Monthly Archives: December 2009

Hoping for a better media year in 2010

I’m usually old-school in observing New Year’s Eve traditions, so I dusted off this definitive rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. And hey look, digikids, it’s on vinyl!

Best wishes to all for a prosperous 2010. After another difficult year in the media world, the coming weeks and months probably will feel no different for many. My 2009 was filled with expanding horizons and pursuing new opportunities. Many of them did not bear fruit, but I’ve got a better feel for the direction I need to go while understanding the importance of staying flexible.

I don’t set forth predictions or make fancy resolutions. This isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but I expect to continue to see a steady stream of print and mainstream media refugees trying new ways of doing the news, or carve out other work with their journalistic skills. There’s an amazing wealth of talented reporters, editors, photographers and multimedia professionals with so much to offer to their craft, their areas of expertise and their communities.

In this past year, many of them have been been battered by the recession, their former employers and some new media sages who don’t highly value their work. But I’ve been energized by their many stories of resolve as I plug away at creating my own future. And so it goes . . .

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas 2009!

Not much more to say except that I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I just received the nicest gift any humble blogger could expect when Ink-Drained Kvetch was included on a list of 91 journalism blogs and Web sites you will love.

What a pleasant surprise! There are some excellent resources there for all journalists and media professionals to use. I know I’ve gained so much from many of those individuals and organizations.

One of the many benefits of having a blog hosted on WordPress are the snowflakes that appear during the holiday season. Nice touch, WP! Thought I’d pass along some of my favorite holiday songs.

Will return next week with more on journalism, media and the digital age. Until then, enjoy!

10 good links about journalism’s past, present and future

There’s no intentional attempt at symmetry here, but in my Delicious collection I’ve noticed an almost equal number of journalism-related links lately that either 1) weep for the state of newspapers and cross their fingers at how they might survive, or 2) say goodbye to all that and march defiantly into the future.

Perhaps it sums up some of the conflicting feelings I have for my craft, although I largely come down on the side of the latter. Thought I’d share these links here, and offer some comments as a full calendar year outside the confines of a newsroom comes to a close for me.

If I sound a bit too sardonic, my apologies. While I’ve shed most of my mournfulness about what’s happened to newspapers, I think helps to be mindful of what’s being lost. Building something better is impossible without that understanding.

Looking back, and hoping:

Twilight of the American newspaper (Harper’s) — I’ve been wanting to cut down on linking to obituaries like this one. But journalist and PBS NewsHour contributor Richard Rodriguez’ elegy for the San Francisco Chronicle he grew up reading is well-written and laced with the kind of emotion that only a devoted reader can summon. There’s some terrific history here of that city’s papers and what they meant for the generations who read them.

The print catharsis will continue in 2010, so it’s only proper to mourn, at least for a short while, whether you agree with Rodriguez or not:

“We will end up with one and a half cities in America — Washington, D.C., and American Idol. We will all live in Washington, D.C., where the conversation is a droning, never advancing, debate between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals.’ We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a nation dismantling the structures of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died.”

(via Doug Fisher)

What Are You Willing to Give Up from Journalism? (Time, via Mich Sineath) — James Poniewozik asks newspaper readers — as if they haven’t sacrificed enough — what else they wouldn’t mind doing without as newsroom staffs get smaller.

• When Will a Web Editor Lead a Major Newsroom? (the soon-to-be-shuttered Editor & Publisher, ironically enough) — I believe this is a rhetorical question.

• Putting bite back in newspapers (Reflections of a Newsosaur) — More salient advice for traditional journalists that will go unheeded in neutered newsrooms.

• On leaving the newsroom (Tina Kelly Poetry) — A departing New York Times staffer reflects about being part of a journalistic tribe that has had “an honored front row seat in life.” Indeed.

Moving on, and looking forward:

• With or without publishers, local online continues to grow: (Journalism 2.0) — “If you’re a forward-thinker and an optimist, it’s exciting.” Some of us are, but far too many are not.

• Next year’s news about the news: What we’ll be fighting about in 2010 (Nieman Journalism Lab) — How about dispensing with the phrase “news ecosystem” for starters?

• 8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist (Mashable) — Business and entrepreneurial skills, above all, for fairly obvious reasons.

10 tips for would-be online journalism entrepreneurs (news: rewired) — “Don’t assume anything you do will be unique.” The key to all the others.

