Thursday, August 24, 2006

New sites about student journalism

One of my favorite new bloggers is Ryan Sholin, who writes about his experiences as a journalism student. What I like most about Ryan is that he seems genuinely excited by this profession. And unlike so many people I meet in newsrooms, he seems interested in learning how to get better at his trade.
Take a look at this post or this or this funny little one to get a feel for his work.

Yesterday Ryan pointed me toward a site that may become another of my favorites -- campusbyline, a two-man operation that aims to highlight the best in college media. And as I took a look through it, I came across this post about the Princeton Review's rankings of college newspapers.
That post links to a related article in the University of Arizona's student newspaper, and suggests a link between the article's writer and a source quoted in the story. That raises an all-new ethics question for me: Should a journalist disclose that a source is a "friend" on a social-networking site? My gut instinct is to err on the side of transparency and say "yes." But I'll be curious to see what other folks say.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Crain gets link religion

It seems Crain Communications has decided that its Web sites are, in fact, part of the Web. The company has begun using external links in its articles.
I'm thrilled. And heck, I'll even take credit for the change, since I've been complaining about Crain's lack of interactivity for a long time and recently pointed out the disconnect between the public statements of the company's president and the practices of the company's editorial staff.

I first noticed a link in BtoB online in a story that ran yesterday. Now granted, the link is sort of an obvious choice. The story is about a new Web site, and the link takes readers to that site. But it's exactly that sort of no-brainer link that Crain has resisted in the past.
I dropped an email to Ellis Booker, editor of BtoB, and asked what prompted the change.
"We're re-tooling the site & some of our approaches," he said in reply.

And it looks like this re-tooling is also happening at another Crain site. This morning I noticed hypertext links in this story from Investment News. That too is a first. Unfortunately, at the time I publish this post it seems that no one at Investment News has yet noticed that the entire last 10 paragraphs of the story contain a single link, turning half the text on the page the color red. But I'll write that off to inexperience. More disappointing is that the link is internal. But at least it's a start. Besides, Investment News has bigger problems.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Teachers, textbooks and new media

What happens when two of the smarter folks in college journalism get together? They publish a Q&A that serves as a quick guide to what's wrong with much of the media ... both inside and outside of academia.
They also wind up prompting me to do something that I've been promising to do for ages -- buy Mindy McAdams' book "Flash Journalism."
With a little bit of luck, I'll have finished reading it before the Folio Show in October, where I'll be talking about becoming "conversant in the ways of multimedia content."

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Me, Folio and the cross-platform editor

I'm back from my trip to Chicago, trying to catch up with life, work and family. And among the things I did today was to go through the mail that had piled up on my desk in my absence. And lo and behold I find that the most recent issue of Folio has arrived, and that I'm quoted in an article about "The Cross Platform Editor."
Take a look at the Folio article. It's a pretty comprehensive take on what editors must do to work in new media. And I was thrilled to see that writer Bill Mickey cited my two favorite how-can-I-learn-to-do-that sites -- (which is free) and (which is inexpensive.)
Even more fun for me is that the article refers to an "infamous blog entry" I did earlier this year on the subject. (That post, titled "Improving your publication through murder" can be found here.)

But don't spend too much time on any of the above. There's something far more important in the August issue of Folio -- the annual salary survey. Take a look and decide if it's time to ask the boss for a raise.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

Why the out-of-touch shouldn't touch the budget

Among the more interesting things I've been reading lately is, a wonderfully written (albeit often too snarky) product that is affiliated with, but vastly more entertaining than, the Columbia Journalism Review.

Now comes word that Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia University's Journalism school, has decided to cut the budget of CJRDaily in half. Why? According to the New York Times, Lemann wants to use "a portion of the magazine’s discretionary money for a direct-mail campaign to try to increase subscriptions to the print magazine." CJRDaily is about to launch a plan to sell advertising and sponsor conferences, but Lemann has decided in advance that there won't be enough revenue generated to run the site at full strength.
CJRDaily's managing editor Steve Lovelady quit in protest. So did assistant managing editor Bryan Keefer.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a battle between the old and the young, between mainstream media and new media. But things are seldom that simple. Lovelady is 63-years old and was once the managing editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer and deputy Page 1 editor of The Wall Street Journal.

