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.