The future is nearer than you think (Xark) — “While I wish the future’s self-employed small-business journalists well, here’s a warning: Watch out for that next wave of disruptive development, because it’s likely to wash your job — and your mortgage — out to sea.”

Best wishes to a young former journalist

“Loss and destruction has been almost all that I’ve ever known in journalism. . . For now, journalism is just beginning its trek underground, searching for a ray of light and fresh air. I needed a break from that long, dark trek. Will I ever return? I don’t know. I’ve stopped worrying about what the future will hold for me.”

Patrick Thornton, the “Journalism Iconoclast,” is bidding farewell to the profession of journalism after only three years. The reasons are understandable — he’s gotten a job with a conservation social network, and congratulations are in order. Given the poor job prospects in so many fields, he’s wise to take what he can get and not to look back.

But I’d like to offer some perspective from an old print hack in response to the angst expressed by someone so young:

• “Loss and destruction” were staples of this business even in better times. Poorly managed newspapers got away with this for decades because their advertising-based business model was still intact. Far too often, I watched many colleagues walk out the door when we were still young, frustrated they could not make a living (I will not tell you how embarrassingly low my salaries were for the first decade or so of my career).

Some had their instincts and drive thwarted by newsroom bureaucrats who hadn’t pounded the pavement in years. These idealistic reporters intent on “making the world a better place” came to hate journalism during the heyday of print and network TV news, distraught that their employers were raking in profits and had the resources to do better.

•  There have never been any guarantees that I would avoid a similar fate. It wasn’t until I was 15 years into my career that I could finally say I had known “prosperity in journalism,” after toiling at weeklies and small dailies. I’ve worked for a newspaper that no longer exists, and in between jobs I strung together non-journalistic part-time work and freelanced to pay the bills. When I had enough extra money to max out on my 401(k) contributions, I thought I had hit the jackpot. That period hadn’t lasted very long when I took my newspaper buyout last year.

I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to find work that’s more stable and will offer peace of mind. And I’m sad that some aspiring young journalists are facing horrendous career odds during this chaotic time. However, I know many former journalists who have made similar choices over the years, often reluctantly and with great anguish. This reality existed long before the bottom dropped out of the newspaper industry. Just not on this scale.

I’m not sure what Thornton was expecting three years ago, but I wish him the best in his new endeavors.

He just wasn’t in the business long enough to know how badly it can break your heart.

Filling the void of Editor & Publisher

There have been many, many Tweets and blog posts popping up all around the journosphere since the news came down Thursday that Editor & Publisher, the 125-year-old trade publication covering the newspaper industry, would be folding at the end of the year.

Like many of those chiming in, I have to admit that I hadn’t read it all that often in recent years, except for occasional stories posted on its Web site, which is also going away. And like many fellow journalists, I got started reading it during my formative years in the business largely because of the job classifieds.

I hate it that more devoted journalists will be losing their jobs, especially after being blind-sided by the news. Editor Greg Mitchell has been a vocal advocate for journalism with more bite and less timidity, and I’m glad he wants to maintain his strong, passionate voice elsewhere.

But while the passing of E & P symbolizes the state of the industry at the end of a 2009 riddled with newspaper closures and thousands more job losses, it presents new opportunities to chronicle a rapidly changing news media world:

“It’s a sad day, but in a strange way the death of Editor & Publisher gives me hope for the future of journalism. Because they showed us a blueprint, that size or technology is overrated, that a half-dozen people can make a difference just by asking the right questions and by not backing down. And if Greg Mitchell and the others could accomplish this at a small, shrinking trade publication, then I know that it can happen again and will happen again, somewhere else and in some other format — that no-holds-barred journalism is possible.”

Various columns and blogs at the Poynter Institute on the media business and the effects of technology on the news (in addition to Jim Romenesko’s curated media news blog) have been tracking these developments, as has the Nieman Journalism Lab. They are among the increasingly invaluable sources of information to news professionals grappling with massive change.

So are the scores of blogs (a selection here) devoted to the emerging field of online journalism that I began reading several years ago when I made the switch to being a Web journalist. In fact, it was then that I realized rather profoundly I wasn’t in the newspaper industry any longer.