Now look -- I'm a media junkie. And my primary addiction is to media about media. So I suppose I'm exactly the sort of person that Lemann plans to start bothering with junk mail invites to subscribe to CJR magazine. In fact, I'm pretty sure I get those things already. But I never pay any attention to mailings from CJR. The truth is that I haven't bothered to read an issue of CJR in years. I had a subscription once or twice in my career. And every once in awhile I still come across a copy, open it up and take a look. But the magazine never engages me anymore. It's become less a "review" and more of a retrospective. It has the feel of nostalgia and tends to remind me of Grit, which bills itself as "America's family magazine since 1882" and fills its pages with articles that evoke that things-were-better-in-the-old-days feeling.
And that's why CJRDaily, which feels as if it's written by people who work in journalism rather than by folks who used to work in journalism, is far superior to CJR magazine.

Earlier this week I posted a link to an essay in the New Yorker written by Lemann. I said then that Lemann's piece probably wasn't worth reading, and suggested instead that the criticisms of Lemann's essay were far more interesting than the essay itself.
In fact, an entire industry seems to be emerging online dedicated to unraveling Lemann's thoughts. Take a look at this piece on that calls the CJRDaily a decision "an extraordinary mistake."

(Note: I'm heading out on the road to meet with clients. I don't expect to post anything to this blog for a week or so. While I'm sitting in airports and such, I'll make a point of looking at CJRDaily to see if it's still worth reading. And I'll check out some of the new sites that have caught my attention in the last few days, including Journalistopia, the D.C. chapter of ASBPE and TalkingBizNews. )

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When technology and I were young

One of the best ... and most frustrating ... days I've had in journalism was 20 years ago this September, when I did some work as a stringer for National Public Radio. President Ronald Reagan was flying into Kansas City to make a campaign speech for Kit Bond, who was running for the U.S. Senate. It wasn't expected to be much of an event, which is why it fell to me, instead of some more established reporter, to cover the arrival of Air Force One at the little airport in downtown Kansas City.
But then, as the plane approached the city, word came that the Soviets would release imprisoned journalist Nicholas Daniloff.

That was huge news. 1986 was a tense time in the Cold War, and the detention of Daniloff had outraged many Americans.
NPR and I slammed together a plan. First, I would record interviews with the crowd, asking them for reactions to Daniloff's release. Then, as the plane landed, I would go live on NPR by phone.
At first, things went smoothly. One of the NPR hosts introduced the story, talked about Reagan's arrival, and then interviewed me. I described the plane as it taxied down the runway. I talked about Daniloff. I talked about the Soviets. I talked about how the crowd was acting. Eventually we switched to the microphone on the podium to hear the President's speech. Later, the host came back on the air to ask me a few more questions. Then he thanked me and I signed off. It was fantastic.

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like a "real" reporter. I was positively giddy from the experience.
But my memory of the event is largely confined to what happened next.
In order to send my interviews to D.C., I had to connect my tape recorder to the pay phone. It was a cumbersome process that involved fitting a strange piece of gray-colored foam rubber over the mouthpiece. But I couldn't get it to work. The sound quality was awful. I'd send it. NPR would say they couldn't hear it. I'd send it again. They still couldn't hear it.
And I struggled and fumbled with this for a long time until -- believe it or not -- a female sergeant based on Air Force One came over with a tool box to help me dismantle the phone and connect the recorder directly with a set of alligator clips.

I thought about the technological struggles of that day -- as primitive as they sound now -- when I read a piece by Folio about a day in the life of an online editor.
Folio followed Kristin Campbell through a hectic workday at B2B publication DSNews as she wrote and edited news for the Web site while also producing and appearing in a video news program. The Folio article tells an interesting story, and Campbell is an endearing source who talks openly about the time and technological challenges of her job.
The Folio story is a worthwhile read for anyone who wonders what life will soon be like for almost everyone in journalism. And what's most heartening about the piece is that Campbell's joy in her job is apparent.
Take a look at the article here.
Then click here to visit DSNews to read and watch the fruits of Campbell's labor.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Diverse or creepy?

