Sunday, July 31, 2011

2 years, 73 cover letters, 10 interviews and still unemployed

Message to the White House last fall, on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building.
(photo by me, via cellphone)

This month, I marked the two-year anniversary of being out of work.

As the date approached, though, I felt things finally were looking up. I had three hot prospects on the line: one, an employer with whom I had already had a face-to-face interview (and had moved on to the "critique our product" stage), and two others, with whom I was due to interview in a matter of days.

So I had no reason to sulk. Instead, I looked back on the two years and crunched some numbers:

  • I counted 73 cover letters on my computer written over the 730 days in those two years, meaning I averaged one cover letter every 10 days -- which is miraculous, given that I dread writing cover letters. (And "averaged" really is a key word, since earlier this year I'm pretty sure I came close to becoming a discouraged worker as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: pulling the covers over my head and giving up. On the other hand, I subsequently entered a phase of extended unemployment benefits, now ended, during which I had to prove to state labor officials that I met a weekly quota of job inquiries -- meaning that my pace of cover-letter writing surpassed the average.)
  • Over the two years, I landed 10 interviews: two in late 2009 (plus a "howdy" face-to-face before the employer was ready to interview for a new position), four in 2010 and four so far this year. None, though, has yielded a job.
  • I also had 3 preliminary phone conversations that led nowhere, one in which I was told a candidate was already in hand, but they wanted to talk to me anyway (to reinforce that decision, I suppose), and one in which the employer, who had asked applicants to specify salary, wanted to see whether I'd bite at a lower figure. (I couldn't afford to relocate for the stated salary, and didn't relish a commute of up to three hours a day.) The third was with an employer I quickly determined I didn't want to work for.
  • There also was 1 prospective employer that conducted an extensive conference call with me and then had me critique/edit some stories and send along copies of a feature I had created at one job, which had piqued their interest -- and then stopped answering my emails and phone calls. other prospect had me do a trio of tests, two of which I passed with flying colors. I apparently stumbled on the third and was told I could try again in six months. (Huh? The logic of that escaped me.)
To mark the first anniversary of my unemployment, I compiled a list of the 10 things I had learned in those 12 months. A few of them still apply, including this big one: you need a job to get a job. Just the other day, the headline again was about how the few companies that are hiring prefer the employed or just slightly unemployed as candidates. Meantime, some 6.29 6.185 million (updated for July) unemployed have been without a job for six months or longer, down from the year-ago level in June 2010 but at a year-to-date high for 2011.

We know now that the 2007-09 Great Recession was more severe than first thought, which provides a tiny bit of solace as I approach 25 months without a full-time job. But writing about it, and living it, really hasn't gotten any easier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gotta get me a smartphone

Some say the reign of the paper résumé will come to an end. Maybe.

If so, its overthrow surely was sped by job-seekers as creative as this guy:

QR CODE - Content-rich Resume from Victor petit on Vimeo.

(h/t: Dan Schawbel)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Back for the weekend: a passel of journalism reads

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
I know, I know: I've fallen behind on weekend reads. I could offer up numerous excuses, but won't bore you. Instead, on to things you'd hate to have missed:

"FCC Report Recommends Targeting Government Ads Toward Local News" (Nieman Journalism Lab): The big news for the week was the release -- finally -- of the Federal Communications Commission's report on how the media are faring in the Internet age. The quick answer is not so well if the medium happens to be local. Nieman sees a lot of same-old, same-old in the report, but notes one new idea: Why not ensure that advertising regularly done by the federal government (e.g., armed forces recruitment ads) gets into local-market hands. Over at Poynter, assessment of the report is about the same: Where's the wow factor?

"Time to Bring Back a P.M. News Product" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): So here's a "wow" idea, courtesy of Alan Mutter: Newspaper publishers might be able to grow revenue and readers through an evening e-newsletter (delivered by tablet or smartphone) that capitalizes on what seems to be a growing habit among wired consumers of sitting down with their devices for quiet time in the evening.

"Take a Lesson from B2B Media's Experience" (Newspaper Death Watch): Another idea for publishers, courtesy of Paul Gillin, is to get to know readers as well as their colleagues in the business-to-business segment seem to. The latter's relationship, says Gillin, allows better matching of advertiser with prospective buyer, leading to "warm" sales leads that beget essential revenue.

"Online Advertising Explodes to $31B, But Publishers Getting Squeezed?" (VentureBeat): Lest we think all is rosy as the pace of online ad spending picks up, there comes word that publishers have made available so much inventory online that they've depressed the price they can command for the space.

Video interlude: One speaker was an overwhelming hit at Personal Democracy Forum 2011 earlier in the week, judging from comments in the Twitterverse. Here's one reaction, complete with the video of Jim Gilliam's presentation. (Take the time to watch it.)

Short takes:
  • "How the Crowd Saved Our Company" (Digital First): Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton posts on his blog the presentation he delivered this week to the 10th International Newsroom Summit of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, offering a progress report on his company's "digital first" strategy.
  • "BxB with Deb Galant of Baristanet: Authentically Local" (Storify): Block by Block, which offers information and networking for and about hyperlocal and community news publishing, held a Twitter chat with the co-founder of Baristanet about a new endeavor, Authentically Local, which aims to counter corporate infiltration in the neighborhood (think AOL's Patch). The chat was collected on Storify.
  • "A USC Annenberg Thesis Project" (Entrepreneurial Journalism): This is a monstrously long and deep dive, but worth the time if you want an exhaustive look at what's happening in journalism today, as reported by (successful) master's candidate Kim Nowacki.
  • "What I Learned in Joplin" (the deadline): And if you haven't yet read the Twitter observations by the New York Times' Brian Stelter of the tornado devastation he saw in Joplin, Mo., here it is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend read: Reporters as 'maestros'

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
It's the weekend, so pull up a chair and settle in for some interesting reads:

"Chapter Nine: Managing Digital" (Columbia Journalism Review): Somewhere during the course of the week, it was suggested that this chapter of the new report on digital journalism from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism would be particularly eye-opening. And it is. Consider this evaluation of how Forbes' Lewis DVorkin assesses reporters: "He expects Forbes journalists not just to cover news, but to be 'maestros' of comments and of followers." And from DVorkin himself: "It used to be a question of how they [reporters] develop their sources. Now it's how they develop their sources and their audience." Take note, veteran journalists.