I wish E & P could have continued online. But like the thirst to continue doing the news in new ways, the need to examine the business of doing the news has only begun to proliferate.

Between nostalgia and the future of news

I’ve got so many links on journalism and media topics here from the last week to share, especially as they pertain to old-media journalists being confronted with the realities of the new media universe, voluntarily or not. As traditionalists continue their nostalgia tour of the late, great newsroom, the vitality and energy that have departed the premises is cropping up in outside precincts in a variety of new endeavors.

I’mtrying not to get too excited, because the prospects for bootstrapping remain daunting (via @ckrewson). Still, I love hear about the fight that’s left in so many people, in spite of their circumstances and their odds for staying in the profession.

• Travel editor Chris Gray Faust was among those laid off at USA Today last week, despite being an experienced travel editor and newsroom manager who jumped all over the Web. She’s eager to move on, based on what she observed from those outside the “newsroom bubble:”

“I’d go to conferences and meet people who were making it just fine on their own. Some were creating niche businesses, busting up the paradigm. Others were parlaying old school media talents into fresh ventures, with a moxie that made me wish I had the freedom to emulate them. The air inside USAT’s towers on Jones Branch Drive always seemed a little stale after that.

These freelancers-slash-entrepreneurs are smart. They are nimble. And now they are my role models, as I join their ranks.

• Public relations maven George Snell is predicting that the Gray Fausts of the world will infuse non-newsroom journalism with some badly-needed vibrancy (via Dan Kennedy) and help create a blogging “Renaissance.” He didn’t delve into how they might be able to make a living:

“Former journalists like Chris Gray Faust are going to take their journalism expertise to blogging. They no longer will be blogging part-time as a supplement to their ‘day jobs’ as journalists. They are going to be blogging full-time – trying to make careers out of it. This surge of professional writers and reporters to the ranks of blogging is going to take blogging in new and creative directions.”

• Not long ago I wrote here about the fallacies of neutering the newsroom. In her latest piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Gina Chen explains how she finally was deprogrammed out of the cult of objectivity — after leaving her newspaper, of course:

“By not telling people what I thought or felt or believed, I may have been avoiding the near occasion of subjectivity, but I wasn’t being a better journalist. I wasn’t building trust with readers. Refraining to tell readers where I was coming from didn’t make me objective. It just failed to make me transparent.”

Amen.

• Then there are social media policies that some news organizations have employed to put their august journalists in another kind of straitjacket:

“The notion that jour­nal­ists don’t have per­sonal lives or opin­ions, that they shouldn’t reveal polit­i­cal pref­er­ences or engage in civic causes regard­less of their beat, that they should be shielded from direct inter­ac­tion with the pub­lic for fear of dis­clos­ing a com­pro­mis­ing point of view — this is sheer lunacy. If news­pa­pers die, it will be because they splayed them­selves on the altar of objec­tiv­ity rather than mov­ing to a new kind of rela­tion­ship that the pub­lic is clearly crav­ing for.”

• What impact might these restrictions have on a younger generation of journalists? Plenty, and this appraisal is hardly encouraging:

“If young journalists choose to revolt against convention, they will likely be rejected by the group. This means isolation within the workplace, or outright dismissal. Pushing the limits of the organization can result in a very real cost for younger journalists. It’s high risk, with potentially few rewards.”

• Meanwhile, some journalists wrapping themselves up in the cloak of traditionalism continue crabby diatribes against threats to their careers without examining how they might adapt to the media world as it is:

“We advocate abolishing the term ‘citizen journalist.’ These people can call themselves ‘citizen news gatherers,’ but it is no more appropriate to call them citizen journalists than it would be to sit before a citizen judge or be operated on by a citizen brain surgeon.”

• One newspaper old-timer I’ll give a bit of a pass to is Pete Hamill. For all of his nostalgia about the way newspapers were, he does provide a bit of bracing realism about his beloved craft, and is clear-eyed about what he likes, and doesn’t like about journalism emerging on the Web:

“I love Charlie Sennett’s globalpost.com. I did a piece for them on the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism behind the Iron Curtain because I was there. So I think the beginning of that is happening. You can see with the Wall Street Journal what the format might be. They are now charging for the Internet version which is a hell of a lot cheaper than finding a newsstand to carry it.

