main page to read all the numeric details.)

But that doesn't mean we're back to boom times.

Coincidentally on the same day the Great Recession was put to bed, the New York Times ran another story in its excellent series "The New Poor," through which it has been detailing the downturn's personal toll. Remember that among the country's 14.9 million unemployed are more than 6.2 million who have been out of work longer than six months. And at the current average of just 82,000 new jobs created monthly, it will take awhile to get all of them (us) back to work.

Yet things are beginning to feel different now than they did during the dark days of 2009: more listings on job boards, the promise of more holiday temp hiring, a decline in "mass" layoffs (50 workers or more).

And I was lucky this week in landing two preliminary job interviews, after what seemed like many months of near misses. (I couldn't even finagle a ticket into an invitation-only journalism job fair.) Fingers crossed, I might soon be able to put an end date on my own personal downturn.