"Main Street Connect’s Tucker: Hyperlocal Needs Scale" (Street Fight): No sooner had founder Carll Tucker been interviewed about his growing network of hyperlocal news sites -- he has established 10 in Connecticut and will add 32 in Westchester County, N.Y., on June 1 -- than he added 10 more in Massachusetts with the announced acquisition of CentralMassNews. Main Street Connect has kept a relatively low profile since raising close to $4 million last year, but it apparently has been busy behind the scenes. (Tucker, by the way, believes his hyperlocal model is way better than AOL's Patch.)

Musical interlude

"Meet Facebook's Journalist Ambassador (Yes, We Said Ambassador)" (FastCompany): If DVorkin, above, is correct, reporters needing a platform from which to build a fan base may have a friend (pun intended) in Facebook. And helping them learn best practices is Vadim Lavrusik, a social media ace who just became journalism program manager at Facebook.

"Google Adds News Near You -- Newspapers Still Nowhere" (GigaOM): Here's another shout out to newspapers to get mobile fast because Google is getting ready to eat their lunch again. This time, it's with a feature that can deliver news that is "personally relevant" no matter where the reader may be. And for how long have the experts been saying the potential for mobile is huge?

Video interlude: It wasn't just the recession that cost the U.S. jobs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When job postings baffle

I've seen an occasional oddball posting as I've trolled various company and journalism job boards, but never one like this with a list of "physical demands":

(Click to enlarge)

It's for a job as a digital content creator at a radio station, and many of the requirements sought of candidates include the usual variety:
  • 3-5 years reporting/writing/editing experience
  • Proficiency in Photoshop, HTML and audio editing
  • Excellent writing and editing skills under tight deadlines
  • Attention to detail with content, including grammar, punctuation and fact checking, and layout
  • Understanding of social media and its relationship with news consumers, online marketing and web traffic
  • Be part of a team to develop new and innovative content for the web and on-air
  • Ability to thrive in fast-paced, breaking news situations
  • Flexibility in work schedule
  • Etc., etc., etc.
But being able to exert "up to 10 lbs. of force occasionally," as I've highlighted above? That's a new one. And just what does "including human body" mean? That you're able to get up from your chair successfully?

I'm baffled -- except to note that the job is at a radio station that says it caters to an audience of federal workers in Washington, D.C. Perhaps some Fed-speak has rubbed off.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On creating a first-class news experience

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Here are a couple of end-of-the-weekend quick hits:

"Business Class: Freemium for News?" (Information Architects): In the how-do-we-fund-the-news discussion comes this idea: offer a user experience comparable to flying first class vs. coach. That means visually attractive web pages and additional perks that enhance the experience enough that people will pay for it.

"ASNE Offers Good Advice on Social Media, But Too Much Fear and Not Really ‘Best Practices’ " (The Buttry Diary): Steve Buttry, late of the online-only news experiment in Washington, D.C., worries that print editors still don't get what social media is all about as they proffer best practices for journalists using Twitter, Facebook, et al.

Video interlude: Check out this video from Fast Forward News, a project of the video storytelling workshop at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University that explores journalism's future. (I picked this particular video because it's the worst nightmare of any reporter: being replaced as a writer by a "robot.")

Man vs. Machine from Fast Forward News on Vimeo.

Music-video interlude: Here's a toe-tapping explainer developed by a New York University class to accompany ProPublic's series about gas drilling and the technique known as "fracking."

Musical wrap-up: And last but not least, a cool remix of the "All Things Considered" theme song.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

77 cents: Recession spreads pay-gap pain

Chart from Center for American Progress report,"Not Working:
Unemployment Among Married Couples" (click to enlarge)

The 2007-09 Great Recession often has been referred to as a "mancession" due to the cutbacks and job losses seen in industries populated by men.

But now comes word that we all soon could be paying a price for the wage gap that long has plagued women in the workplace because the recession turned them into the prime breadwinner in many families.

Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., has published a paper, "Not Working: Unemployment Among Married Couples," that makes just that point:

"With so many wives — and women more generally — supporting families, there could not be a more important time to ensure that women are paid fairly. The typical woman earns an average of 77 cents on the male dollar, and so when a husband loses his job the family suffers since her earnings are typically lower than his."

Boushey also notes that older couples are particularly vulnerable, given the man's longevity on the job (= higher wages) and the likelihood the woman took time off to raise children (= lower wages). Add to that the hit the couple's nest egg took during the recession as the financial markets skidded and the equity they may have lost in their house as the bottom dropped out of the real estate market. The resulting outlook for retirement isn't pretty, and there could be implications for Social Security in the future.

Plus, as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been showing month after month, older workers laid off in the recession are finding it harder to get back into the job market. As of January 2010, Boushey says, that included two-thirds of unemployed men and women aged 55 to 64 vs. just 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women aged 35 to 44.

Boushey's conclusion? "Addressing pay equity should be a key priority as we address the recession."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Of souvenirs, PR and Twitter: Read!

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

"Newspapers as Souvenirs" (Huffington Post): You gotta love the sentiment here of the newspaper as witness to history. The big, big story, of course, was the death of Osama bin Laden, and -- once more -- newspapers were in demand: as souvenirs of the day's heart-thumping news. (If only that were the case for print every day.)

"PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms" (ProPublica): The headline says it all, and in typical ProPublica fashion, the narrative is exhaustive. "The dangers are clear," says the piece. "As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it."

Graphic interlude: I'm not sure what to call this -- an animated timeline? -- but it's a cool way to show the development of the California Watch series "On Shaky Ground."

"Why Newspaper Ad Sales Are Not Recovering" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): It's disheartening to read that Newsosaur Alan Mutter doesn't think we've hit bottom yet in newspaper ad sales, even as the economic recovery chugs along. But he's right that "stubborn unemployment and a nearly moribund housing market" aren't helping.

"How 4 People & Their Social Network Turned an Unwitting Witness to bin Laden’s Death into a Citizen Journalist" (Poynter): Take a look at how networks of Twitter users bridged the continents between Pakistan and the U.S. to relay the so-called first-person account of the raid that led to Osama bin Laden's death. (The post later was criticized as suggesting that mainstream media had been eclipsed by the social media platform.)

Video interlude: Here's a double dose of in-your-face chutzpa for newspaper doubters. The Newspaper Association of America reports that Internet users flocked to newspaper websites in the first quarter, and the Society of Professional Journalists assures us that The Fat Lady Has Not Sung.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Jobs picture: Still tough out there

Career-help display,
Lucius Beebe Memorial Library,
Wakefield, Mass. (via library's Flickr account)
Today's uptick in the April jobs number notwithstanding, it's interesting to note that this Forbes career how-to on cover letters, posted in late March, is still gaining clicks.

When I first stumbled on it Wednesday, the clicks were just above 12,700; today it's up another 500 to more than 13,200 clicks. (As an aside, I must say that I find it oh-so-satisfying that the post's author, who writes regularly about careers, admits to being flummoxed when asked to help a friend write a cover letter, a task I continue to find arduous.)

What does that +500 mean? That people still are out of work and still looking for jobs, so they still need advice on cover letters. Just take a look at a couple of points in today's Bureau of Labor Statistics release on April's employment picture:

  • "The number of unemployed persons, at 13.7 million, changed little in April."
  • "The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed over the month..."
  • "In April, 2.5 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, about the same as a year earlier."
For those of us in journalism's corner of the world, the Kansas City Star announced additional layoffs earlier in the week. And on Monday a site for media professionals suggested there was a stall during April in the pace of listings on various help-wanted job boards.

Bottom line: It's still tough out there.

Monday, April 18, 2011

No room for paid journalists in hyperlocal space?

An exchange on the website Street Fight (click to enlarge).

So there I was, reading through what looked to be a promising interview about the evolution of a hyperlocal site, when this question was offered:

Does it make sense to spend money on professional journalists to create hyperlocal content?

And this was the answer:

"Well, we’re definitely pegging the needle on the other side of that. We’re basically saying that we’re going to spend nothing. Like, zero."

Well crap, I thought. Another road closed to those of us sent packing as newsrooms downsized between 2007 and 2010. But I continued to read anyway, since the discussion turned to what could be learned from the Patch model.

The next question, though, was whether there might be a future in paid hyperlocal content and this came as part of the answer:

"Journalists never like to think of Groupon's ad copywriters as journalists, but really they are. As a Silicon Valley person, journalism is just writing copy. Journalism isn’t a profession. Journalism is, in fact, merely the pretentious part of the ad copywriter role in some ways. Paying writers to write words — and when they’re good they make more money — is kind of the name of the game here. And I think that Groupon is a better model for paying people because it’s worth a lot more money than most of the hyperlocal sites at the moment."

As you might imagine, the comparison of journalist to copywriter didn't sit well with some, which led to the exchange, shown at the top, in the comment section of the post.

Note the response from Topix CEO Chris Tolles ("I'll admit to saying that deliberately...). I'm not sure I buy that.  How about you?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mobile, hyperlocal, Twitter: Read!

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Hooray for the weekend! Time to read.

"Ready for the Mobile Ad Revolution?" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter, in a piece for Editor & Publisher, offers a look at some of the mobile technology that currently seems so very Buck Rogers. Yet for all the gee-whiz, "the true power of mobile advertising is its ability to put the right ad in front of the right person in the right place at the right time," Mutter says. And for how long have we been talking about newspapers' need to get out in front in mobile? Certainly a lot longer than this. (Note the posting date is a year ago to the day.)

"Backfence Founder Mark Potts: Hyperlocal Takes Patience" (StreetFight): This new website, which bills itself as covering the business of hyperlocal, offers a Q&A with Mark Potts (Recovering Journalist), a mainstream veteran who has tried his hand (and failed) at the hyperlocal space, for some perspective on what does and doesn't work. (Potts touches on mobile, too.)

"Handwritten Newspapers from Ravaged Japan at Newseum" (Newseum): Here's the kind of inspired journalism we all admire, going after the story and publishing against all odds -- even the monstrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., relates how it came to acquire copies of one daily newspaper that were handwritten and published pen-on-paper in the days after the Japanese disaster. They will be put on display as "a powerful testament to the timeless human need to know and to journalists' commitment to providing that information."

Musical interlude.

