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

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.