“We have some others. The Huffingtonpost.com does not pay its writers. Tina Browns’ thedailybeast.com does pay its writers. You have to be paid because this is not a hobby. You have to keep that standard. You can’t ask grandpa to loan you money because you have to go to Afghanistan. I walked the picket line for that to continue.”

• Also getting some traditionalists uptight is a reorganization announced last week at the Dallas Morning News that has some news managers — in entertainment, sports, travel, automotive and typically ad-oriented verticals — reporting to business and sales staff. Mathew Ingram has mixed feelings about this that I share:

“Should the Chinese wall between editorial and advertising become more porous, or be torn down completely? I’m torn on the subject, frankly. I realize that journalism needs to bend and evolve, and that harsh business realities have to be taken into account, but I’ve also seen the damage that can be done when ad concerns drive — or even shape — coverage of a story.”

• However, for those of us now on our own or who are part of independent news ventures, no such wall exists. We’ve got to make it pay, or we go on to something else. Those still in newsrooms who are shocked by the wall crumbling need to break out of the cocoon, and soon. Among the challenges for news entrepreneurs, this is the one that I think might be the most important — and probably the most difficult — to reach:

“Don’t assume anything you do will be unique. No matter how clever the idea or the underlying technology, someone else can easily set up in competition to you. The internet makes it much easier to self-publish, but it makes it easier for everyone not just you! Being the first to do something is not necessarily good. You will do all the work creating a marketplace that others will then exploit. But if you are in a niche and fairly innovative space, competition is a good thing. It spreads the burden of building consumer confidence in your business model and should prevent you becoming complacent.”

As another ‘future of journalism’ gabfest goes on . . .

Today and tomorrow the Federal Trade Commission is conducting its very own “Future of Journalism” extravaganza with all the usual suspects, and from the live Tweeting I’ve seen they’re not saying anything all that new, as important as the topic may be.

Spicing up the festivities, however, was Queen Arianna’s clash with Rupert Murdoch this morning:

“Having Glenn Beck not searchable on Google is a really good thing for democracy, but as a business move, it is not a smart move.”

Oh, how we love Huffington so! Especially since she echoed her frequent refrain that the only news people will pay for is “specialized financial content and weird porn.” In one of Rupert’s most vociferous precincts, Queen Arianna is being accused of emphasizing a whole lotta flesh in building her own media empire. There’s too much irony here to go on this way.

If these folks are on the vanguard of the future of journalism, then we’ve all got real trouble, in addition to the usual litany of concerns embodied in the following links that have caught my attention via Delicious, Google Reader and Twitter:

• Douglas Rushkoff has kick-started an old debate about paying for the news by taking sides with Murdoch. Naturally, that has Jay Rosen all stirred up. So has this, from one of Uncle Rupert’s top Leftenants, which takes straight aim at the digital utopians. They don’t like that very much.

• Once a frequent whipping boy of the online news sages, David Carr of the New York Times apparently has been handed a key to the club after predicting a happy ending to the present gloomy media scenario, because the children are our future. Alan Mutter may have to turn in his membership card for arguing just the reverse, because the children don’t have much of a future. The Newsosaur is about as dour as I’ve read him, and that’s saying something. I think there’s some truth to both of these takes, as contrary as they are to one another.

• Recent layoffs of multimedia staff at the Washington Post are a troublesome sign that the print overlords at a news organization that seemed to get the Web just don’t value the work of digital journalists. Regina McCombs, one of my multimedia instructors from a Poynter Institute workshop I attended last year, writes that online producers and editors she hears from are feeling this way all around the country. (This also factored into my decision last year to accept a buyout.) I’ve argued this before and I’ll repeat it here: It’s time for the geeks to start running newsrooms. Old media managerial hands just keep fumbling the Web, but they’re unlikely to loosen their grip during these increasingly desperate times.

• At least the newly renamed PBS NewsHour is embracing the Web, even if Jim Lehrer isn’t interested in Twitter. It’s going to be a messy transition, but it sounds more promising than what’s happening in another D.C. newsroom.

• How easy is it for a small-town journalist to start a one-person news operation? As easy as this? I’m finding out that while the fundamentals laid out here are solid, there’s no guarantee for success. Journalists who have some money saved up, time to work out their concept and can rely on support from friends, family and others stand the best chance of making something work. But these experiments have only just begun, and will continue to proliferate. As will the chaos.