Short takes:
  • "Rolling Stone Writers Talk Long-Form Journalism at Housing Works" (Bookish): Can long reads survive in a short-attention-span world? Yup, according to this account of a standing-room-only talk at a NYC bookstore: "A great story is a great story."
  • "No, Bob Woodward, Google Did Not Kill Newspapers" (The Atlantic): The celebrated Washington Post writer and editor is chastised for comments made at a college near Chicago. While the narrative is nothing new, the accompanying graphic on newspapers' ski-slope-like circulation decline is eye-popping.
  • "Trouble@Twitter" (Fortune): Or, will the 140-character site survive its leadership vacuum?
Bonus read:

"The Straight Dope: Bill Moyers Interviews David Simon" (Guernica): A superb conversation with the one-time Baltimore Sun journalist who created The Wire, the HBO series that told the story of life in Baltimore through its institutions. I'm not an HBO subscriber, so I missed the series when it ran for five seasons on television (2002-08). But I've been making my way through the 60 episodes on DVD as a patron of my local library. (The library is even springing for a new Season 1 DVD set, which had been listed in its online catalog as "lost." W00t!)  

Music bonus: The Wire theme from Season 5, which focuses on the media as an institution. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When "staff" writing really isn't

One of the Johnny Depp pirate movies.

It's the sound of my frustration and irritation, not my inner pirate, at the job listings I continue to see that devalue professional writers.

Take this one posted the other day on a LinkedIn writers' group under the headline "Staff Writing Positions Available." A weblink takes you to the Staff Writer Application, which lists these "minimum requirements":  "A journalism, writing or English degree is not required but is a plus. Alternatively, a year or more experience as a professional freelance writer or blogger will be considered. Professional experience or knowledge related to the topic area you're applying for will also be taken into consideration."

You know right then that it's a come-on for some low-paid content farm "job," and, indeed, the application states that the pay is "$25 upfront per post for full rights," which, admittedly, is better than what some well-known sites offer. (The application also asks for a lot of proof of writing ability, like links to writing samples and any websites you've written for, as well as URLs for your personal blog and Twitter accounts, and, of all things, your Skype ID.)

But let's get real here. If the website this application is attached to is looking for "paid Staff Writers," as it states, where's the benefits package? If I'm on staff, don't I get sick days and vacation days and health insurance and perhaps even occasional overtime pay?  C'mon!

Of course you know the answer.

And this site isn't alone, mind you. On the same day this posting slapped me in the face, the Yahoo! Contributor Network was advertising for "writers, bloggers and journalists," and Suite 101 was trying to rope in college kids.

It makes you want to shout a "Right on!" in solidarity with Jonathan Tasini and the freelancers looking to get a hunk of cash out of the Huffington Post-AOL merger for all their blogging.

One final irony of the "paid Staff Writers" posting is this mission statement offered by the website: "By being authentic in our writing and portrayal of real women facing real life every day, we encourage women to purposefully choose to create bliss in family life and home."

Except, that is, if you're a woman who wants to make a living as a writer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Women score a few jobs in shrinking newsrooms

(Click to enlarge)
I wrote around this time last year about the annual newsroom census released by the American Society of News Editors and how women had fared over the decade. This year, the ASNE numbers show, women gained a few jobs (180) over 2010, but are still way off the totals seen in 2001.

In fact, the number of women in the newsroom (15,360) is down some 27 percent (5,702) from a decade earlier (21,062), mirroring the overall drop in the total census from a decade ago. In 2001, 56,393 men and women worked in the newsroom vs. 41,608 today. And we all know how the recession and growing online options pummeled newspaper advertising, leading to the Great Belt-Tightening and Newsroom Purge of 2007-10.

But it's interesting to see, in the ASNE chart above, how women have gained a bit of supervisory authority over the decade (the red pen marks drawing the comparisons are mine). Bear in mind, however, that the ranks of newsroom supervisors shrank in the decade, as the overall census declined. Since 2001, the ASNE numbers show, newsrooms have lost 2,900 supervisors' slots.

ASNE, which conducts the annual census to track newsroom diversity, bemoaned the losses seen by minorities, even as layoffs gave way to some cautious hiring at newspapers. By race, white men and women gained ground from a year earlier, while fewer black women, black men, Hispanic men and Asian men were reported in newsrooms. The ASNE numbers show about 15 more Hispanic women in newsrooms, while the ranks of Asian women are unchanged.

“The U.S. Census numbers clearly tell us that people-of-color populations are growing while our newsrooms aren't reflecting that growth," Ronnie Agnew, co-chair of ASNE’s Diversity Committee, said in a prepared statement. "This should be a concern to all who see diversity as an accurate way of telling the story of a new America.”

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend read: Don't forget the journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Time to squeeze in a quick end-of-weekend reading list:

"Product First!" ((Re)- Structuring Journalism): I like the caution flag waved here by longtime journalist Reg Chua at the new slogan "Digital First," as championed by John Paton of Journal Register Co.: If it's just shorthand "for posting news faster and faster to the Web," says Chua, "it doesn’t really fundamentally rethink what we do, except make it go faster, at lower cost, with more bells and whistles." Instead, he says, "Wouldn't it make more sense to talk about 'journalism first'? That would at least put the focus on the quality of what we do."

"Some Thoughts on the Social Distribution of Mass Media...(SoDOMM)" (Silicon Valley Watcher): In one of those it's-so-obvious-why-didn't-I-see-it? observations, Tom Foremski suggests that the so-called social media revolution hasn't lived up to its potential: "If you look at the links people are sharing through social media, much of it is links to the same newspapers and big media organizations that people were reading, listening to, and watching before the advent of social media." Ha! He says a better descriptor of the terrain is SoDOMM: Social Distribution Of Mass Media.

"The Guardian Newsblog and the Death of Journalism" (The Louse & the Flea): Is live-blogging or live-tweeting good or bad for journalism? Both are being used more often by media organizations in the name of alternative story-telling. As a result, as-it-happens posts are being compiled by a reporter who is at a press conference or product demonstration or public meeting. If you know of the event and are interested in what's transpiring, it's the next best thing to being there. But when the event is breaking news, the result can confuse more than enlighten. But the Editors Weblog, in "Are Live Blogs the Future of Journalism?", contends online running commentary may yet have a place.

