Monthly Archives: September 2008

Is ‘chicken little’ journalism missing the mark?

The panic on Wall Street certainly seems real following the U.S. House vote Monday against a $700 billion bailout plan for ailing financial institutions. A 777-point drop of the Dow Jones index was the largest one-day fall ever, and the blame game ratchets up with another vote possible later in the week.

But should the media shoulder some of the blame for the hysterics? Howard Owens thinks so, saying that a gullible mainstream press corps hasn’t done its job questioning Bush Administration claims of imminent recesssion without a bailout:

“You would think that a press corps that believed itself badly burned by Bush on Iraq would be a little more skeptical of the president now. It might demonstrate just how firmly entrenched Lippmann’s brand of official source journalism is in most reporters’ minds.

That would be Walter Lippmann, the famous 20th century columnist who strove for an elitist strain of objectivity to counter the yellow journalism of his time. Owens asserts the modern-day press has turned into lapdogs on the bailout, following Lippmann’s prescription that a reporter “should merely regurgitate the facts as observed or offered up by official sources.”

As for the actual coverage of Monday’s colossal day on Wall Street, Alan Mutter found that the mainstream press was outdone by Matt Drudge:

“It is true that Drudge depends enormously on the mainstream media to populate his site. If the MSM suddenly dried up and blew away, Drudge wouldn’t have nearly as much to Report.

“But with all due respect to the penetrating stories, elegant writing and dazzling multimedia presentations the mainstream media create, they can’t get the hang of delivering breaking news when their readers/viewers – and potential reader/viewers – most crave instant enlightenment.

“By effectively conceding this opportunity to sites like Drudge, the mainstream media forfeit in significant measure their value and credibility, which, in turn, will constrain future audience growth and revenue prospects.

“When are they going to learn how to compete?”

And there’s this: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout? And if so, who might do it? And how would it be done?

Outside the newsroom, but still doing the news?

Light posting here on Monday and Tuesday as I attend a two-day career transition workshop, one of the components of my buyout package. After nearly a couple of decades I finally give the resume a 2.0-style overhaul, take the Myers-Briggs personality test (watch out, folks!) and learn how to conduct a professional job search in the Web age.

Given the current economic jitters (full panic mode?), how great is my timing for all this? Fellow ex-colleagues who’ve attended these sessions said they were sensational. I do think it’s a good idea for mid-career professionals across the board to assess where they are with skills and objectives, so I am looking forward to seeing how I might proceed.

But I’m also thinking this job search-and-marketing service assumes that most of us will remain in the metro Atlanta area and likely will enter non-journalism careers. And in a corporate environment. While this approach makes practical sense, I’m still struggling with the idea that a full-time working life doing something other than the news may become my new reality.

And that’s a possibility I really, really hate to confront. But here it is, staring me in the face.

Some new ventures in sports media

With sports writing and blogging pursuits filling my days (among other things), I found a few links worth sharing and explaining here as I try to practice what I’m preaching about finding new ways to do the news. Or in this case, sports.

Today the Boston Globe launched a weekly print sports tabloid it calls “OT” for “Our Town, Our Teams.” The focus is on local pro sports teams, and that’s certainly one of the best sports towns in America with the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins.

With sports fans increasingly getting their daily fix from TV, radio and the Web, the focus here is to offer one all-encompassing print read as the weekend approaches. It features the work of Charles Pierce, for my money one of the best and most entertaining writers of sports and other subjects (Disclaimer: He’s also an acquaintance, as we previously wrote for the same basketball magazine).

Sportsline.com founder Mike Levy has started a new fan-oriented venture called OpenSports.com, in which fans can create their own web pages. The heavy thrust here is toward fantasy sports, which Levy is pegging as a potential major source of revenue. He figures he will invest between $40 million to $50 million with a target of turning a profit in three years.

If you think the fantasy realm has been tapped dry, think again. Levy’s goal: to have the best sports site on the web.

While the National Hockey League continues to struggle for exposure in most of the U.S., it’s making big strides toward becoming more fan-friendly on the web. A fantasy partnership with Yahoo is one of key features. Here’s a sneak preview of the revamped league homepage.

And a sports media reporter who recently left his newspaper has begun a blog devoted in part to that topic.

A former colleague explains what’s ahead for him, and how he’s warmed up to blogging.

‘We are journalist entrepreneurs’

So says Philip Balboni, who’s heading up a new international news site that’s the latest to try an independent model for journalism. (link via Romenesko.) He’s even purloined a top editor from The Politico to help steer Global News Enterprises. The Washington-based political site, which is expanding its staff and even print circulation after the elections, is serving as something of a model for what Balboni wants to bring to foreign coverage.