"What racist imbecile is doing the hiring here?"
That's the question that, as I discussed in a post last November, enters my head whenever I wander into one of the hundreds of all-white newsrooms in B2B publishing.

If you're worried that folks like me believe it "has become positively creepy to visit your newsrooms," then you may want to attend the upcoming seminar called "No More Excuses: The "How to's" for Developing a Multicultural Magazine Staff." The two-hour event, hosted by Magazine Publishers of America and scheduled for Sept. 14 in New York, costs just $30 for members and $45 for non-members.

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Monday, August 07, 2006

Non-suggested reading

If you have a lot of time on your hands, you could read the piece in the New Yorker criticizing citizen journalism. It's written by Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia University's Journalism school.
But I can't recommend it. There's nothing in it that you haven't seen before.
Instead, I'd suggest that you read Andrew Cline's piece about Lemann's article. Andrew does a great job of dissecting the rhetorical devices in Lemann's piece and how they add up to arrogance.
I'd also suggest that you read what Rebecca Mackinnon says about Lemann's article. She unveils the personal dispute that lurks in the background of Lemann's essay.
And I'd urge you to take a look what Jay Rosen, who works at New York University -- about 100 blocks south and a world away from Lemann -- has to say. No one -- no one -- thinks more clearly than Jay about where citizen journalism came from and where it may be heading.

For some of my thoughts on citizen journalism and B2B, see earlier posts here, here, here and here.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

That's ridiculous, according to published reports

Yesterday I wrote about my belief that journalists should embrace the agnostic link -- pointing readers to interesting content no matter where it was published.
And longtime readers of this blog know that time and time again I've complained that some B2B publishers still haven't learned to insert any links, let alone agnostic ones.
Today I want to take this a little further and voice my dismay at an even more annoying practice.

Take a look at this piece in today's Investment News. It talks about a stock index fund that may be of interest to NASCAR fans. Look closely and you'll see that none of the material in the piece appears to be based on any reporting by Investment News. Rather everything in the article is attributed to "published reports."
Now the truth of the matter is this. The story isn't based on "reports" at all. It's based on a single report -- a piece of original reporting by the New York Times' J. Alex Tarquinio.

Now think about that.
I understand that many folks in our industry are afraid to link outside their own sites. I disagree. But I understand. But I absolutely do not understand why a publication would be afraid to attribute something. Lots of us do summaries of other published material. That's a well-established and valuable service that many press outlets offer to their readers.
But what could possibly justify withholding the single most important piece of information about a summary from our readers?

Attribution is one of the ways we let our readers know how much faith they can place in a piece of information. If we publish a sentence that says "'The sky is falling,' according to a guy on the street." We don't expect to be taken seriously. But if we publish something that says "'The sky is falling,' according to the director of the U.S. Weather Service," we're letting our readers know they should start panicking now. The same is true if we publish something that says "'The sky is falling, according to the New York Times, which cited an official with the National Weather Service."
But we're not telling anyone anything when we say "The sky is falling,' according to published reports."

But there is something else worth noting about the "according to published reports" phenomenon. And it is ugly.
The simple, unavoidable fact is that the phrase "according to published reports" is often a lie. If you've read one report and then attributed your story to multiple "reports" you are misleading your audience. It's similar to interviewing one person and then masking your laziness behind the use of the phrase "according to sources." Or publishing an unedited press release and calling it an exclusive news story.
And there is no room in journalism for a lie.

(Note: I singled out Investment News in this post because the use of the phrase "according to published reports" is a veritable plague at that publication. A search for the phrase on the site yields 11670 results. A search for the phrase on Google News yields 1,230 citations...and four of the first 10 are from Investment News. A good portion of those citations actually refer to actual reports, i.e. more than one news story. And sometimes, as in this story, Investment News cites the N.Y. Times or other sources by name. But Investment News routinely uses the phrase "according to published reports" when it's just plain silly to do so. Check out this story from today, which is based on this story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.)

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