Musical interlude.

Quick takes:
  • "The NYT's Melting Iceberg Syndrome" (Monday Note): "Could the New York Times be viable as a digital-only operation?" is the provocative question posed in the opening sentence. Why this what-if game? See the next item. 
  • "Top 10 Dying Industries" (Real Time Economics): Of course newspaper publishing is on the list, No. 3 behind wired telecommunications carriers and mills.
  • "Losing Our Way" (New York Times): Bob Herbert's last column.
Video interlude: Was I the only one who didn't get the memo on the planned musical extravaganza by "Grey's Anatomy"? Imagine my surprise flipping it on in mid-episode.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Infographic: the writing process

Here's a fun graphic posted by British science writer Ed Yong to his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog that explains how he goes about writing a feature story (click on it to enlarge):

(By Ed Yong, Not Exactly Rocket Science)

Yong says he plotted his level of "enjoyment" in the task on the vertical axis; time is along the horizontal.

Can you relate to it?

Although Yong has a day job and does (award-winning) freelance writing on the side, the graphic isn't particular to the non-staff genre. Indeed, the highs and lows easily coincide to long-form newspaper reporting, from series to project to Sunday section front.

Feel free to chuckle at will.

Monday, March 28, 2011

'Bloodletting' may be done, but newspaper hiring still slow

I haven't made my way through the full "State of the News Media 2011" report, but was buoyed by this sentence: "In newspapers, the bloodletting seemed to have eased somewhat."

Yet here's an accompanying graphic from the report, released this month by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (click to enlarge):

Yes, that sentence had more to it:
"After losing close to a third of its editorial ranks in the previous decade, and 11,000 in just three years, the nation’s newspapers trimmed only marginally in 2010. We estimate losses of about 1,100 to 1,500 people, or 3% to 4%. By recent standards, that is an improvement, although it leaves the largest newsrooms in most American cities bruised and necessarily less ambitious than they were a decade ago."

The report pegs the peak of full-time employment in newsrooms at 56,400 in 2000, before the free fall of 11,000 that corresponded to the Great Recession (2007-09).

There was a bright spot, though, according to the report: "2010 also marked a thaw in the news hiring climate" as newspapers began filling slots emptied when workers were laid off or left of their own accord. Some wooing of talent from one news outlet to another also was evident in that re-staffing or as new online news operations debuted.

Indeed, the mainstream job boards display many, many more help-wanted ads these days than they did during the doldrums: offered 800 today; listed nearly 1,500 (sales jobs are mixed there with newsroom ones).

But as the Pew report stated, job qualifications may be changing: "If the emerging business model is to add multiple, smaller revenue streams together, newsrooms will need soon to develop an assortment of sub-specialists while keeping up their general reporting and editing capacity." That's likely to mean newsrooms will have to juggle traditional skills with online ones to meet "the distinct demands of writing and editing for smartphones, for tablets and the next hot format to come along," according to the report.

My future then? As a jack of all trades, as shown in this ad from a regional cable news operation: "This position is responsible for anchoring, field anchoring, reporting, writing, shooting and editing stories, breaking news or news programs as directed by the assignment desk, executive producers, or news director." (The ad just as easily could have come from a newspaper, no?)

After presenting a long list of "essential job functions," the ad concluded thusly, as most do: "Performs other duties as assigned."

I'm exhausted already.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More weekend readings in journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Here's some food for thought:

"A Note to Our Readers on the Times Pay Model and the Economics of Reporting" (FiveThirtyEight): The headline on the New York Times politics blog may be a mouthful, but this is the bottom line: "A very small number of news outlets account for a very large share of the English-language reporting that is of national or international interest." That's according to Nate Silver, who tracked which publications were cited most often by everyone for their original reporting on a topic. It's an experiment he did to support the idea that good journalism isn't free and that the pay-to-read model -- like the Times' new metered plan -- is worth the price of subscribing.

" 'Who Needs Newspapers' Project Documents the State of Newsrooms Nationwide" (Editor & Publisher): Valid Sources, a nonprofit focused on finding outstanding practitioners of journalism, is about six months into its year-long effort to lay the foundation for a database that will highlight smaller newspapers that serve their communities well. The year-long project, called "Who Needs Newspapers," expects to identify one newspaper per state each week that deserves recognition; in year two and beyond, local press associations will help to grow the list. One commonality among the papers: they recognize the need to embrace the Internet and new media, and to work both to their advantage.

Visual interlude: The blog 10,000 Words calls "Bloggers vs. Journalists: It's a Psychological Thing" one of the five must-see presentations on digital journalism. The slides were prepared for the recent South by Southwest confab in Austin by Jay Rosen (New York University) and Lisa Williams (Placeblogger) for a discussion on the continuing debate between the two groups.

"Recent College Graduates and the Labor Market" (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco): Switching gears (a bit) from journalism, this report should lay to rest the debate over whether the current "jobless recovery" -- persistent unemployment -- is structural or cyclical. "Structural" argues that workers no longer have the skills desired by employers; "cyclical" says there's less demand for workers, period -- until the economy is firing on all cylinders. "Structural," to me, is demoralizing because it's akin to telling us jobless that we're suddenly unqualified for work; "cyclical" is less damning to individuals because the problem lies elsewhere, in the (im)balance of supply and demand. The San Fran bank, using recent college graduates as the control, concluded that the current downturn and recovery closely mirrors the 2001 recession and its aftermath, which was deemed cyclical. (Whew!)

