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."


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.