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?