"The Employment Situation, February 2011: Unemployment Down for Older Women but Not for Men" (AARP Public Policy Institute; pdf): If you're 55 or older and unemployed, according to this monthly report, you're screwed. "Once unemployed, older workers, on average, are out of work longer than their younger counterparts," it says. For the 55-and-older crowd, the length of unemployment rose in February to 45.5 weeks, from 44.4 weeks in January. (For younger workers, it also was up, but stood at 35.2 weeks.) Adds the report: "The recession may be over, but average duration of unemployment has continued to rise, increasing for the older unemployed by 48 percent between the start and end of the recession (December 2007-June 2009) and by 52 percent since the recession ended (June 2009-February 2011)."

Musical fadeout.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend read: Journalism, economy better or worse?

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Items you don't want to have missed:

"The State of the News Media 2011" (Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism): In its latest findings on the news industry, Pew says things are looking up a bit: revenue is recovering somewhat and layoffs have lessened. But Pew detects "a more fundamental challenge to journalism": that with each iteration of technology, "a new layer of complexity" is added that moves the industry farther from controlling its own destiny and shifts revenue to others.

"Newspaper Ad Sales Hit 25-Year Low in 2010" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Alan Mutter continues to track the unraveling of the traditional revenue model at newspapers. Last year, he says, ad sales hit a total reminiscent of 1985; what's more, that number was down by half from the all-time high seen just five years ago. The bright spot: 2010's drop was "the least worse" decline in the five-year period.

Musical interlude: A theme song, perhaps, for publishers and their revenue goals.

"What James O'Keefe Knows about Media (and You Should Too)" (Poynter): Poynter's Steve Myers takes a look at what he calls the "entrapment journalism" of James O'Keefe -- using reductio ad absurdum to catch institutions (Planned Parenthood, ACORN, NPR) in uncompromising positions. "Whatever we call this surreptitiously recorded audio and video," says Myers, "...[w]e should think about what this work is, where it fits in the media landscape, and why it gets attention."

Video interlude -- if you have an hour and a half to kill in the name of long-form journalism.

"The Forgotten Millions" (New York Times): "Why doesn't Washington care?" asks op-ed writer Paul Krugman as he runs the numbers on the long-term unemployed. Lawmakers seem more interested in cutting the deficit than in helping Americans get back work, he says, partly because the economy now is "suffering from low hiring, not high firing."

But here's a tale from one of the "forgotten millions" that Congress should listen to, as chronicled on the website Over 50 and Out of Work:

Elizabeth Zima from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More readings on journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
As the weekend winds down, here's some food for thought:

"Who Owns Newspaper Companies?" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Martin Langeveld, a former newspaper publisher, continues to document whose fingers are in the newspaper pie. Here he inventories the investors in publicly traded newspaper companies, concluding "that with a few exceptions, ownership is diversified to the point that no single entity owns more than 10 percent." That's not the case in what he calls the "distressed sector" -- the companies that have gone through bankruptcy court -- where certain investors seem to hold greater stakes.

"The Danger in the Doldrums" (Xark): With the earthquake and tsunami in Japan as backdrop, newspaper veteran Dan Conover (loooong bio here) contemplates the paradox of the news biz: that people seek out good journalism during crises, but could care less otherwise. And since doing top-notch reporting is as expensive on "slow" news days as it is on breaking ones, most media companies back-fill on the former: car chases, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan -- because readers still have to be delivered to the advertisers buying space. "It's what we do -- or don't do -- on the slow days that's killing our reputations," he says.

Musical interlude.

"The New Watchword? Deconvergence" (ReJurno): Journalist Jane Stevens makes a case for flipping the newsroom on its head: that reporters write for the Web, rather than print, and that their work then is repurposed for the newspaper. That way, she says, papers' online operations won't get pulled down along with the print operations. "[J]urnos just focus on building and managing their communities, their web and mobile coverage," she says, although she'd allow that "Maybe a couple of print-centric staff writers provide Sunday feature stories, but that depends on who the print audience is and what they want."

Bonus reads:
  1. "The Newsroom Rush of Old" (Smithsonian): Think speed is new to the newsroom? Think again, as reminiscences born of an old city desk photo show.
  2. "Dan Rather: Inside Mark Cuban's Gilded Cage" (Mother Jones): The 79-year-old former news dean of CBS is happy again as a shoe-leather reporter. 
  3. "How to Not Get Hired" (Forbes): Humorous tales from the job hunt. Or, "been there, done that!"
Bonus video: In case you were worried about Maru (of course we watch cat videos on the Web!), word came from Japan that he is safe.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Can't get a job? Then you must not have one already

Let's hear a "Hallelujah!" from the congregation on this one: that employers seeking only currently employed applicants for advertised openings may need to rethink that strategy.

You probably know this as the need-a-job-to-get-a-job maxim. By any name, it stinks. But whether it's illegal is not so black and white, as you'll see from this segment that aired today on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street":

As explained by Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, policies that are neutral on their face ("no layoff candidates") but that fall more heavily on particular groups -- African Americans, women, older workers -- "can be illegal under certain circumstances."

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating.

Owens says no law or regulation mandates that an employer consider for a job someone who is unqualified. "But," she says, "if someone is qualified, except for the fact that he or she hasn't recently been employed in that job [field], that's a very arbitrary kind of exclusion."

As an act of discrimination, "It's hard to prove," Owens adds. "But it's not impossible to prove."

If ever there's a class action on this, I just might sign up.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Weekend reading: Can hyperlocal work?

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Here's the latest installment of things worth reading:

"Hyperlocal Heartbreak: Why Haven't Neighborhood News Technologies Worked Out?" (ReadWriteWeb): With Aol's deal to acquire neighborhood news aggregator as a backdrop, author Marshall Kirkpatrick tries to figure out why various attempts to develop sites in this niche have yet to work. Is it an idea ahead of its time? Don't enough people care about what's happening down the street? Is the revenue model too elusive? "I care about what's happening in the neighborhood around me," he writes, "and I want to see the fabulous new technologies of open government data, online news syndication, social networking and data mining all put to service to fulfill hyperlocal news wishes and dreams I didn't even know I had yet."

