Creative directions for self-directed journalists

Some mostly positive tales of journalists carving out new post-newsroom paths for their work, a hopeful assessment of the increasing maturity of the Web, plus a couple of childish kvetches or two from the usual suspects:

• At PBS MediaShift, Simon Owens writes about a group of British soccer journalists who’ve created an online news collaborative, covering specific teams and sharing in an ad network. Rick Waghorn, the site’s creator, thinks the concept might be tried in the U.S. as well:

“What you could do is rather than being a Tuscon reporter who flies to LA one week and New York the next, instead you can just swap your content with your network partner in that city.”

There are no guarantees, of course, but ideas like this are starting to get tossed around on these shores. Disclosure: I’ve been having informal discussions about being involved in similar projects, but the tricky issue is, naturally, how to pay for all this. As Simon says: “But given that many reporters are finding themselves laid off in a market with a shrinking number of employment opportunities, such a gamble may be their only hope of staying in the game.”

• Some former newspaper photographers are doing likewise on the multimedia front, selling their work to non-governmental organizations and other non-profits. For those still working in newsrooms but not confident of their longevity there, jumping into new ventures carries some risk:

“Another award-winning newspaper multimedia producer who asked to remain unidentified says he’s produced a project for one corporate client, and now has a lucrative project offer from another. He says he’s in a quandary about whether to quit his job. On the one hand, he expects to be laid off sooner or later. On the other, he worries about finding enough freelance corporate work to support his family.”

• A young online journalist who’s been a great help to me over the last couple years is taking the leap. Shawn Smith has been planning this move for some time, learning about Internet and social media marketing and search engine optimization. All of these fields may seem hopelessly complicated for printheads like me, but if you want to continue doing journalism on the Web, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with them. Smith insists he’s not leaving journalism behind but instead, “I’m going after a dream of mine that I think I have a real shot at achieving.”

That’s what I like to hear. Congratulations and best wishes, Shawn, whose beginning blogging series is aimed at journalists and is something I highly recommend. His advice to those wanting a career on the Web is to go a lot further than that:

“And another thing, if you don’t have a blog, facebook, twitter, youtube, delicious, digg, stumbleupon and reddit account, get it now or you don’t even meet the status quo. No one is going to teach you. You have to learn it yourself …. that is until I publish an e-book this summer.” 🙂

• Don’t be a blockhead by being a volunteer journalist. So says Jeffrey Seglin, a contributor at the new True/Slant collaborative, which does pay journalists some change not only to write, but to interact with readers and provide compelling content:

“Your work has value. If you start giving it away for free, then it diminishes that value and makes it harder for others to charge for their work as well.

“Forget all the talk about ‘new revenue models.’ You either get paid or you don’t for your work. If you decide to or agree to write for free, you go into that relationship knowing precisely that ‘free’ is the ‘new revenue model’ to which you agreed.”

Romenesko follows up: “The obvious question for Seglin: Did pay you for this essay?” It hasn’t yet been answered.

• Internet curmudgeon Andrew Keen made a killing off Silicon Valley, only to renounce the Web universe as hopelessly amateur, undermining the work of professionals, including journalists. But BBC technology blogger Rory Cellan-Jones argues that Keen’s pronouncements may be outdated:

“What is now becoming clear is that it’s much harder for amateurs to get an audience. Who, for instance, are the most successful bloggers? Well, many of them are actually old-fashioned professional journalists working for mainstream media organisations which pay them to blog.

“The professionals have woken up to the power of Web 2.0 – and are moving in to colonise it.”

• The decline of newspapers has meant a staggering loss of work for full-time editorial cartoonists, as Daryl Cagle has been tracking, and whom I wrote about here last time. (And now the dean of the Canadian brethren has been unceremoniously let go after nearly a half-century.) Those penning comic strips and creating crossword puzzles for newspapers are facing grim prospects too. New York Times puzzle editor and NPR “Puzzlemaster” Will Shortz tries to explain it away:

Honestly, most people are making puzzles cause they love it — they just love the process – and they’re anxious to see their names in print. They’re not doing it for the money.”

Just like Arianna’s army of volunteer bloggers. They wouldn’t think of being compensated for it! No! Please! Forget that Seglin guy! He’s a bloody fool!

Shortz does pay his freelancers $200 for a daily puzzle and a cool grand for the Sunday Times, “but since he publishes the work of more than a hundred puzzle makers a year, nobody’s making a real living at this except him.”

• Speaking of which, the Queen of the Future of Journalism really got the Rosenbaum treatment from a former editor, someone in her employ for barely a month, and in the august pages of The New Republic. What was supposed to be a review of her new book turned instead into a full-blown jeremiad against her whole life, and not just the many opportunistic career reinventions she’s undergone. A snippet of Isaac Chotiner’s helplessly entertaining screed:

“The truth is that The Huffington Post is not just supplementing a print media that has long been dominated by newspapers. It is also helping to destroy newspapers. The trials of print media have been explored at length recently in a number of settings, both print and digital, and for good reason. But some tough questions must be asked also about the powerful digital interlopers. . . . If print media disappear, what on earth will digital media write about? What happens, as newspapers keep closing, when the new media can no longer rely on the reporting that Huffington has for so long pilloried?”

Chotiner is off-base suggesting that news aggregators are destroying newspapers, because that industry’s wounds are largely self-inflicted.

• One of Arianna’s biggest new media goombahs, the man who was the subject of Rosenbaum’s ire, isn’t merely content to bash the journalistic establishment. Jeff Jarvis has found a new dying industry to kick while it’s down. To him, Detroit = newspapers:

“The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches. I don’t want the same car you want. I want choice. Hundreds of microfactories can give it to me.”

Really, GM, this guy’s not bluffing. Give him his hundreds — no, thousands — of microfactories, because nothing less will sate him. Ignore this warning, and you’ll be subjected to an unyielding barrage of breezy sloganeering and utopian verbiage that will make your head explode. Don’t believe me? Try reading his book.


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