But with a few twists. Read more here about his funding plans, and his attempts to lure seasoned journalists. Not by paying them a full-time salary, but by offering a guaranteed equity stake in the operation, as well as a modest monthly fee for their services.

“We are journalist entrepreneurs, and we have to find new models for journalism in the digital age,” says Balboni.”

Balboni is well-known in New England for start-up ventures that become staples of the local media scene.

Can foreign news make some serious bucks? The verdict here from Nick Denton is a rather snarky no.

Regardless of how Balboni’s project turns out, Jason Preston urges journalists not to be afraid to think like an entrepreneur:

“You ought to be doing what you can to put your name online and develop relationships with your readers. I keep hearing that reporters like to ‘hide behind their bylines,’ which to me sounds like the quick path to obscurity.”

If you’re now existing outside a newsroom like me, it’s even more imperative to adopt the former habit and ditch the latter mindset. And check out the rest of the Eat, Sleep, Publish blog. If you’re interested in furthering your journalism career online, it’s got plenty of clear, easy-to-understand and frank commentary on newspapers and the digital divide. Without too much geekery.

Thoughts on redefining journalism

Have been mulling over this post from Ann Cooper on the Columbia Journalism Review site and thought it appropriate for those reinventing their journalism careers. The definition of journalism itself continues to undergo revision, and it likely will continue for the rest of our working lives:

“Who belongs in that tent, and who gets to decide who’s in it? Put another way: Who is a journalist? It’s a tantalizing question, but it’s hardly worth asking anymore.”

I take some issue with the last point, given how many of us are seriously confronting these issues for the first time. But I do like her concluding points about cultivating the best of print and online journalism values to develop new ways of thinking about, and trying to do, the news:

” . . . a hybrid would require true collaboration between old and new practitioners who are serious about sustaining journalism and its public-service mission. Old media will have to let go of some attitudes and assumptions that are no longer relevant, and new media will need to recognize standards that can infuse credibility and trust into this new journalism. Working together will require everyone in the bigger tent to drop their animosities and check their egos. It’s not about us, after all. It’s about keeping watch on those in power, about ensuring an informed citizenry, about maintaining a democratic culture that is strengthened by vibrant reporting on vital institutions.”

Why aren’t you a blogging journalist?

I should be the last person to wag a finger at others to exhort them to start blogging, given my delayed, and sporadic experience with that activity. But if you’re a displaced journalist and haven’t at least started planning a blog, then the following testimonials from Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere 2008 ought to push you in that direction:

“The word blog is irrelevant, what’s important is that it is now common, and will soon be expected, that every intelligent person (and quite a few unintelligent ones) will have a media platform where they share what they care about with the world.” — Web marketing guru Seth Godin

For journalists new to or a bit leery of the practice of blogging, former San Jose Mercury News technology writer Dan Gillmor, one of the leading figures of the emerging entrepreneurial journalism field, offers these thoughts that should ease concerns:

“From a journalistic perspective: Blogging and other conversational media are entering a new phase when it comes to community information needs — they’re growing up. Traditional media are using these tools to do better journalism, and are beginning to engage their audiences in the journalism. Entrepreneurial journalists are finding profitable niches. . . .  The best blogs are as trustworthy as any traditional media, if not more. The worst, often offering fact-challenged commentary, are reprehensible and irresponsible. But audiences are learning, perhaps too slowly, that modern media require a more activist approach. We need to be skeptical of everything, but not equally skeptical of everything. We need to use judgment, to get more information — and to go outside our personal comfort zones.”

This blog is a daily slog right now, as I grasp to stay on topic and provide useful information for journalists like myself who are reinventing their careers. If you’re not blogging now, the Technorati series — which will include four more comprehensive installments — is an absolute must-read.

The death of a sportswriting pioneer

I never met Mary Garber, and can’t say that she influenced my decision to get into sportswriting because I hadn’t heard of her when I got started. But she earned some belated and deserved attention in her later years.

Garber has died at the age of 92. She was forced to retire from full-time work at the age of 70, but didn’t stop writing altogether until 2002. Garber is the only woman to receive the Red Smith Award, the highest honor for sportswriters.

For me that kind of work was the most satisfying and relevant I’ve ever done, despite sneers in the profession that sports was nothing more than the “Toy Department.”

There is still a stunning lack of women covering games and the whole business of sports, although I’m attempting a bit of a comeback these days. The shrinking newsrooms aren’t helping, either. Two other women who took the buyout with me from my paper also were veteran sportswriters.

So the variety of voices covering sports remains rather limited — generally young, brash, male and rather self-indulgent — and the sports media culture reflects that.