"Q&A: Jim Brady on the Death of TBD" (Columbia Journalism Review): Brady was one of the brains behind TBD, the online-only local news site in Washington, D.C., that saw the rug pulled out from under it by parent Allbritton Communications just six months after launch. Here he offers an extended post-mortem on the rise and fall of the site, which he says has been wrongly characterized as a hyperlocal effort.

Musical interlude.

"Memo to Newspapers: Incremental Change Is Not Helping" (GigaOM): Check out the graphic in this post by Mathew Ingram, which originally accompanied an analysis by Frederic Filloux of the disruptive changes now facing traditional media. It shows how rapidly print advertising revenue has declined -- with the Washington Post as a model -- vs. the slow rise in online revenue: there's no intersection of the lines as "digital pennies" are no match for "print dollars." For the Post, it means in real terms the loss of $5 in print revenue for every $1 gained in online revenue.

"Journal Register's Localized Video News Strategy Is Driving Profitability: CEO John Paton" (Beet.TV): In a video interview, Journal Register Co.'s John Paton explains the technology his "digital first, print last" company uses to get video to the web quickly -- including eliminating the bottleneck (emphasis added) of central editing.

Bonus reads:

"A Day in the Life of a Liveblogger" (MobileCrunch): This is a delightful, insightful tale of live-blogging, as one reporter psyches himself and syncs his mobile "office" to cover the folderol of new tech-product releases.

"So Long Again, Chicago Daily News" (Reflections of a Newsosaur): Newsosaur Alan Mutter reminisces about the 1978 closing of the afternoon paper in Chicago. "But this isn't just ancient history," he offers. "It is a valuable reminder to today's media companies of what happens when you run out of readers, revenues and ideas all at the same time."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Economy's improvement in eye of beholder

The friendly folks at the state Labor Department sent a letter my way that offers this encouraging assessment: that I have been unemployed for so long (nearly, gulp, 20 months) that "your prospects for finding work in your customary occupation are classified as 'not good'." (Sigh!)

The boldface, which is theirs, then continues to inform me that I now must look for suitable work, which is defined as anything else I could do using the skills from my former occupation or anything else at all that I could do no matter my training or lack of training, as long as whatever comes up in the crap shoot pays "at least 80 percent of your high quarter base period wages."

I vaguely recall that language from somewhere deep in my then-new unemployment insurance booklet, which I dutifully read eons ago. At the time, of course, I knew that it never would apply to ME, since I was a well-educated careerist who had climbed the ranks in my profession and would land in a new job tout de suite.

But -- oops! -- it was indeed meant for me.

So you'll understand the agita that resulted today from a couple of news snippets I caught:

  1. The monthly jobs report;
  2. A discussion of corporate profits.
The U.S. Labor Department this morning reported an improved employment picture in February, with the nonfarm payroll number up (+192,000) and the unemployment rate down (8.9%). According to the New York Times, the recovery is gaining traction, even if the 64.2 percent of working-age adults in a job or looking for one "is the lowest labor force participation rate in 25 years, an indication that many Americans are waiting for hiring to get better before resuming the job hunt."

Then there was this piece of an interview I caught this morning on CNBC with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. If you skip to about 4:03, you'll hear an exchange between Greenspan and Steve Liesman, the network's senior economics reporter:

"Corporations are as profitable as they've ever been," says Liesman showing a chart indicating after-tax corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic purchases. "How bad can business conditions really be, given how much corporations are earning these days?" he asks Greenspan.

The former chairman offers a long, considered, Greenspan-esque response, but then adds: "I grant you your point ... there's no question that profits are doing exceptionally well."

"But," he goes on, "you can still have very considerable profitability and not be willing to invest it in illiquid assets."  Um, like what, new workers?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two years later, stories of survival from 'The Rocky'

It's a video that still leaves me choked up: the farewell to the Rocky Mountain News:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.

It's now two years since the Denver paper closed -- a casualty of the Great Recession and the demise of publishing's traditional revenue model (ads on a printed page to reach the masses). To mark the anniversary, John Temple, who was The Rocky's editor and publisher, offers a couple of surveys on what his former colleagues are up to.

He found that many remain in journalism; others went into different fields, chose to retire or are still unemployed. All miss the "family" they had at the paper, and most worry about what the newspaper industry has lost as companies responded to the recession and media turmoil by cutting people and pages or closing operations.

You should read through the respondents' comments -- they're easy to relate to, especially if you were cut loose from a newspaper career, too (for me, via layoff). Take former sports columnist Bernie Lincicome, who decided to retire: "The daily feeling I have is one of irrelevance," she says. YES! I say out loud.

She continues: "I tried blogging for a while, mostly out of habit, partly from denial. It was just calisthenics with no game to play. ... I have done some freelance work, but, to be honest, have not worked very hard at finding more." YES! I say again.

The journey wasn't any easier for some of those who landed back in journalism. Kathy Bogan, who now works in Kenya as a design editor, says she battled "a sense of worthlessness" as résumé after résumé sent to prospective new employers went unanswered. (Yup, I can relate.)

Still, "I am fortunate to be working full-time, to be working in a newsroom again," she says. And, as an added bonus, in a place where newspapers are appreciated: "Here, hawkers tout at least four dailies in the traffic jams all day, there's a newsstand on every sidewalk, the news seems to be part of the daily diet, and print still dominates."

I'm not ready to become an ex-pat, but I'll look to take a smidgen of hope from their stories and soldier on.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Weekend reading: Experiments in journalism

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)
Let's get right to it:

"As TBD Staff Tweet News of their Layoffs, a Look at the Rise & Fall of Innovative D.C. News Site" (Poynter): Poynter's Mallary Jean Tenore offers a timeline on the unexpected and surprising reorganization of TBD, a Web-only news site in Washington, D.C., that had been hailed as a new-models-for-journalism experiment. Launched by the folks who successfully founded Politico, the site was seen as way to up the ante on local coverage in much the same way as Politico focused intensely on politics. But six months into the experiment, parent Allbritton Communications pulled the plug. Some say Allbritton wasn't up to the task; others say the experiment was flawed from the get-go.

"Rockville Central: Set to Become a Facebook-Only Outlet" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Here's another new-model experiment worth watching: making Facebook the platform for a hyperlocal news site, rather than putting time, energy and money into a separate online address. Nieman offers a look at some of the pros and cons of this idea.

Video interlude: Beware of "churnalism," or the overuse of press releases in news stories. A new website offers to uncover the problem.

"New Yorker, Harper's, NYRB and TNR Editors on the Dearth of Female Bylines" (The Sisterhood): Occasionally, concern will surface that women aren't widely represented in the media: as guests on the Sunday news shows, as commentators or experts in public radio stories, as executives in media organizations. The latest discussion is on female bylines in national journals of opinion, which a handful of magazine editors acknowledge here is lacking. A writer at The New Republic has another idea, though: that opinion journalism "disproportionately attracts men."

"The Fast-Finger Twitter Dilemma: A Small Confession" (George Brock): Given the fast-paced events in Libya, Egypt and the rest of North Africa and the Middle East, here's a reminder from London journalism professor George Brock that you still should think before you (re)tweet:  "It’s so simple ... to bypass the usual check in your head. Do I know that this is true?"

Musical interlude: Blast from the past.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend read: looking back, ahead on journalism

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

"Historic Changes in the News Business" (The Atlantic): Former foreign affairs journalist Peter Osnos uses the announcement of the Aol-Huffington Post merger to take inventory of the past couple of years in journalism -- the bankruptcies, the nonprofit initiatives, the "fire sales" -- and concludes that "history, I predict, may well be as much about what has been added in this era as about what has been lost."

"Eight Trends for Journalism in 2011" (Nieman Journalism Lab): In a talk in Toronto, lab director Joshua Benton offers predictions not only for the year but also for the evolution of journalism -- such as the loss, perhaps, of some of the new nonprofit news models as foundation money wanes and is not replaced by memberships, donations or subscriptions. "I think we will see a thinning out that will be difficult, because it will counterbalance the optimism that these organizations brought with them," he says.

Video interlude: A spot-on take on aggregation by cartoonist Mark Fiore. (Love the announcer's "newsreel" voice!)

"Print Newspapers Have a Place in a Tablet-Heavy Future" (Nieman Journalism Lab): Jason Klein, head of the Newspaper National Network, defends newspapers (as you'd expect) against the claim that their days are numbered in the era of tablets. Rather than being driven by Gen Y's love of technology, he says, the tipping point for print will come when significant numbers of older, loyal print readers make the switch -- and that could take decades, not just a few years.

"Speed-Reading The New Mary Meeker Deck about Mobile" (PaidContent): Former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker made a name for herself at Morgan Stanley for her tech stock calls. One well-watched analysis was her annual call on The Mobile Internet, an exercise she continues in her new gig at a big Silicon Valley venture capital firm. The bottom line: mobile has hit critical mass.

Musical interlude from "Tommy".

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend read: Are newspapers too, too slow?

(via Flickr: jj_pappas423)

Even though it's been a busy week for news, here are some not-to-be-missed items:

"When the News Gets Old" (Recovering Journalist): To Mark Potts, a former print and online journalist, the breakneck speed of events in Egypt once again made newspapers seem so yesterday: " ... the advent of the Web, Twitter, mobile news apps, multiple cable news channels and any number of other new competitors is more and more rendering print newspapers, in their traditional form, obsolete." His suggestion: lose the "newspaper of record" mentality -- analysis is fine, though -- and "double down on their quicker digital news-delivery products." It's an echo of the "digital first, print last" credo being championed by Journal Register Co.'s John Paton.

(Note that Potts is more charitable than MG Siegler at TechCrunch, who'd rather that the print newspaper just disappear: "It’s a waste of paper, ink, and time. R.I.P.")

And speaking of Egypt and Twitter:

"Curating the Revolution: Building a Real-Time News Feed About Egypt" (The Atlantic): This is a really interesting how-to interview with NPR's Andy Carvin, who took to Twitter to create a running stream of tweets about the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo that helped topple Hosni Mubarak. Because he's been tweeting and live-blogging for years and knows bloggers in North Africa, Carvin (@acarvin on Twitter) was able to become "a personal news wire for Egypt," says Atlantic writer Phoebe Connelly.

Time for a musical interlude.

"Our Disappointing Journalism" (Yelvington): Steve Yelvington, another former print and online journalist, laments the failure to fully utilize the Web in the news that is posted there: no links, no multimedia, no interaction with the audience. Technology offers tools, but they aren't being put to use, he says. (The concept of "contextualized journalism" mentioned in the intro is explained here.)

"Consolidation Seen as Inevitable for Southern California's Newspapers" (Los Angeles Times): This James Rainey column takes a close look at what could become the next chapter for newspapers post-recession, as likely to play out in the Southern California market: that hedge fund, which bailed out a number of big media companies during the downturn, look to consolidate properties to achieve some of the efficiencies of scale that will make those holdings more profitable -- and attractive for resale.

"My Eureka Moment" (Knight Garage):  Beth Duff-Brown, a former newspaper and Associated Press writer and editor who became a Knight Fellow at Stanford University, writes here about her decision to step away from a 25+-year career in journalism to create a digital storytelling platform to advocate for a better life for women and girls in developing countries. It's a commendable action.